The last time Morning Edition spoke with K'naan, he had just gone back to his native Somalia for the first time in 20 years to highlight the effects of the famine there.
The Somali-Canadian rapper was introduced to the world as The Dusty Foot Philosopher with his first album in 2005; then he returned with Troubadour in 2009. Just last month, he came out with an EP, More Beautiful Than Silence. A new full-length album, Country, God, or the Girl, comes out in May.
K'naan has said the stories in his songs have actually happened, including a tale he tells in "Coming to America" about how he accidentally blew up his school with a hand grenade in eighth grade.
"My mom took me in her arms and cried at the possibility that I could've been killed," K'naan tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne. "Then she started going on a tangent: 'What kind of person would leave a grenade in the playground of a school?' "
Somalia has a long history of oral poetry, and K'naan's grandfather is a major proponent of this history: According to one story, he once stopped a war with his words.
K'naan says he isn't sure whether rap could ever reach those heights of influence.
"The problem is that rap is so often a caricature of its own image," he says. "Nobody comes to the table with the seriousness of the effect that it can have; nobody is prepared for that. The poetry I grew up on is really an intense form of poetry; it's so pure and powerful."
K'naan describes the title track of his new EP as "a self-criticism, a moment in which I'm also recognizing those things. I have moments of darkness, of anger, and moments of rage. They do creep up at the most inopportune times. Not to recognize that in my music would give people a sense of sainthood that I don't necessarily have or even want to have. Because I don't accept the title of the all-great kid who came out of Mogadishu completely unfazed, unscathed, and has written music of just hope and joy. It can be partly true, but it isn't all true."