The Dustyfoot Philosopher

April 7, 2011

Crazy things happen when you don’t have cable. I was just flipping through the few basic channels that my TV receives when I caught a rhythm, so of course I stopped flipping and listened. It was a local station that plays videos from all over the African diaspora late at night. And the image on my screen was that of slender, brown-skinned gentleman, with curly hair that goes by the name of K’naan.

The beat that he rhymed and sang over was pretty catchy and his lyrics were somewhat profound, but what really caught my attention was the name of his album. It was called The Dusty Foot Philosopher. It’s such an incredibly humble image reminiscent of the barefoot servant. When I read it on the screen it made me wonder what happened to our humility here in the United States. What kind of inner-confidence does K’naan–a Somali born Canadian MC– possess that all of my favorite American born hip-hop artist have lost? Because, honestly, I can’t see the most righteous American rapper giving his album such a bold title and expecting it to sell. Why is that? I mean shouldn’t we expect our artist to be humbletruthsayers and not extravagant egomaniacs? Or maybe it can never be that simple.

On a personal level I am extremely ambivalent towards materialism. I am opposed to ostentatious displays of wealth through jewelry and fancy cars but at the same time I just spent $117 dollars on some tennis shoes that I don’t need yesterday. That’s pretty far removed from being either a barefoot servant or a dustyfoot philosopher. Or sometimes I’ll go through a phase where I’m deep in my craft  of creative writing and I’ll wear old worn out jeans everyday and refuse to shave or cut my hair, but then I’ll take my daughter to the mall and let her get whatever she wants. Is that not the same thing?  Is that not evidence of me being just as blinded by capitalism as the man who raps about his Bently or the woman who sings about her designer handbag? It seems like I have the same mentality as they do it’s just that they have more money to burn.

But once again the truth is never that simple. I would be remissed for not giving myself credit for at least trying to be a more humble person. In the end, however, I do wonder whether or not that will be enough. I don’t know but then again that’s not for me to decide.

One thought on “The Dustyfoot Philosopher

  1. I have also found myself not as engrossed with K’naan’s music as I have been with what K’naan means for the global hip hop industry. When I was living in Uganda this past summer, the World Cup was demanding all of our attention and after watching the games, we’d hit the clubs. The clubs in Uganda play everything from local hip hop artists, like Bebe Cool to Trey Songz, but, I usually felt a tinge of guilt when the American mainstream hip hop music got more playtime than the Uganda MCs. Ugandan culture is beautiful thing that I’d hate to see deteriorate as a result of the ever persistent dominance of Western culture. Along with 50 Cent and Snoop, every night, without fail, K’naan’s obnoxiously catchy and uplifting joint “Wave Your Flag” would play. Every time the song played, the whole club would go bananas, not necessarily because it was that great of a song, we were all actually pretty sick of it, but the song provided a moment when the entire club could unify, the West and Africa in one artist. His identity alone has deep implications on the significance of hip-hop music internationally.

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