The Investigation into Dr. Yen Lo
At first the new release(Days with Dr. Yen Lo) from Ka and his fits-like-a-glove producer Preservation might just seem like music to go crazy alongside (or because of) and in a way it is but it’s in a very unique way that must be looked into and understood. Dr. Yen Lo handles the brainwashing in the original Frank Sinatra Manchurian Candidate (all the audio samples in this album are from the original we even get to hear Angela Lansbury on a 2015 album which is pretty cool) and the tracks are all named after days in treatment completely out of order to create a new order.
Let’s start with Day 3.
On Day 3 of treatment our narrator is brash and confident even over the haunting, tense backdrop he spits over. He talks about pulling himself out of the violent surroundings, using one’s brain as the best weapon and says “When survivals on the spiral…spin hope” and repeats it “I spin hope” when he refers to guns and violence he deplores that he has to use it. The anger in him has developed from the street scenes he articulates but it is a struggle he fights, and chooses to spin hope where none exists.
The latest day of treatment is Day 1125
By Day 1125 things have changed. All the confident artistic imagery has been whittled away and it’s all pistol play paranoia. Foes are cooking up work and by the end he’s mumbling about being placed in a coffin. The person on Day 3 was powerful and smart and hopeful. As muted as Ka’s delivery is normally he’s practically trailing off…remade into what the treatment has made him.
Over the course of his brainwashing the uniqueness and knowledge of self-worth is removed and left as more space to fill with the distrustful worldview of a street survivalist. All the early days contain a desire for peace, an understanding of art and how he makes art. By the later treatments all he can think about is street life and death as two sides of the same coin. While Ka spits in a monotone whisper he traffics in bumper sticker/T-shirt worthy phrases the only difference this time is they all add up to a story when you stack them up and that’s what makes Days with Dr. Yen Lo Ka’s greatest lyrical work. The tragedy of brilliance eaten up by what daily combat demands of the combatants. You don’t have to get it to enjoy it but if you do you will, on another level.
P.S. I didn’t talk much about Preservations contributions on the sound of Days with Dr. Yen Lo. The best written breakdown of it was done by Tom Breihan of Stereogum (see: http://www.stereogum.com/1804522/status-aint-hood-the-meditative-chamber-rap-of-dr-yen-lo/franchises/status-aint-hood/) but the short version is that the crashing baselines in hip hop are fun and allow us to relax and bang our heads. Preservation took those out and used strings, the kind of sharply sampled sounds that make us feel like we are about to be attacked in the shower. The tension never gives and sometimes Days with Dr. Yen Lo is hard to listen too front to back but once you’ve heard it you’ll listen to ,at least, one song a day and it will feel like an albums worth of listening experience.