The Dusty Foot on the Road

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Live rap albums can easily become confusing messes of sound. Live African rap albums, with just a minimal backing, are like projects deliberately seeking obscurity. But K'Naan seems to have the right idea with this. Generally using just acoustic guitar and percussion to frame his raw voice brings out a lot of his considerable on-stage personality, and brings a more rooted feels to the songs. Rhythm is the center here, and it's none the worse for it, since it gives a boost to the African quality of the material, as can be readily heard on "The African Way" and "Soobalax," which pushes his technique hard and highlights his excellent vocal agility. The studio record that preceded this seemed to show that his ambition was American hip-hop, but here he projects an excellent individuality that sets him apart. Growing up in the conflicts of Mogadishu wasn't easy, but "Smile," his autobiographical tale of the experience, comes out hopeful and offers a welcome contrast to the glorification of violence and the cult of the macho that pervades so much American hip-hop. Not that it's not without a connection -- Mos Def is a guest here. But there's a real sense of urgency, and a fiery energy to the performances captured here that proclaim the fact that K'Naan has talent outside the studio, too, and brings a powerful, fresh voice to music.

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