K’Naan & Opinions on The Hold Steady

Somali-born performer K’Naan visits the show to talk about poetry, politics and hip hop. Plus, he and his band perform live in the studio.

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The UK music industry cheered this week after its record industry, BPI, announced its first revenue growth in six years. The 1.4% profit increase is mostly due to the success of digital music sales, which grew by more than 50%. So, it's no surprise that record companies have their eye on the digital world and all of the non-legal, non-profitable activity that takes place on Spotify and YouTube–especially since CD sales are still plummeting.

According to Billboard, this year's Record Store Day helped independent shops across the country break sales records. It was also "the biggest day of sales for vinyl in SoundScan's history." Of course, SoundScan only began in 1991, but Jim and Greg still applaud any effort to support independent music retailers. And, they'd encourage you to check out last year's Record Store Day celebration on Sound Opinions.


This week Jim and Greg are joined in the studio by K’Naan and his touring band. The rapper and poet, born in Somalia and raised in New York and Toronto, released his second, and most successful album Troubadour last year. K'Naan left Mogadishu at age 13 at the outbreak of civil war violence, but the country remains a major influence on his music. There are a number of Somali poetry styles, and as he demonstrates to Jim and Greg, it can lend itself to rap verses. Also, while he appreciates a good love song as much as the next person, K'Naan feels a responsibility with his music and tries to convey the violence and the reality of what he experienced.

Heaven is Whenever The Hold Steady

Heaven Is Whenever

The Hold Steady is back with a new album and a new lineup. Heaven is Whenever is the band's fifth record, and its first without keyboardist  Franz Nicolay. He was a big part of their sound, so Jim and Greg were curious to hear their new offering. As Greg explains, The Hold Steady is something of a glorified bar band, with rambling anthems. On 2008's Stay Positive they polished things up. And Heaven is Whenever is an attempt to find balance between those two approaches. Therefore, it's a transitional record, and for Greg, a Burn It. Jim has come to terms with the fact that he just doesn't like The Hold Steady. He loves singer  Craig Finn's energy live, but finds his vocal style very grating on record. He gives this a Trash It.


After listening to K’Naan discuss the challenge of fitting into the record industry's boxes, Greg is reminded of another hard-to-define act-Michael Franti and Spearhead. They combined hip hop, funk and reggae in their 1994 debut Home. To Greg, Franti is one of the great political singers of all time, and he chooses to add the song "Hole in the Bucket," from Home to the Desert Island Jukebox.

Dear Listeners,

For more than 15 years, Sound Opinions was a production of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. Now that the show is independent, we're inviting you to join the band and lend a hand! We need your support more than ever because now we have to do all the behind-the-scenes work that WBEZ handled before (like buying insurance and paying for podcast hosting, ugh). Plus, we have some exciting ideas we'd like to try now that there's no one to tell us no!