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Hip Hop, Pirates and Politics

January 15, 2010

I HEART K’naan, the Somali-born, Somali-lived, Somali-exiled and Canada-adopted rapper. His first album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, was great and while going on and on about how damn hard-core he is for having grown up during Somalia’s erupting civil war (“I make 50-Cent look like Limp Bizkit”) might get tedious, his musical talents make up for it as they’re catchy enough to have wanky white suburban i-phone types like myself nodding along to the “ethnic” beats and his witty vocals. You’ve got to give to him, all his bragging about the real thing, well he has a point:

All Somalis know that gangsterism isn’t to brag about. The kids that I was growing up with [in Rexdale] would wear baggy [track] suit pants, and a little jacket from Zellers or something, and they’d walk into school, and all the cool kids would be like, ‘Ah, man, look at these Somalis. Yo, you’re a punk!’ And the other kid won’t say nothing, but that kid, probably, has killed fifteen people.

… And his song, Wavin’ Flag, is an official world cup anthem.

For all this, I LIKE K’Naan.

But the reason I HEART K’nann is this: In a December 30, 2008 interview with Hard Knock TV, K’naan had a chat on television and had this to say about piracy:

[…] but how there came to be pirates, I think that is probably the most undiscussed thing in major media today – it’s as if they just sprung from nowhere. But Somalis have long known about the issues…

He went on to say that piracy originated as an organized resistance to illegal dumping of toxic wastes and the overfishing of Somali’s waters by ships from countries that, well, lets just say countries that actually had a coastguard. He then very observantly pointed out that “greed and the lure of money eventually produced what we see today as, Somali piracy”. If you’ve studied the political economy of conflict, this is a pretty near spot-on analysis of the movement from grievance to greed. I HEART K’naan for providing me with perhaps the only source of analytically sound opinion on the whole piracy thing.

Anyway, point is this: What the F**K did 50-Cent ever teach us about the socio- economic and identity politics roots of inter-gang violence in marginalised urban areas?

(K’naan’s interview  with the AJ’s Riz Khan is here and here.)

38 Comments leave one →
  1. conradvisionquest permalink
    January 15, 2010 3:11 pm

    i heart blog posts that expose truth.

  2. aimemoimoins permalink
    January 15, 2010 3:34 pm


  3. Claude Van Inkins permalink*
    January 15, 2010 3:44 pm

    K’naan fans? I tried to see him live in London but ticketed out – although of course my somali friends somehow managed to get in!

  4. jenclinton permalink
    January 15, 2010 5:37 pm

    LOVE k’naan!

    and any man who knows a thing knows he knows not a damn damn thing at alllll…

  5. Jim Hagen permalink
    January 15, 2010 7:09 pm

    “Only analytically sound opinion” ???? What exactly is an analytically sound opinion?

  6. Danny permalink
    January 15, 2010 7:16 pm

    Not sure what your point is. Are you saying that piracy is OK because it started as something legitimate? Or that you (heart) K’naan because he ‘educated’ you about a fact that is widely known.

    Are you aware that the Mafia started as Robin Hood sort of thing to protect peasants from the government and the KKK started as a bunch of guys protecting their families and neighbors from maurading soldiers and mercenaries?

    And the Republican Party was once the party of Lincoln.

    • January 19, 2010 2:21 am

      “And the Republican Party was once the party of Lincoln,” is a really good line. I’m going to steal it!

  7. Euri permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:45 pm

    I don’t condone piracy at any time or by any people.

    But I agree, as much as we enjoy re-telling the stories of “beloved” pirates from our own coast and of course those “Pirates of the Caribbean”, I think we owe it to ourselves to understand the story behind these pirates. If nothing else, it could help us put a stop to the violent acts and also help address the root problems that people feel strongly enough about to act on.

    I thought ya’ll might also enjoy this.

  8. shortieroc permalink
    January 15, 2010 11:41 pm

    Interesting! Im going to keep an eye out for this guy.

  9. January 16, 2010 12:36 am

    Danny nailed it. It’s easy to root for the underdog, but two wrongs don’t make a right. All of that said, our race is headed in one of two directions: a fair and balanced sharing of the planet’s resources, or extinction. Simple as that. Only when the concept of nations and borders is finally expelled from us like a bad chili-dog will we become truly civilized. I propose a world constitutional convention. You may say I’m a dreamer. But, I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.

  10. angiekara permalink
    January 16, 2010 1:23 am


  11. January 16, 2010 6:50 am

    I was about to get on a rant then i read Danny’s post and he about summed it up. these pirates take the lives other human beings that have nothing to do with the struggle of somalians. they are fathers going to sea to provide for thier families. i accept the fact that some of these people feel they have no other choice but to become pirates to provide for thier own, but lets not make them more that what they are criminals that should be shot for thier crimes. but on lighter not here is a nice post about about pirates from the sister ship of the maersk alabama

  12. January 16, 2010 7:42 am

    I absolutely LOVE K’Naan and wish that people would pay more attention to him. My favorite lyric of his is: “Any man who knows a thing knows he knows not a damn damn thing at all.” He is brilliant and he is able to shed light on a part of the world that is unfortunately too oft put in the dark by western media. Phenomenal post!

  13. January 16, 2010 8:54 am

    first off, right on danny, you are the man, and im glad to see others point our your response before me. secondly, fuck this, are you mother fuckers for real??? thats right, 3 question marks after that, i really want to know. perhaps in a complete world there would be nazi pirates, that would be something. and oh yeah, I heart stupid ignorance.

  14. aboutaboyinindia permalink
    January 16, 2010 11:31 am

    i don’t think the author is condoning piracy. he clearly states at the very end that his point is to compare k’naan and 50 cent. he doesn’t do so in the blog’s entirety, but in a round-a-bout sort of way. he stated k’naan’s views as evidence that this artist has a political opinion. to me it seems he praises k’naan for simply standing somewhere on the issue at all as opposed to 50 cent who doesn’t use his music to make audiences aware of any political thought or perspectives.

    i may be wrong, but who in their right mind supports terrorists? cause pirates are basically water terrorists, right?

    thank you for your time…a.a.b.i.i…

  15. Claude Van Inkins permalink*
    January 16, 2010 5:33 pm

    Firstly I appreciate the comments.

    I don’t condone piracy nor do I condone terrorism, or most forms of violence, especially if its serves nothing but to self-enrich. But I do condone a good dollop of analysis, or, to say it straight, properly explaining why a given events happens.

    In the case of piracy the majority of mainstream media failed to do this, they failed to point out that armed groups of somali fishermen were mobilised as a means to express, and deal with, their grievances with outsiders screwing things up for them.

    But, as so often is the case, when groups of young men get mobilised with weapons, oppurtunities for using this force for self enrichment often come to dominate. Greed comes to become the main incentive for violence, not grievance (Danny – agree, the mafia is a good analogy). All the money made means that more people try and do the same – and lets be frank, if you could earn $20,000 per year and lived in Somali you’d probably be the first putting on your eye patch and peg leg.

    That K’naan understands this and tries to explain that The West and Friends are complicit in Somalia’s problems is commendable.

    And otherwise, K’naan’s just a great musician.

    And frig, please don’t accuse other people of having sex with their mothers. Keep your fruedian frustrations to yourself please.

    • January 18, 2010 6:04 pm

      I hadn’t heard about K’naan prior to reading this post. Thank you for writing this! I love him!!! 😀

      Regarding the piracy issues, I don’t feel that I, as a person who lives in a country where piracy is just something I read about, have the life experience to chime in on whether or not piracy is a valid option.

    • frodo441 permalink
      January 18, 2010 6:14 pm

      …more (Heart) to K’naan…but your forgetting one very important piece of the puzzle about “the West’s infringement on poor Somalia…” mainly that back in the ’90’s, when Somalia was deep in a food crisis to feed their selves and neighbors, the American public was given the unique opportunity to see Somali’s dragging the “dead body of a marine around from the back of a car”. That said, do you think, with the amount and temper and general attitudes of people’s admiration for the U.S. marine and what he represents, give a squat? They made their own bed.

  16. Toriano's "La Buena Vida" permalink
    January 16, 2010 7:33 pm

    good discussion and I will be checking the dude out at some point.

  17. gmtbillings permalink
    January 16, 2010 8:28 pm

    Came across your blog via the WordPress main page — I love K’Naan and my husband finds this incredibly uncharactertisic since I mostly do classic and blues. But I heard about him through NPR, gave Wavin’ Flag a try and gosh, it was so good, and I’m excited to see him get more ink and bytes about it.

  18. sysh permalink*
    January 16, 2010 11:54 pm

    gmtbillings…i only just discovered K’Naan through this post, and really really like him from what i’ve heard so far!

  19. John permalink
    January 17, 2010 1:51 am

  20. Sam Klein permalink
    January 17, 2010 12:23 pm

    Im a huge K’naan fan.

    While other guys rap about killing people, he’s rapping about saving people.

    • sysh permalink*
      January 17, 2010 4:55 pm

      bingo– and that’s a shame really, because that’s what hip hop was about…it seems to have lost the plot and it’s refreshing to see someone bring it back to what hip hop was about.

  21. January 17, 2010 1:45 pm

    The pirates are good, it is the plunder and murder that is bad. 😉

    K’naan is refreshingly multi-talented.

  22. January 17, 2010 4:37 pm

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing this.

    My name is Dj and I’m new to wordpress.Hope you could visit my site

    Thanks again.

  23. Did they really ask that? permalink
    January 17, 2010 8:20 pm

    the truth. i like the post.

    Cheap web ads still available on my blog about the stupidest questions people ask online:

  24. January 17, 2010 9:55 pm

    I really wonder what you are trying to condone here. Piracy is just another form of violence and similar to the one that catapulted 50 Cents career.

    Just because fifty’s experience of need and want took place in a country that on the surface appears to provide an equal and protective existence for its natives does not to me make it any less valid a situation of deprivation. (Believe me you need to spend some time in some of those New York ghettos to really understand, you’d probably need post traumatic therapy once you get out).

    I think we need to stop looking for heros that have sprung from unsettled and turbulent situations and start realising that maybe once we truly erradicate an unequal world full of violence, fear and brutality, which piracy is a form of then maybe. Just maybe we will start to see artist whose words inspire and comfort us rather than make us fearful and full of sadness.

    On a last note, I personally and somewhat wisely I think, would not pit any man against another regardless of where they are from. Even the suited and booted guy from the New York Suburbs has the ability to create madness and kill if he feels his existence is being threatened.

    • sysh permalink*
      January 17, 2010 11:19 pm

      I think you’re missing the point though. What this author is saying is that unlike artists like 50 cent, K’naan has a very political message in his music, and, like the comment above said, he’s talking about peace rather than about war. That’s what makes him uniquely refreshing. That + sound political analysis that sets to understand how things like piracy come to be (because in order to truly solve a problem you need to understand the roots of it, in this case piracy) makes K’naan very different from 50 cent.

      The author isn’t sensationalising Somalia over American slums. If 50 cent manages to articulate the complex political structures in his environment, and do so while promoting peace, then we can talk. But he doesn’t do that.

      And that’s why K’naan is different, and in this case, better.

      • aboutaboyinindia permalink
        January 18, 2010 12:18 am

        thank you sysh

  25. yourmom permalink
    January 18, 2010 2:51 am

    the KKK started as a bunch of guys protecting their families and neighbors from maurading soldiers and mercenaries?

    I call bs. Did you source that from Birth of a Nation?


  26. January 18, 2010 4:32 am

    I adore K’naan as well. He’s right about the piracy, it seems as though the background about the “pirates” were only known by Somalis but now, probably due to K’naan’s words, others are now looking for the truth themselves.

  27. lucku permalink
    January 18, 2010 12:00 pm

    Nice article!

  28. January 19, 2010 4:10 am

    Love K’Naan. Not too keen on piracy, though.

  29. blackwatertown permalink
    January 19, 2010 9:50 am

    K’Naan definitely worth a listen. He provides the soundtrack to my occasional running. Thanks for the other interesting piracy comments.

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