Rapping like he was Q-Tip, singing like he was Bob Marley, and ambitiously taking on the global sound like he was Wyclef Jean, K'Naan is not only a ridiculously talented man but one who comes with a story of survival so big it can't help but top most other tales of inner city pressure. Moving from a ghetto in war torn Somalia to Harlem and then on to Toronto where the sometimes poet's debut album wins the Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year, the lyrically gifted rapper just can't help being a one-upper. What's missing, then, from his sophomore effort Troubadour is some kind of "I did, you can too" message that could help make him a more approachable, Marley-like figure. You lose your girlfriend for whatever reason, K'Naan loses his to war. After pointing out the gangsters in his hood are bazooka carrying pirates who jack tankers for ransom, it becomes obvious that Troubadour is an album to marvel at from afar, but that doesn't keep it from being a rewarding, often eye-opening spectacle. Key track "ABCs" presents Africa as a land of different priorities, where survival trumps education and "nobody fat enough for lipo." The long lost Chubb Rock appearance is just one of the stunning choices for guests with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine providing the hooky chorus for "Bang Bang" while Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett brings the rock & roll thunder to "If Rap Gets Jealous." Mos Def and Chali Tuna roll around just in time to keep this genre-jumping album filed under "hip-hop," but here, the multi-lingual K'Naan has taken to rapping in his native tongue. One track later in this epic tale and his first crush ends up kidnapped by soldiers, but when "Fatima" remembers that teenage feeling with "After school we studied the lessons/I asked God to slow down the seconds/He does the opposite, that's what I'm guessin'" it's strangely satisfying that K'Naan is one of us, at least when it comes to puppy love. Describing the elation of picking up that much-need wired money transfer on "15 Minutes Away" to dropping ancient history on "People Like Me" are the kind of long-jumps that make Troubadour a bit dizzying. Still, with such skill and ability on display, this is highly recommended for anyone intrigued by a will.i.am version of Slumdog Millionaire or a Charles Dickens novel reimagined by Arrested Development.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries