Tag Archives: Ka




by Dan-O

I was sitting with a table of people I respect. All involved are my age within five years. We were talking about music this year and they launched into how great Eminem is and his beef with MGK. It was difficult to find the words to explain why Eminem is not, in fact, great anymore. Why someone less lyrical like Kodie Shane is a better emcee. He is technically great, no one knows more words and can blow out a show stopping 16 like Em but that’s not what makes a great rapper.

An artist is responsible for not just great brushstrokes but vision. The artist masterminds the color scheme the physical position of characters the looks on their faces. The artist is in charge of what all of that means and adds up to. So what is the sum total of those songs? What do any of his last few albums mean… in Shady’s case very little. Roc Marciano is a study in the opposite direction.

Our newly crowned FME MVP of 2018 released three albums this year. Each handled with a curators eye; three albums with a total of 36 songs which averages to 12 songs per album. Each one shading his story a different hue, taking a step further in creating a full landscape while maintaining a two fisted approach to punch lines that would have made prized pugilist Rocky Marciano proud. Once the landscape was built the album was over and the promise of another was only a few months away. The process is a much better one than the massive data dump of artists like Post Malone/Fetty Wop where the album never ends and doesn’t really feel like it began.

I am the first one to admit I don’t have an objective view of the scene Roc exists in. My favorite lyricist in the world of rap is Ka who is Roc’s right hand man. I still remember Roc’s voice escalating when Combat Jack (R.I.P. the podcast god) told him he didn’t really get Ka. He was passionate about how dope Ka is about as passionate as I am in selling Ka  to those around me who have not heard him. I think of Ka as the only emcee Roc views as adequate competition and seeks to surpass. This year he did it.

His resume: blew Busta Rhymes off a track, did multiple songs with Black Thought and held his own, impressed Royce Da 5’9 so much with his feature that he drew very specific praise from him on social media. Royce talked about his ability to use space, letting the track breathe for a few beats only to swagger back in. In boxing terms Royce has incredible hand speed he never stops throwing meaningful shots. Roc is Sugar Ray Robinson with all-time powerful lines but he comes in close unloads in combinations and gets out; he has a rhythm that keeps you off your toes at all times. That isn’t just flow it’s release schedule pricing and merchandise. You never what is coming from Roc. In 2018 great artists wanted to be on songs to see how real this was in their presence.

Attached to this review will be my list of the 38 flyest things Roc said in 2018 (You will notice songs having multiple entries that is not me being weird Roc is a damn beast). The #1 entry is from the song Wild Oats (off of the collaboration album Kaos he did with the great DJ Muggs) and I think it explains in two sentences the central meaning of his year. “I used to think School was for chumps. Now I’m in Bermuda by the pool with the trunks, books by the bunch, just to think I was a crook once.” Roc Marciano’s process has been a long form explanation of the things he has gone through that lots of his peers didn’t of the bitter determination he uses to overcome adversity but also of the beaming gratitude underneath that bitterness. As the sun shines on his face and he runs his hand over the hardcover of a book he’s reading. It is the gratitude that makes him want to dig for the wildest turn of phrase to boast that growth in his next rhyme. This isn’t a chain or watch brag it’s the maturation of someone who could have been dead or unknown by now. 2018 was Roc Marciano’s best year and for his audience it was a gift. The secret of it all is that he sees it the same way.

38 Fly things Roc Marciano said in 2018

  1. “I used to think School was for chumps. Now I’m in Bermuda by the pool with the trunks, books by the bunch, just to think I was a crook once.”—Wild Oats
  2. “I’m like Huey Newton sitting in the king’s wicker chair with the pistol near. My face is chiseled into silverware with care.”—-Amethyst
  3. “My B__ like Tracy Ellis Ross, don’t ever sell yourself short.” —Dolph Lundgren
  4. “Don’t be a dick you know I’m sensitive. Don’t let me catch you talkin’ shit about my mamma biscuits bitch!” —-The Sauce
  5. “Why you sweatin’ me then and questionin’ who I’m in bed with? For the record, your breathe stink.”—-The Sauce
  6. “Might need a hot air balloon to get a real view of my hairdo.” —-Aunt Bonnie
  7. “Shit I ain’t playin’. I sit down and eat at P.F. Chang’s then leave without payin’.” —-Consigliere
  8. “Who else since Prince can fit my Trench?”—White Dirt
  9. “The Mercedes ain’t rented. B— I was saving up to get it.” —-CVS
  10. “I rap with my nose up with my tux and my glass of mimosa ‘oh you think you know so much'” —Kill You (laughs afterward)
  11. “Watching Harlem Nights on Chartered flights.”—White Dirt
  12. “My shining bright might turn the night into day. I’m a Viking I might bite your face.”—Bohemian Grove
  13. “You n_’s just follow we changed the business model.”—-White Dirt
  14. “Fox fur on my evening coat. I gave these heathens hope.” —Respected
  15. “I prefer shrimp and lobster, my posture like Kevin Costner…”—Wormhole
  16. “You came when the culture was dead. I shocked the game so it rose from the bed. Frankenstein with the bolts in his neck.” —CVS
  17. “My shine still flow from behind a blindfold.”—Shit I’m On
  18. “I was clean when Max B was singing off key.” —-The Sauce
  19. “Every half a bar is worth a Jaguar.” —Aunt Bonnie
  20. “I blast the chrome all you see is ass and elbows.” —Bohemian Grove
  21. “I leave ya pockets with Bugs Bunny ears.”—Happy Endings
  22. “I’m with that white girl I’m in that sunken place.” —Bohemian Grove
  23. “If I was you and mad at me I would be too. “—Sampson & Delilah
  24. “The Bentley mint green I need a pinky ring.” —Rolls Royce Rug
  25. “Life is a jungle not a jungle gym.”—Wild Oats
  26. “You was never sturdy a little birdy told me this. I said you can’t compare goldfish to Moby Dick.”—The Sauce
  27. “…speak for the voiceless. I spent last weekend eating with lawyers the cheese ain’t good enough reason to be exploited.” —-Sampson & Delilah
  28. “Always had a scheme to get by in the crème Fila.” —-Amethyst
  29. “My tall thing like Lena Horne in a leotard.” —Wild Oats
  30. “All my shit is tailored all your shit is whatever.” —Dolph Lundgren
  31. “Lookin’ self-absorbed in the Porsche, Fire lines they thought I wrote these lines with a welding torch.”—Wild Oats
  32. “They gentrified the game, that’s when the god came.” —Aunt Bonnie
  33. “You see my neck we could never be neck and neck.” —Wormhole
  34. “No matter the platform the ho’s gon’ clap for ’em.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
  35. “Listen Sugar Tits, just choose a pimp.”—Wormhole
  36. “…but still this shit is not by force it’s by choice.” —Rolls Royce Rugs
  37. “For what a Phantom costs I’ll blam at your thoughts.” —Shit I’m On
  38. “Prior to my first release they said the East was done.” —Kill You

Song Review-Marksmen by Roc Marciano featuring Ka produced by Arch Druids

Song Review-Marksmen by Roc Marciano featuring Ka produced by Arch Druids

by Dan-O

I don’t think any song on the new Joey Bada$$ album (All-Amerikkkan Bada$$) is as important as him going to Hot 97 and telling them NY radio hasn’t grown. He was correct but I would have changed the ageism laced in his argument. The problem is not that Funkmaster Flex is old it’s that his ear is old. Roc Marciano is only ten years younger than the 48 year old Flex and Ka is only four years younger but they are both a vital part of the character of NY hip hop rebuilding itself in 2017.

Roc Marciano’s album Rosebudd’s Revenge is bigger denser and more fun(as well as experimental) than any project he’s released before. He collaborates with Ka on Marksmen which is a cannon ball sailing at rappers doing throw away music. The interview sample at the beginning about getting better and better is more than a guiding principal it could be a commandment. In this song Roc Marci says “you hit the notes flat, my whistle blow and make the crystal crack” and Ka starts off the song with “To our production, much destruction for our appetite. With steel fist if meal missed wasn’t for lack of might.” Is anyone as careful with each word as these two? Every song they step on together is two artists of a like mind discovering a higher level.

Younger important NY hip hop artists like Your Old Droog and Westside Gunn are ten or fifteen years younger than Ka & Marciano but are painting with the same colors. Age isn’t the problem it is art. Ka and Marciano are artists who create pieces not hustlers making lifestyle music (no shots, I love fun ad-libs). It feels like NY radio (and the magazines) were so wrapped up in the pettiness loop that they forgot about the artistic standard the music is held to. They were calling somebodies flow trash or fire without looking at the song like you look at a completed painting or poem. Their context is trash. Each song these two make hangs in the gallery of their discography and should be reviewed that way. It’s not a movie, it’s a landscape you have to keep looking at to find all the detail in the background that indicates the skill involved, the patience, and the vision.

Song of the year-Just by KA

Song of the year-Just by KA

by Dan-O

I wonder how hard most of the reviewers who now lavish praise on KA yearly work to understand what he is saying? It is VERY easy to get spun into his dimension and float on a sea of jagged found sounds (those out of control jingle bells on That Cold and Lonely) and steady bass without looking down at the one liner revelations he is delivering. I don’t just look forward to KA’s yearly release because he is my pick for best rapper in the world…he messes me up when he drops something.

2012’s Grief Pedigree is the most NY rap album of the last 16 years but I knew exactly what it was out to do, what it meant. Ever since, he has widened his lens, using concepts to speak on life in ways that go beyond gritty street poetry. Every album goes deeper. His newest, Honor Killed The Samurai is about honor, morality and how it survives when met by the savagery of the real world.

Just is the second song with a hypnotic woodwinds loop that other sounds get thrown into. About a minute and a half in he broke my mind with “Unfold my destiny…there’s no one less than me. Behold my labor…there’s no one greater.” I think it is the best summation of the independent grind an artist faces. To look around you and realize others are making millions repeating the same phrase, bouncing around young and joyful and entitled while you work your fingers to the bone for your art; just trying to put the cold nights behind you. I am in no way saying this is how KA feels. I am saying I know many who do, and I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t felt that.

His phraseology is completely his own. If you look at that quoted line, no one in the world would have put it like that (How many rap songs have behold in them?). When you hear the chorus on Mourn At Night listen to the pauses and word placement. It’s just KA in that old man raspy monotone saying “He gone. They Mourn. At Night.”

Maybe Ka is the Tom Waits of hip hop. Hearing Tom Waits for the first time I remember saying “with this voice why does he even NEED to push the lyrics this intricate?” Ka can sound menacing, no problem. He could probably make more money with simpler, more muscular smack talk but he has a personal standard so far above my traditional listening experience.

He gets better every time.

Hearing his new material always enhances my standard.

The Investigation into Dr. Yen Lo

The Investigation into Dr. Yen Lo

by Dan-O

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.

SOTY-Peace Akhi by KA (AOTY The Night’s Gambit)

SOTY-Peace Akhi by KA (AOTY The Night’s Gambit)

by Dan-O

The reason I loved KA’s 2012 lp Grief Pedigree is that he sounded like a war worn weary ex-criminal grandfather blazing street tale after street tale through visceral poetic imagery. If Grief Pedigree is the work of a retired street soldier, The Night’s Gambit is the work of a dark genius.

KA has produced all three of his albums and tweaked his sound each time, getting more adventurous with better vocal sample lead in’s. The bell tolling beat here is super sinister and He uses the metaphor of street life as a chess game not as a forced brag but to build intensity.

The real draw here for any hip hop fan is the lyrics and you have to listen for all the gems, here’s some examples from Peace Akhi: “This corners a stage with rage I go perform”, “my heart is never the question, I write hard phonetic aggression” “My art is parked in the medicine section,” “The mic and I are like staff and shepard.”

This song is so effectively spooky that I was genuinely creeped out on the first listen then I realized how rare that is when listening to rap. The Night’s Gambit doesn’t have a useless second on it and If you lament the name brand bag namecheck culture, the skinny jeans and Big Sean flow…this could be your solution. Don’t say that KA is a throwback, if anything, say he’s a top 5 lyricist and a self made artist.

The Answer(to that guy)

The Answer

Patience by Ka

written by Dan-O

At most social events I run into that one guy. That guy who with a light buzz going wants to tell me about the sorry state of hip hop. He explains that it’s a lean sipping suicide pact between tight jeaned hooligans making songs so they can hook up with chicks on twitter.

He’s always been there, at every stage of hip hops development, he’s missing an earlier mythical stage. Being a socially constructive dude I’m always looking for ways to refute him without just telling him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Ka is the answer. Hip hop does not define itself on that most popularized one percent and the persona’s they adopt. Ka is a Brownsville MC who while spitting for 20 years finally put together his own album called Iron Works in 2008. His style doesn’t fit the radio, his delivery is a hoarse whisper and his rhymes are cunningly worded street tales. Initially this was going to be something for friends and family. According to his website bio Ka believes “You make art because you can’t help it” so when he made Iron Works it wasn’t to hit key demographics it was to get the rhymes out of his head.

Iron Works passed from friends hands into GZA’s and he was impressed, giving him a spot on the song Firehouse from GZA’s 2008 Protools album. After long years of grinding it’s all paying off for Ka. In 2012 he released Grief Pedigree to rave reviews from Spin, Complex, and his peers (Sean Price named it as one of his favorite albums of all time). It was my favorite album of 2012(that’s right, over Good Kid, MAAD City).

When people call Ka a throwback artist it kind of bothers me. He produces all of his own music and none of it sounds like anything from an earlier era…its actually more sparse than the golden or silver ages. Early hip hop beats were still based on disco and had dance creation as a key mission statement, even further down the line from that no DITC or Boot Camp Clik record was ever as naked and pulsing as a Ka beat.

The song Patience is my favorite on Iron Works and one of my favorite songs in all of hip hop, the drum beat smacks lightly behind his narration. It’s about being strong enough to force your anger into productive energy. A gang of street kids provoke Ka as he’s using all his energy to go straight. “It’s the remarks when I pass talking all smart and fast got me ready to stomp out or spark they @$$ just trying to earn a living, soldier turned civilian, to blend in studied discovery channel to learn chameleon. To hold down my little maintenance job but it’s dangerous hard…” The same way all those years of being ignored tested his patience he clinches his teeth and works out, avoiding the battle until he can’t take it anymore. At the end of the song he confronts the group, cluing them into who they have been dealing with “Ya’ll boys is the bait type if I bring the noise ya take flight. Couldn’t survive a ’85 late night. When I swum the seas I was the great white. Don’t make me kamikaze this corner, cause I know you pun-any, a bunch of performers. You must be confused by the uniform…but I know how to use tools and do you wrong.” He asks who wants to go first and then the song ends.

Hip hop gives people like Ka the chance to share their stories with anyone who can find them. Its definition is not the top layer or the bottom but all the fables that sustain it. When I first heard Ka beg that gang of kids not to make him kamikaze the corner the hairs on my arm stood up. Because that line is dope and I’ll never forget it. That’s the answer.

check out more Ka stuff at http://www.brownsvilleka.com/ or follow him on twitter.