Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just as the civil unrest that rocked the country was beginning, rapper K'NAAN spent the early years of his life trying to avoid death and listening to the hip-hop records sent to him from America by his father, who had left Somalia earlier. When K'NAAN (whose name means "traveler" in Somali) was 13, he, his mother, and his two siblings were able to leave their homeland and join relatives in Harlem, where they stayed briefly before moving to Rexdale, Ontario, where there was a large Somali community.
As soon as his English started improving he began rapping, and in tenth grade he dropped out of school and traveled around North America for two years, performing occasionally. Through his friendship with Sol Guy, part of promotion team Direct Current Media, K'NAAN was able to perform at the United Nations' 50th anniversary concert in 1999, held in Geneva, where he used his platform to publicly criticize the United Nations' handling of the Somali crisis in the 1990s. One of the audience members, Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, was so impressed by the young MC's performance and courage that he invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges, a project through which K'NAAN was able to tour the world.
In 2002, he met Jarvis Church, part of the Track and Field Productions team that helped propel Nelly Furtado to fame, a connection that eventually led to a record. The Dusty Foot Philosopher came out in Canada in 2005, and was followed with tour spots with Mos Def and Talib Kweli, as well as a performance at Live 8. In 2007, the live album On the Road appeared and then, two years later, the album Troubadour became K'NAAN's first for the major-label A&M. After his track "Wavin' Flag" became the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, his More Beautiful Than Silence EP arrived in 2012.