In the post-Rick Ross era, a rapper's biography carries as much weight with his peers as the rhymes he's spitting. So for Somali-born, Canadian-bred MC [artist id="2344547"]K'Naan[/artist] — with a real-life backstory of growing up dodging bullets on the mean streets of Mogadishu, Somalia — the credibility came relatively easy.
Four years after releasing his debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, in Canada, K'Naan is back with Troubadour, his first album to be released in the U.S. and one that features collaborations with a group of artists as diverse as his celebrity fanbase.
"I get surprised by the genre-span of people that like my music," K'Naan told MTV News recently. "There'll be, like, the usual hip-hoppers on TV and then recently I heard from [British rock band] Keane. From Damon Albarn [of Blur] to [artist id="1162710"]Talib Kweli[/artist], it's a real cool mix of people."
While those folks are not on K'Naan's latest album, a slew of other eclectic acts make up the disc's liner notes. Troubadour features guest spots by hip-hop heavyweights [artist id="504157"]Mos Def[/artist] and Chubb Rock as well as unlikely pairings with [artist id="1230385"]Maroon 5[/artist]'s Adam Levine and [artist id="995"]Metallica's[/artist] Kirk Hammett.
Damian Marley not only hopped on the reggae-infused track "I Come Prepared," but he invited K'Naan to record the album in Bob Marley's studios in Jamaica.
The album may be full of coveted co-signs but K'Naan swears he wasn't searching for star power when it came to Troubadour.
"I like to do things in a very natural process rather than be like, 'I know him, I want to do a song with him!' " he explained. "When I came back from Jamaica, I had already constructed much of the songs [these artists] would be on and envisioned them on it."
On "Bang Bang," an off-kilter, high-energy track, K'Naan looked to Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine to provide the falsetto flavor needed to complete the song. But how does a relatively unknown rapper end up working with one of the most distinctive voices in pop music? According to K'Naan, Maroon 5 drummer Ryan Dusick introduced the two and they became instant friends.
"When me and Adam met, we didn't even talk about music — we just kicked it for a bit, " K'Naan said. "Eventually, a year later, the song came about and we played it for Adam. He loved it and did it."
The album's first single, "ABCs," featuring Chubb Rock, is a perfect precursor to an album saturated with sobering lyrics about growing up in war-torn Somalia.
On "America," a track that stands in contrast to one called "Somalia," K'Naan enlisted the help of good friend and mentor Mos Def.
K'Naan doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The rapper says he has projects in the works with newcomer Wale, Dead Prez, KRS-One and a "pretty remarkable" guest spot on the upcoming Nas and Damian Marley joint album.
K'Naan's album Troubadour dropped in February and debuted at #32 on the Billboard charts.