By Sunez Allah
The cinema of Hip Hop is often the wax screening of that claustrophobic cipher of hell that propels the worst repercussions and the most brilliant displays of survivalist extravagance. KA, reppin’ Brownsville, Brooklyn, delivers an incredible sophomore album, aural cinema that explores excellence through the eyes of a complete artist. First becoming known through his featured solo cut on GZA’s Pro Tools LP in 2008, his Iron Works LP of that year quietly cemented the truth of his abilities. With Grief Pedigree, the major elevation is a complete embrace of his stylings, wordplay and beat productions in a consistently challenging package of obsessive minimalism.
The cinematic presentation of Grief Pedigree is in the life of the past crime streets of Brooklyn to present this complete artist that is driven by a refined persona of vocalized grit, pictorial memories of savagery and a sincere humility that prevails. Ka is an MC with gravelly voiced articulation, perfected mid-tempo execution, clever metaphors, word choices and a persona of calm dignity. Like DOOM, his songs are not hook laden but versed machines that he smoothly glides through. With supremely clever lines he amazingly refreshes the spotlight on an oppressive urban history that has become cliche. The metaphors when captured are ruggedly beatific to repeat (“I prepare my mind and my body/ job interview’s in the street, I apply with a shottie” – “Collage”; “Play it for the school of hard knocks and got a fat stipend” – “Summer”; “If life’s one big road, I need new signs/ save pennies and nickels to run through dimes/whoever say it don’t pay must don’t do crimes/ got lots of pre-owned shit when I use nines…” – “Every…”; “I own the night/ the heat’s my receipt” – “Cold Facts”) but the intensity of his descriptive skill is seen in the presenting of his mentality. Here is where the sincerity lost in so much Hip Hop is heard again. On “Born King N.Y.” he rhymes, “Public servant but was never civil/ I was on when your moms said bedtime/ and the hunger in the street fed headlines/ had a slew of blue nicks and red dimes/ I’m legit so I admit to said crimes/ no paper raps just lead rhymes/ niggas spit their shit I bled mines/ food for thought, meals essential, shrine your mind/ build your temple…”
Aiding the deep portrait these short eleven songs piece together, his production is collection of funk and jazz grooves that are virtually left in mid production. Many tracks are just backbeats more noticed than others. This minimalism works can only work with a tight MC, say as Roc Marciano’s minimalist Boom Bap, Ka’s extreme minimalism goes much further by giving much less. Often, it is left to the layering voice offers as percussion as on “Collage” with its deliberate bass drum and snare never really becoming a driving track but being wheeled via the flow of the verse and the ad libs doubling up the lyrics in chorused repetition. “Every…” is a chime of blues guitars and pianos that cascades and overlaps lovely while “Summer” has an addictive tambourine’d snare over a repeating piano riff. Ultimately, the music are beds for an intimate, introspective journey of lyrics.
As Ka notes himself the “director in this movie, I cast iron” (“Vessel”), the progressive elevation peaks for this album with his visual artwork. Over half of Grief Pedigree’s tracks are accompanied by self directed videos of brilliant lighting, captured shots and scenery matching the nature of his ideas. In being an artist of extreme minimalism lacking rap frills, overproduced tracks leaving only pure integrity and sincerity in his storytelling and presentation of his persona, Grief Pedigree is a work appreciated when found today but will be loved in the future in its constant replay.