K’naan the Prophet

In the diaspora, there are many parallels across the aspects of culture. Whether discussing experiences on the continent of Africa, in the United States,  in Eurasia, or in Southern America, there are commonalities of reality amongst people of melanin. Carrying this idea into the world of music, it is not surprising that music emphasizes the commonalities. K’naan is a perfect example of the cross-sectionalitey of diasporic experience. K’naan is a Somalia-born, Canadian raised rapper, poet, philanthropist, and revolutionary. After escaping from a civil war in Somalia, K’naan moved to America where he taught himself English through rap music. His experience with rap music influenced his diction and his perception of the community around him, as his repertoire included highly observant rappers such as Nas. Continue reading “K’naan the Prophet”

Nothing to Lose x K’naan

For the purpose of today’s blog post I analyzed “Nothing to Lose” by K’naan ft. Nas. “Nothing to Lose” is basically of story of how both artist, K’naan and Nas, have overcame the adversaries of there childhood and, therefore, have nothing to lose because they came from nothing. Throughout the song K’naan constantly mentions the roguishness of Somalia. He alludes to the Somalian civil war and what it was like growing up in the streets of Somalia. In “Nothing to Lose” K’naan outlines the life of a childhood soldier. In his first verse he begins talking about how, who I believe is, himself and how he got caught with cocaine. He goes on to state “Hut, hut to the block soldiers, buck, buck to the cop vultures, nope, no I don’t know pilots, nigga I know pirates, violence the islands, shout out to my idrens, put your hands up like it’s a mother fuckin’ siren.” These few lines almost completely summarize how K’naan views Somalia. He sites a chant commonly said amongst soldiers, “hut, hut,” portraying the war taking place on his block. He alludes to the police flocking to retrieve the numerous dead bodies and the retaliation the people showed to them. He acknowledges the poverty of Somalia, stating “no I don’t know pilots,” highlighting that the country is too poor for aircrafts. Yet, he knows pirates, which is formally defined as a person who attacks and robs ships at sea. And finally, K’naan calls the children to action, portraying the village aspect of their community and how the youth are the pillars of change, but unfortunately also showing how the vicious cycle continues. The chorus of “nothing to Lose” asserts that K’naan has nothing to left. What he is saying is, Somalia gave him nothing. K’naan represented how his country took so much from him, but in the end offered nothing in return.

Put On For My City: How Lyricist K’naan Represents the Diaspora Through His Music

Somalian-born lyricist K’naan can never forget where he came from and he makes it known that he came from the struggle through his music. When he speaks about his country, you can see pride in his face, despite all the havoc and killing that’s going on, he makes it known that he is not ashamed. In his smash song, Wavin Flag, K’naan speaks about the struggles the people in Africa face on the daily and being that K’naan and his family are Somalian refugees, he grew up in Somalia during the civil war. The song starts off with K’naan saying that when he gets older he wants to be free, that’s why he waves his flag back and forth just like any other normal flag. The flag symbolizes freedom and many African nations struggle with their independence and freedom, so by K’naan mentioning that he waves his flag he wants to help liberate his country along with others from poverty and wars. K’naan also talks about how his country, Somalia, was once a rich and successful country before it became the war zone it’s known to be today when he says “Born to a throne, stronger than Rome.” but he respects it for what it has become and still calls it home. Unlike many people who often flee their country because of grief, K’naan is proud that he made it out alive because not many people have many success stories coming from Somalia. When it comes to speaking about the Diaspora through his music, K’naan is quick to educate the unknown about the good, the bad and the ugly and suggest that no one should forget about Somalia because it once was a well known place once upon a time. And although the song has grown to the likes of being used in a Coca Cola commercial, it just goes to show that the song itself has stability to be whatever it wants to be.

Preserving your Identity

Beginning in 1985, the number of African students coming to the U.S. began to increase substantially. The largest increase was seen between 2000 and 2010 with an African population in the U.S. being 1.6 million. Many African immigrants came from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya and came to destinations in the United States such as New York and the Washington, D.C. area. As they began to come to the United States, they also brought with them their music, art, beliefs, values, and languages. Trying to preserve one’s culture, especially African culture in the United States, one is pressured to discard their culture and homeland and assimilate into U.S. culture. It is even harder if you’re an immigrant trying to succeed in the U.S. music industry.  K’naan, a Somalia native, uses his music to persevere and represent Somalia, but often finds the music industry pressuring him to curtail his outspokenness about Somalia in his music and focus more on his U.S. audience.

In The New York Times article entitled, “Censoring Myself for Success,” K’naan speaks on the struggle of trying to balance pleasing an American music audience and incorporating Somalia and his experience as a Somalian in his music. He states in the article, “Right now, the pressures of the music industry encourage me to change the walk of my songs. When I write from the deepest part of my heart, my advisers say, I remind people too much of Somalia, which I escaped as boy”. But hip hop is founded on speaking from the heart and telling the truth of your life. His truth is Somalia and to curtail him from speaking the truth would be untrue to hip hop’s principles. The music industry has artists changing the walk of their songs, and due to that they are now following a leader along a path, the music industry.

Being able to adapt is important, but there is also beauty in celebrating your own personal heritage and culture. To combat following a leader, K’naan ensures in his music as well as in his music videos that Somalia is always represented. In his music video for “Nothing to Lose,” featuring well-known U.S. hip hop rapper Nas, it is a discussion on shining light on who he is and where he comes from. In the music video, he blasts an image of a Somali Social Club sign before telling Nas, “I want you to know about Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya. I want those to be famous landmarks”. Inserting images of Somalia or other African cultures in his videos as well as speaking on Africa is K’naan staying true to his homeland and not assimilating. Any way that an artist can incorporate their culture into their music is a necessary political statement. One does not need to change who they are to succeed in the music industry and K’naan shows that. Though your walk may change, the walk should change because you decide to and the walk will never be without Africa.


Heritage: Home to Here

In K’naan’s song Nothing to Lose feat. Nas K’naan comes to terms with his Somali culture and heritage and how it influenced him when first immigrating to the United States. He recounts some embarrassing moments when he was unsure of  the culture but then eventually becoming entrenched in American style and culture. He even goes into depth to describe how he use to buy knock off Filas. This drives home the point of K’naan being an outsider and being unsure of the style immigrating from a different country. Although, K’naan builds an understanding and sense of American culture and norms he doesn’t lose sight of his own African culture as he shows in this song. Continuing on in this post I will further dissect his song Nothing to Lose and how he uses it to connect with his African and more specifically his Somalian roots.

In his lyrics K’naan makes references to Somalia. He spits, “I don’t know pilots, I know pirates.” Furthermore, he highlights in the video young presumably Somali girls in hijabs, again this displays his strong ties with his motherland. He also highlights the Somali Social Club in the video and Nas even embraces the culture by adorning himself in a keffiyeh. In addition, K’naan brings up other East African countries and urges that knowledge is key and that we need to learn more about one another’s history.

In closing, I would argue that K’naan has close ties with his origin and his motherland. I think that more African rappers need to highlight aspects of their culture and heritage so that fans and the public can become more socially and culturally conscious/aware and tolerant. Knowledge is power, the more we learn about other people’s culture and norms the more likely we will become a more interconnected world.


Many MCs speak and boast about their brave natures and hard up bringing in their raps. They convey this by describing their longevity in the game and how they survived violent experiences, usually at a young age. Listeners will usually equate this violence to cities in America like Compton, Brooklyn, and even Detroit, but none compare to those experiences that happened in other countries abroad, especially Africa. Because the average American listener isn’t exposed to the hardships of other cultures across the world, they usually discount the experiences of immigrant rappers from these countries. K’naan speaks of his immigrant and Diaspora experience in “T.I.A (This is Africa)”.

He attacks this issue head on, in his first lines saying that he’ll “take rappers on a field trip anyday”, how he “knows where all the looters and the shooters stay”, and how if most of the rappers tried to step up to anyone in Africa they’d call them “pussy”. All these lines discount the experiences of African American rappers, usually the first to result to describing their violent natures in their raps. He insinuates that the real shooters, looters, and tough guys are in Africa, fighting a war with society that’s much bigger than African Americans can imagine. K’naan himself has gotten through some crazy experiences growing up within the beginning of the Somalian Civil War like losing three of his childhood friends to a random gunman when he was about 12, and mistaking a grenade for a potato, and throwing it just moments before it exploded. He definitely has been around the block and can talk about what it means to grow up in a hostile environment. His competition with these American rappers is synonymous to how most immigrants struggle to assimilate into American, British and other cultures they move to. Another quick snip he says at the beginning of the song is “You better have your shots and your passports”, mocking how many hoops immigrants have to go through entering in countries like the United States. In a way he’s telling them they need to be ready to enter his country.

Ultimately K’naan calls out how much immigrants go through and how they aren’t recognized for being survivors, both at home and adjusting to the hardships of the new country they inhabit.



K’Naan – Somalia

KNAAN is an artist who came to the United States as a refugee at the young age of 14. His homeland is the country of Somalia. He is an artist who does a great job of balancing both his African roots as well as his roots in America as an immigrant. The song that I will be using for this blog is called Somalia, from his Troubadour album. This album was  a tribute to his motherland. In this song,  the artists describes the very raw reality of hardship and violence in the country through his vivid lyricism. He paints a picture with his words of a young girl who had the potential to become anything a doctor or model,  but instead picked up a gun. He talks about how pirates are terrorizing the ocean and how everyday where he’s from there is some sort of commotion and unrest. He stays true to his African roots by telling these stories so that he doesn’t forget where he came from and to bring awareness. My favorite part of the song is “Do you see why it’s amazing When someone comes out of such a dire situation And learns the English language Just to share his observation? ” K’naan as an artist has come a long way on his journey to where he is today as a recognized artist internationally. He represents his American immigration roots by learning and producing music in the English language. He also has expanded his music to include collaborations with American artists such as Nas, Nelly Furtado and others which speaks volumes to his career expansion. But like most artist who get signed at some point there becomes a sacrifice. He has three recorded albums, the first two were done without any outside control and the third he began to have label influence. During a meeting he had with the label they encouraged him to keep his American audience happy, because they don’t want to hear about violence and trouble in Somalia. According to The New York Times, “And for the first time, I felt the affliction of success. ” He began to compromise his sound a bit in order to please others and now he is trying to figure out a way to continue to produce his most authentic sound while staying true to the diaspora. 

K’naan – Take a Minute


K’naan identifies as a Somalian Hip Hop artist who grew up in Canada. K’naan developed his love for Hip Hop and used influences of Nas and Rakim to begin his journey in Hip Hop. Before his family moved to the states and then permanently relocated to Canada, he experienced the civil war while growing up in Somolia. These experiences heavily influence his lyrics and poems.
K’naan’s song “Take a Minute” had a feel good laid back tone to it. The song produced a calming spirit and I didn’t realize the lyrics had significant meaning until listening for the second time. The song spoke about the artists experience in Africa during the Mandela era and how his mother unknowingly instilled in him the importance of giving back to his people.  He speaks on how he doesn’t know how leaders who fought in civil struggles remained positive and only wanted to see their people survive and free from the strife of European influence. The song also expressed the importance of his mother, the role she played in his family and a glimpse of her struggle during their civil war era. After implying briefly of the struggle, he goes on to share how “the worst is over now.” He implies through his lyrics that the lines of communication and acceptance are open now between Europeans and his people. He then uses Akon as an example of how Western societies are more willing to accept Africa, it’s people and its culture due to various awards won by him. I thought it interesting how he spoke so positively of the current state of his home when others may not be so willing to express similar sentiments. Overall, I felt the song allowed for a positive perspective and those that listen to it may gain a sense of peace if they are able to relate to the examples K’naan gave.

K’Naan x Fatima Critique

Aside from the lyrics, K’Naan’s vocals over the tropical and triumphantly melodious sound present a passionate mood that attracts many types of listeners. The song Fatima uses instruments like the organ, piano, bass guitar, deep bass drums, shakers, the trumpet, and even some electrical harp sounds. This instrumental culmination combines together and the result is a well balanced pop ballad that is very inspirational. The organ riffs give the feeling of church, which is where most people identify inspiration and motivation with. This in turns gives the feeling of motivation to the audience. Then, the different bongos drums and tropical horns are true to K’Naan’s native background in Africa. By adding the grand piano on this track, mixed with the tribal sound, the artist also appeals to pop listeners. This western pop influence enhances the international diversity of the song’s overall potential.

To say the least, Fatima’s lyrics are vital to the overall impact of the song because it discusses a budding romantic relationship that is separated by the injustices of police brutality in Africa. The writer of Fatima vividly tells the story the creation, expectations, and even the downfall of the relationship. Even as a young kid, K’Naan knew that his neighbor’s daughter was the “good kid in a mad city” who happened to be his saving grace for humanity; she brightened up his day. In this sense, the first verse describes his whereabouts in Africa when with her; in the chorus, K’Naan addresses Fatima and asks her if her killer was aware of their future destiny as a couple. He proceeds this depictions with many other questions about future planned events. After he discovers her death, he proceeds to ask himself why she had to go.

The song appears to be very happy and cheerful when in actuality, the song describes a terrible event of murder and an abrupt disruption of a beautiful relationship. K’Naan does an excellent job of transforming the perspectives of listeners from grief into celebration for the undone. The song, as well as K’Naan, is truly inspiring.   



Take A Minute… & Listen to K’NAAN

K'naan_by_David_ShankboneTake a Minute is a song by Somalian rapper K’Naan made in 2010. It’s a song about chilling and reflecting on life. In the song he discusses that life has difficult events, but sometimes you need to just sit back and take the time to collect yourself. Also, after collecting yourself you need to reflect on the problem and make the best of it. The songs also about by giving back and not expecting anything. He talks about his mom, Gandhi, and others and how giving to others makes you feel better.

Overall I really like the song. As of now it is my favorite song by an African Hip Hop artist. It comes second to Fatima, and shows how talented K’Naan is. The subject matter is really crucial especially the topic of giving back because most people forget where they come from and don’t give back to the people struggling through their former situation. People don’t realize that even giving back a little bit helps and you should teach the values to everyone. I give this song 5 stars out of 5.

Take A Minute– K’Naan

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze

How did Mandela get the will to surpass the everyday
When injustice had him caged and trapped in every way
How did Gandhi ever withstand the hunger strikes and all
Didn’t do it to gain power or money if I recall
It’s to give; I guess I’ll pass it on
Mother thinks it’ll lift the stress of Babylon
Mother knows, my mother she suffered blows
I don’t know how we survived such violent episodes
I was so worried, and hurt to see you bleed
But as soon as you came out the hospital you gave me sweets
Yeah, they try to take you from me
But you still only gave ’em some prayers and sympathy
Dear mama, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze

All I can say is the worst is over now
We can serve the hard times, divorce is over now
They try to keep us out, but they doors is open now
My nigga Akon is getting awards for covers now
This is K’naan, and still reppin’ the S
Comin’ out of Mogadishu and still draped in the mess
And no matter how we strong, homie
It ain’t easy coming out of where we from, homie
And that’s the reason why, I could never play for me
Tell ’em the truth, is what my dead homies told me
Oh yeah, I take inspiration from the most heinous of situations
Creating medication out my own tribulations
Dear Africa, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze

Nothing is perfect man, that’s what the world is
All I know is
I’m enjoying today
You know, ’cause it isn’t everybody that you get to give

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breeze