Ka is a 47-year-old fire captain from Brownsville, NY who moonlights as inarguably one of the most lyrically magnificent rappers of the last 10 years. On his latest album, he once again delivers a barrage of dense but dazzling wordplay that renders the life and mindset of a street dealer in striking, unsettling detail. He raps like an elder statesman of his hood, desperately trying to communicate the depth of the struggle, pain and humanity he saw everyday. At times, the task of unpacking each bar can feel overwhelming but his calm, gravelly voice washes over the instrumentals and carries the air of wisdom before you even process the words.
Descended from battered slaves, barricades only aggravate usKa, ‘Unto The Dust’
Friends and foe dyin’, no lyin’, grew up fightin’ gladiators
Whoever left son soakin’, it’s unspoken; you gotta see ’em
We don’t do a rest ’til the death, rules of the coliseum
In the past, Ka’s albums have often been built around specific metaphors or themes. His 2013 album ‘The Night’s Gambit’ used chess metaphors to tell the story of a gang war and his last album ‘Oedipus vs The Sirens’ was based around Greek mythology. The title of his latest is a reference to the biblical tale of Cain – one of the sons of Adam and Eve – who killed his brother Abel and was condemned by God to a life of wandering. Ka uses this allegory and related biblical references to explore how the children of his hometown Brownsville are forced to pay for the sins of their fathers, as well as the yearning and jealousy that could corrupt one to kill or betray their own brother, explored most explicitly on ‘Solitude of Enoch’ (Enoch’ being Cain’s son). The title could also be interpreted as Descendants of Cocaine – the children who grew up in the wake of the cocaine and crack boom of the 80s. Either way, super dope title and one you’d only try so hard to decipher because almost everything Ka says requires a bit of deciphering.
Ka has a unique taste for beats that usually have little to no drums at all. They’re often glorious and cinematic and other times they sound as cold and desolate as a Brownsville street corner on a winter’s night, like on ‘Unto The Dust’ – a bleak musing on how the people in Ka’s life never pass from ‘natural causes’. Regardless, they are consistently dope and make Ka’s music even more one-of-a-kind.
The whole album is incredible but the standouts are ‘Unto The Dust’, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’, ‘Sins Of My Father’ with fellow NYC wordsmith Roc Marciano and the change-of-pace closer ‘I Love (Mimi, Moms, Kev) where Ka expresses his love and gratitude for three of the most important people in his life. Highly recommend this Fader piece if you want to learn more about him. Fascinating dude.
Beautiful and uplifting album from the MC/producer combo of Quelle Chris and Chris Keys, teaming up again for a sequel to their 2015 album Innocent Country. It’s a feast of thoughtful verses from Quelle and guests over gorgeous, ever-evolving production, most of which is centred around Chris Keys’ keys. Quelle is one of the titans of the underground at this point and once again shows his gift for fitting deep-thinking bars about love, race & America into very enjoyable music, buoyed by his playful personality and the musicality of his rapping.
Don’t have heaps to say about this one – still digesting – but it’s definitely the most pleasant of the bunch, at times feeling almost like a soul album. It’s musically ambitious and at times at grandiose without feeling like it’s forcing it for the sake of grandiosity. It’s a great listen front-to-back but ‘Sacred Safe’ and ‘Make It Better’ are two of my favourites which give a good taste of what’s in store (the ‘Intro/Recap’ may be off-putting lol).
If you like gut-punch street rap, this is one of the best albums of the year. Mozzy raps in intimate detail about murder and the pain that it causes. He’s also very concerned with the ethics and principles that come with the gang lifestyle. Mozzy said of what he likes about the album:
“All the growth, the growth in it. It’s me, me elevating as a man. Me tapping into myself and being able to give, you know, in-depth descriptions. I just love it, it’s soulful, it’s soulful. I know if my grandmother was still present, she’ll love it. She always used to tell me to just make sure there’s substance in there. There’s so much substance in there.”Mozzy, via Complex
Pretty much. This feels like the album I’ve always wanted him to make. For a much better introduction to one of the best rappers of our times, check out the piece I wrote about him a little while ago.
Tracks like ‘I Ain’t Perfect’, ‘The Homies Wanna Know’ and ‘Big Homie From The Hood’ are smooth and soulful – filled with love, pain and compassion – and then songs like ‘Body Count’ are pure bloodlust. One of the poppier cuts ‘Pricetag’ with Lil Poppa and Polo G* sounds like a Mexican Western set in a housing project. The beats on such songs as ‘Betrayed’ can feel a bit lackluster and just like 100 other beats he’s rapped on before, but overall this album strikes a great balance of the many styles Mozzy does well, with more maturity and focus.
*Polo G is another one of my favourites who also just released a great album. The review by Paul Thomson for Pitchfork is outstanding so I won’t bother. His Ka review was also excellent.