Editors' pick

K'Naan, City of the Sun

Hip-Hop/Rap
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Editorial Review

An evolving international sound
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, November 2, 2012

A youthful survivor of the Somali civil war, K’Naan found refuge in Toronto, where he gravitated to hip-hop. Yet he has found more success with the international pop-rock audience, notably because of the success of his 2010 release, “Wavin’ Flag,” which was more U2 than Jay-Z. Bono makes a guest appearance on K’Naan’s third studio album, “Country, God or the Girl,” which also features Nas and Will.i.am, among many others.

Country, God or the Girl” was crafted for maximum commercial appeal, and its pop-oriented sound undercuts its edgier lines (some of them delivered by Nas on “Nothing to Lose”). While K’Naan raps more often than he sings, his style and attitude don’t have much in common with contemporary hip-hop. Of the three topics listed in the album title, he concentrates on “the girl” and related domestic concerns.

The songs are heavily sweetened with guitars, strings and multiple vocals. Nelly Furtado sings the chorus on “Is Anybody Out There?,” and “Better” features a synth-pop keyboard sample and a refrain that blends arena-rock with African chorales. Several tracks fit their raps into jaunty tunes that suggest a British music hall. The mixture can be incongruous yet is always listenable. K’Naan’s message is getting fainter, but his musicality remains strong.