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K'naan working on new songs after deriding 2012 album for chasing U.S. fame

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TORONTO - Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan says lingering disappointment over his last album is pushing him to write and release a new batch of songs.

The "Wavin' Flag" musician says he's found renewed focus to "be honest" in his work, after playing it too safe with 2012's "Country, God or the Girl."

K'naan says from Los Angeles that he's writing new material he hopes will be ready this fall.

His disdain for last year's disc was laid bare in a New York Times opinion piece published in December 2012.

K'naan began that 1,200-word article by saying: "Here is a story about fame," and went on to recount label pressure to cater his dense global rhymes to a pop-loving female, teenage U.S. audience.

K'naan, who draws much of his inspiration from his troubled homeland, now says he's been thinking a lot about the artist he wants to be and the kind of music he wants to make.

"It's a very instinctual album, (there's) not a lot of mulling over it," K'naan says of the new songs.

"I just felt like I had to do things this time around that felt pretty urgent to me."

And he is hoping to get the material out into the world as soon as he can, he admits, largely because of regretful choices made with "Country, God or the Girl."

"The rush is that I didn't really like that album so much, so I think that that's the experience — the reflection of the album I put out has caused me to put out another one," he says of last year's disc, which nevertheless earned respectable reviews.

"It's not even a mechanical thing, it's the urge to explain the dynamics of things and try to be honest about where I'm at, what my life is and also the difference between writing music that you could write and music that you should write."

In the Times piece, the Toronto-bred rapper recounts meeting label executives to discuss how to keep his U.S. audience growing.

Their main advice: change his lyrics because "radio programmers avoid subjects too far from fun and self-absorption."

"And for the first time, I felt the affliction of success," K'naan writes.

"When I walked away from the table, there were bruises on the unheard lyrics of my yet-to-be-born songs. A question had raised its hand in the quiet of my soul: What do you do after success? What must you do to keep it?"

As a result, "some songs became far more Top 40 friendly, but infinitely cheaper."

Reached earlier this week, K'naan says he's filled with a creative drive to write new songs as well as work on his first feature film, which will be workshopped later this month at a Sundance Institute lab in Utah.

"Everyone has a thing that only they can do," he says.

"There are different ways of approaching work, artistic work. As an artist, we know that we can do a few things and sometimes we do the work that seems that like other people can do also and then there are works that we do that is our own to do. So I think that that's part of what I've been thinking about."

These days he says he needs to "be honest about things and not necessarily be safe."

"My previous work — with the exception of the last record — you wouldn't call those songs safe, you know," he continues.

"They weren't structured around any kind of a pop success or idea around success. They were just what one thought they had to do or say. I think that's kind of like the journey I'm on at this point — to reclaim that position in which the only thing I'm considering is the work that I feel like I need to do rather than what I feel like people want to hear."

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