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K’naan will be performing as part of the Kennedy Center’s “Arabesque” festival, but he’s not your typical folk-festival fare. The rapper grew up in Somalia listening to the hip-hop albums his father sent from New York, and fled to the United States in 1991 right before Somalia’s government collapsed. He eventually settled in Toronto, and his recently reissued 2005 debut, Dusty Foot Philosopher, melds Eminem-like singsong vocals with more conscientious lyrics and African instrumentation. K’naan also reprises a few Eminemisms on his most recent album, Troubadour, but more notable is the quality singing and the lyrical nods to A Tribe Called Quest and Cool Kids. The African influences take a backseat to poppy guitar strumming and bubbly keyboard work, and contributions by Kirk Hammett, Adam Levine, and Mos Def reinforce the new mainstream vibe. Regardless of how it’s dressed, the best of Troubadour is still K’naan’s message: sadness and braggadocio about his homeland in “Dreamer,” the frustrations of immigrant life in “15 Minutes Away,” and snatched-away love in “Fatima.”
K’NAAN PERFORMS AT 6 p.m. AT THE KENNEDY CENTER’S MILLENNIUM STAGE, 2700 F ST. NW. FREE. (202) 416-7800.