K’naan + Wale: 11.April.2010 – Chicago

The masses pulsed and grooved to K’naan‘s intercontinental tapestry of rap beats, rock, and Afropop melodies. The Somali MC took fans to higher ground with tracks from his debut album Dusty Foot Philosopher (2005) and his latest release Troubadour, one of last year’s best, and most ambitious, hip-hop releases.

In song, K’naan grabs hold of your heart and mind because of his gift for being a unique voice for himself as well as his fellow countrymen. Opening with the joyfully tragic third-world anthem “ABC’s”, a crop of cellphones and mini-cams sprouted up in the front row to capture the moment. He floated across the stage, casually donning a faded denim button-down shirt with dark green pants. His clothes might have been low-key and understated, but as he made his way through the song he wore a big fuzzy fur hat, like a king honoring his people with a royal performance.

Traversing through the funkied and soulful “I Come Prepared”, and the tweeter-rattling crunk joint “Does It Really Matter”, K’naan’s intricate, journalistic rhymes and crafty punch lines uplifted, entertained and educated. His charm lies in his ability to simultaneously chronicle his experiences from growing up in the war-torn Horn of Africa while also sounding off on the global state of hip-hop.

He things down for reflective ballads “Take a Minute” and “Wavin’ Flag” before inviting a fan on stage to sing “Be Free”. The fan, Kate, owned the stage all by herself, earning that privilege through K’naan’s reaction to her original YouTube performance.

K’naan ended his set in typical fashion: by sharing his life story of how he came to America as a young boy using an a capella croon, spoken word poetry, and rhyming all to tell an intimate tale of joy, heartache and triumph.

Segueing us from K’naan to headliner Wale, was DJ Omega. Mixing samples from Kanye West’s Graduation with a dose of ’90s gangsta-funk, he tried his best to sustain the energy of K’naan’s show.

It turned out to be a futile attempt, however, though no fault of his own. It was simply a case of putting the wrong guy in the headlining spot.

Photos by Colleen Catania