** (out of four)
For whatever reason, the American hip-hop community has never really taken to K'naan, the Somali Canadian rapper whose first two albums delivered frequently riveting descriptions of growing up in Mogadishu and moving to Toronto. Not that this turned out to be a problem -- his song "Waving Flag" was chosen by Coca-Cola as its 2010 World Cup anthem and became a massive international hit. Even Mitt Romney, who has probably never willingly listened to a rap song in his life, picked it up to use for his campaign. K’naan quickly asked him to stop using it.
Unsurprisingly, K’naan’s latest album, “Country, God or the Girl,” is a turn toward broad-strokes global pop. Bono even makes an appearance. K’naan’s always had an inclination for cheesy pop touches and bad guitar parts, and stepping into the role of international pop star unfortunately enables these tendencies. “Y'all know my war story/I won't repeat it,” he explains on the most straightforward rap track, the highlight “Nothing to Lose” featuring Nas. Instead K’naan spends his time discussing heartbreak (since his last album, K’naan got divorced) and growing older, shoehorning these topics into a series of attempts to remake “Waving Flag.” The result, oddly enough for pop music, manages to be less fun than an album about war-torn Somalia.
The great thing about past K’naan releases was his ability to playfully tap into political topics and offer an internationally minded perspective without seeming preachy. With a few exceptions ("Shout out anybody named Mohammed/cause no lie I know about a hundred"), his broad focus here offers little to latch onto.
In concert: Nov. 3 at Bottom Lounge
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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