(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Iron Works (2008), 6/10
Grief Pedigree (2012), 7/10
The Night's Gambit (2013), 6/10
Honor Killed The Samurai (2016), 6.5/10
Orpheus vs the Sirens (2018), 6/10
Descendants of Cain (2020), 6.5/10
A Martyr's Reward (2021), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

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, etc. 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.

Days with Dr Yen (2015) was a collaboration with DJ Preservation.

The noir atmosphere is "choreographed" in an almost scientific manner on the brief 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 Just percolates through a fluttering new-age synth. That Cold and Lonely mixes sleepy jazzy piano, rattling bells and droning trumpet. The dejected 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.

Best on A Martyr's Reward (2021) is the desolate atmosphere that several songs concoct with simple arrangements: Everybody Up with a lonely plaintive acoustic guitar, Peace Peace Peace with a trembling beat and a moribund harmonica, I Notice with its aquatic dissonance and ghostly shrill organ, and Subtle with its drunk saxophone loop. What was "bland production" has now become an asset, a way to say more with less. The problem is that half of the songs don't exploit this asset and focus exclusively on the wordsmith.

(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )