Ka doesn’t rap full-time, but he drops more gems than your favorite rapper. As a FDNY fire captain, he treats music as passion-driven side hustle. He’s light years ahead of your typical hobbyist, however. He didn’t just pick this up yesterday, he’s been around hip hop since its creation. After several attempts at a rap career with Natural Elements and Nightbreed, he finally went solo, slowly carving the distinct sound he has today. Even as an old head, Ka still raps, with unwavering persistence, and it’s clear his story is one of perseverance. In his Red Bull Academy interview, he stated he doesn’t mind being the 40 year old guy who raps; as long as he’s still nice with it, what can people really tell him? It’s a stark contrast to how we view a rap career; it’s a young man’s game like the NBA; when you see yourself pushing a certain age, you gotta throw in the towel. But Ka’s defiance of ageism is genuine because he really does this; Ka and “washed” aren’t synonymous. There’s been recent talk of “grown up raps” after Jay-Z’s 4:44 released. Many argued Phonte and Black Thought as rappers who do it better, but we shouldn’t overlook Ka. He gives us a look inside the mind of a man with survivor’s guilt. I know Honor Killed The Samurai is his most recent work, but I’ll explore it in the future. The Night’s Gambit was my true introduction to Ka, so it’s only right I write about it.
Ka’s creative approach is methodical and you can tell he doesn’t rush the process. This makes sense when you not only pen your own bars but lace your own beats, as well. He doesn’t make songs for you to groove to. Instead, he paints a backdrop for storytelling. A master lyricist with an ear for production gives him an edge. It’s all about timing and tension, instead of being dynamic or attention-seeking, which is expected from rappers. I can see people initially writing him off because of this. His quiet voice and steady cadence requires you to really listen and digest the words. But this is a good thing. Ka’s in-the-field experience makes the lyrics worth paying attention to. They come off less as glorified crime tales and more like guilt-driven war stories; he’s a veteran of the streets who survived the crack epidemic, what do you expect him to write about?
Ka kicks off The Night’s Gambit in Wu-Tang-esque fashion with an Enter The Dragon audio clip on You Know It’s About. It’s gritty with stomping drums and the Black Sabbath-sampled guitar riff sounds intense. Our Father is a profound song about Ka on the verge of of getting revenge for a fallen ally and telling God to look away. His self-awareness really shines on here. These tortured recollections will shake your soul – if you still have one.
“Hollows hit my man, they sparked my brethren / Hurtin’, so I’m certain won’t be good today / All I ask Lord, is Lord look away”
Then there is Jungle with its cinematic blues sample. A song about survival of the fittest. From selling drugs to holding heat on the cold murky streets of old war-torn NY, he gives us the raw truth of pre-gentrified Brownsville.
A Malcom X audio clip about house and field negroes opens the door for the funky Soap Box, with Metal Clergy brethren Roc Marciano. This is another joint that shows their natural synergy on wax. We need that Metal Clergy album asap!
A personal favorite, and the main song I send to people, when putting people on to Ka, is Peace Ahki. It’s eerie and filled with enough tension to give you goosebumps. After a calculated audio clip about D’Angelo’s chess metaphor from The Wire, Ka opens up with the powerful line “Pistols the only piece I see / It’s war here but still tell my niggas “Peace ahki”. What made me flip was when he referenced back to the The Wire with “I play chess but my past is checkered.” He then finishes the song with “Survived the murder story, words are gory. It’s protocol, I owe it all, God deserve the glory.” It’s one of the songs you have to let digest for greater appreciation.
The final track, Off The Record, pays homage to classic hip hop albums. The wordplay is astounding, referencing the titles and themes of these albums in chronological fashion. He references everything from Brand Nubian, to Beastie Boys to A Tribe Called Quest and Wu Tang.
“Fear of a black planet so they go in leary, For knots we can’t be stopped, that’s low end theory.”
I appreciate Ka, not only for his music, but his transparency as a person. When I listen to his music, it’s like being in those cold war-torn New York City streets. As a kid who grew up in a gentrified NYC, I enjoy hearing stories from the past. These stories help us understand history better. The crack epidemic is behind us now, but the long-term effects still hold weight.