Ka (New York's rapper and producer Kaseem Ryan),
one of the few authentic auteurs of hip-hop music,
reinvented street rap as a low-energy low-emotion art.
The plain, slow narratives of Iron Works (2008) employed
simple beats but complemented with creative orchestral ideas:
D.N.A. makes the most of a humble background of guitar and piano,
247365 weds classical strings and a cryptic rumble,
Really Though sinks into macabre and mechanical brass and string sections,
thundering dissonant keyboards attack Iron Work,
lush floating strings and keyboards permeate I Know What It's Like,
Patience fights with tense electronic drones,
The arrangements are not particularly eccentric but can be subtle:
Hood hides inside its beat both female panting and Buddhist bells,
and the violins seem to intone a variation on Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata in Sunday To Sunday.
The percussion is prominent pretty much only in Get 'Em, where multiple
beats compete for attention.
The effect is to methodically build a creepy noir atmosphere.
Grief Pedigree (2012), also self-produced, boasts a broader palette
of arrangements for the same kind of cinematic autobiography from
the orchestral bluesy No Downtime to
the languid Hawaiian jazzy Up Against Goliath.
Cold Facts feels oneiric, as does
Decisions with breathing of gospel organ,
while the darkest, starkest (and best) moments happen in the
quasi-horror atmosphere of Collage (with funereal bells) and
in the orchestral and almost tribal Iron Age (with Roc Marciano).
The production is less creative on The Night's Gambit (2013),
as if Ka wanted to make sure that people really listen to his stories.
And, yet, his rapping is deceptively quiet and almost whispered, hardly what gets people's attention. And the spoken-word samples don't help.
Despite these limitations, his cinematic sixth sense frequently is enough.
The claustrophobic mood of Barring the Likeness is one of the highlights of his career, and the suspense of Peace Akhi has few equals even
among much better arranged hip-hop albums.
The noir atmosphere is "choreographed" in an almost scientific manner on
Honor Killed The Samurai (Iron Works, 2016).
The recitation of Conflicted that sounds like a prayer, is
enhanced with a twangy industrial guitar melody and jungle tom-toms.
The slow fatalistic lament
percolates through a fluttering new-age synth.
That Cold and Lonely
mixes sleepy jazzy piano, rattling bells and droning trumpet.
Mourn at Night climbs over an angelic synth and a simple guitar pattern.
The noise is unusually loud in $, whose nostalgic piano motif is almost buried in the mix, and Destined, with a violent psychedelic distorsion.
Orpheus vs the Sirens (2018),
credited to Hermit and the Recluse,
was a low-key collaboration with producer
producer Willis "Animoss" Williams.
After relating gangsta stories to the mythological samurais of Japan, Ka
transposes them into ancient Greek mythology.
The bland production is the main drawback on
the atmospheric hip-hop music of Descendants of Cain (2020), which
seems ashamed of the beats.
The jazzy Solitude of Enoch (possibly the standout), The Eye of a Needle and DJ Preservation's Unto the Dust are the most musical
moments, but Ka's art is the rare rap art that truly shines because of the
lyrics, not the production. His songs are
erudite legends, full of double-entendres, and now referencing the Bible,
even in less musical moments like
My Brother's Keeper and Old Justice.