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Troubadour (A&M/Octone)

Compared to the grittiness of his debut, The Dusty-Foot Philosopher, K'naan's latest album Troubadour might come across as a bit of shock. The production is super-slick, the beats are clean and radio-ready and the guests are high-profile: Mos Def; Adam Levine and Kirk Hammett (!?) all take a turn. All this may have some purists yelling "sellout!" but they'll be drowned out by the majority of people who are going to eat this album up and not simply for the high production values. All flash aside, this Somalia-born rapper is the real deal. Whether snarling like Lil' Wayne or with the sing-song delivery of his childhood hero, Lucky Dube, K'naan tells the story of his complex upbringing and coming-of-age with style and conviction. When combined with the album's glossiness, it can be jarring. But the rapper remains true to himself throughout, even reciting lyrics in his native dialect in songs like "America." And considering that Troubadour's subject matter largely deals with one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world, it never feels heavy-handed. The song "Somalia" weaves a chronicle of his youth in a place "where the streets have no name" with the sweet voices of children. Like much of the album, it's heartbreaking but also joyous. And that's what will turn this one-time slum kid into a superstar. Alison Lang

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