“He is without blame though once he may have murdered his mother and his father, two Kings, a Kingdom and all its subjects. Though the Kings were holy and their subjects among the virtuous, yet he is blameless. The followers of the awakened awake. And day…..And Night…they watch….”
Sutra 21 – Out Of The Forest
– The Dhammapada
I still live poor but no longer poorly. When we was just young and poor, we were taught principles to honor ourselves. We basked in the fiscality of this deeper currency. That we wouldn’t be greedy, dishonorable, conniving for what we are doing so well without. But families survived and principles’ lover, idealism, was divorced. Every made opportunity became the assimilation of the dream and soon principles now singled lonely were abandoned. Righteousness is dismissed as a mystified attribute and those who work to carry it share it knowing the risks of poverty ensuing.
Brooklyn Past, from the breaks of my Sunset Park trials to even deeper in the melodic abyss of the crate, Ka emerges out of Brownsville to ponder his survival of that 80’s era Medina jungle. With his 3rd LP, The Night’s Gambit, Ka thrives in the artistry of introspection and continues to revolutionize this expressive culture of Hip Hop. In our build, Ka brought me beyond my own past, farther than the suffering of torn food stamps out of booklets and cheese in that long rectangular unmarked box. Instead, to the future we can all write ourselves into. That those ol’ moments would remain building blocks to integrity. That poverty is a wonderful price to pay for principles. And this Hip Hop music is the sound of salvation where the sacrifice of gambits is righteously successful.
SUNEZ: A lot of these other journalists noted you keep your private life to yourself then said you were a firefighter.
KA: They tried to put me on blast and the shit is corny.
SUNEZ: Word. I just noticed the journalistic flaw. I saw in another article you didn’t even confirm you were that.
KA: Exactly. I don’t know where people hear it from and write it. Nobody ever asked me and when cats did ask me I told them I rather talk about the music. I only got into this to be a musician. All that other stuff is on the outside. It’s all about the music. You ain’t like it if I was a garbage man or a correction officer? We’re talking about the Art here.
SUNEZ: When I was in _____ they didn’t have a big catalog of actual music but they knew all the mundane shit about people.
KA: Right. What you more concerned about? The music or his life? Right now we’re entertainment for a lot of people. It’s a little deeper for me than that. It’s therapy for me….This ain’t a character that I’m putting on. But with some people that’s what Hip Hop is for them. They want caricatures and pageantry but I’m just trying to give it to them as real as possible.
SUNEZ: People are looking more for a character and just to throw it back at you, some of the fault is your own because you paint such a good character. A lot of Night’s Gambit was on the reality of Ka and as the MC. What made these 11 songs go together as opposed to others?
KA: It was just that feeling I was getting. I felt like I did what I had to do on Grief. ..I always do new songs and I thought it would take a long time to do another album. Then all of a sudden these songs started coming to me. I can’t slow down or speed up creativity. When it comes, the shit just comes. I’m just here waiting for it. It just so happened I got blessed. And I felt it was darker than Grief—Grief was dark but these joints that were coming were even darker than Grief. Then the album title came to me: Night’s Gambit. I wanted to play knight with chess pieces and the gambit is a move where you sacrifice something to get a better thing. And I felt as a kid I was sacrificing things to get a better thing. All the moves I was making was during the night. So shit just started coming, Sunez and I just started just pouring out joints. I never stopped digging because it takes so long to dig for music I really can’t take time off. So every moment I get I’m in the record store. I’m in different record stores digging and digging. It just so happens a couple of joints I found had the sound I wanted. It just all worked by divine intervention and it started to work. I was very happy with the production on it.
SUNEZ: On the production I was thinking of 3 people. Other people have been doing it, of course, but I noticed the focus on Alchemist, Roc Marciano and you on the highlight of the dug sample. A highlight of its musicality over it’s drum break or placing a Boom Bap emphasis over it.
KA: I get it from Roc. I pull no punches. That’s my man and he taught me how to dig. He’s the one that was like, ‘Yo Ka, look for this. And I went on my grind.’ He said, ‘you know what you want to rhyme off of. So just go out and find it.’ He was the first one that was giving me beats and I loved them. It was his beat that I rhymed off “Firehouse” with GZA. He made that beat. From loving that beat and knowing how that beat propelled my whole rebirth that was what I wanted to rock off. That was the sound I was just loving. I was schooled by the dude that was—Roc to me is a master of that shit. I was like the first and last student. I’m blessed that I was able to—that’s my friend. Fuck the music. We found each other through the music but that’s my friend. We could talk about anything. We could talk for a whole weekend and not even mention music. But because of our association now that’s what people talk about. Now when I dig and I find something crazy I want to rhyme off music. I don’t want to rhyme off beats. When I listen to the shit in the 90’s—that’s when I’m in that mode that I want to listen to shit in the 90’s. I don’t really want to be associated with the 90’s aside from the theme. But the sound I want to be new. Some people hate the sound. It’s too quiet. It don’t have any dreams. But this ain’t for everybody and I ain’t trying to make it for everybody. This ain’t pop music. I know this ain’t pop music. This is music for people that just want to feel something and experience a whole other chapter of Art. Experience their own lane—Roc Marci, Ka and yes, Alchemist also has that sound now too. And maybe some other cats will come with that sound. We were the ones to trail blaze it then by all means I’m happy to just add something to the Art.
SUNEZ: The sound is new and the aura is 90’s but often they simply say 90’s because you’re of that era.
KA: Cause that’s the easiest category to put me in. It’s the easiest thing to put me and Roc in. We’re of a certain age, still doing Hip Hop, sounds like New York just because of their tones and because they’re into lyrics. You know, lyrics is really a New York thing mostly. Not that lyrics aren’t all over the world but when you hear a real lyrical dude it’s kind of always based in New York. But they’re not listening for the little nuances. This ain’t ’95 music. Grief Pedigree wouldn’t have survived in ’95.
SUNEZ: I see that. Today, many really good works are over drums I’ve heard before or placed the same way even if the music is different backing it.
KA: You want to see how does he sound on those drums. That’s dope. But I hate to say this cause it sounds so anti-Hip Hop but the Boom Bap for me—I don’t want to hear that. I really don’t want to hear it. If I hear somebody give me their music I try to hear because I know when I was that dude asking people to listen to mine. So I never want to forget that time. But as soon as I pop it in and hear that “Boom-boom-Boom Bap”—that shit turns me off. Like automatically, Sunez! I’m like, ‘Aw, man. I don’t want to hear that shit.” I want to hear some new shit.
SUNEZ: [Laughs] The shit makes sense to me. But you can say that shit because you made something. No one else can say that without sounding blasphemous.
KA: Of course! And me, myself, I feel blasphemous! Cause for me, I just don’t want to hear it now. I loved it in ’95. I loved it all the way in ’95 and ’92. I listen to those albums but I only want to hear it from those albums. I don’t want to hear it no more. When I want to listen to some Boom Bap I’ll pop in fucking Group Home. That’s some of the best Boom Bap ever done, know what I’m saying. There’s no way around it. Now, I want to hear some new fly Hip Hop shit. The fact I’m doing it now I gotta hold myself to the same standard that I’m listening to.
SUNEZ: I get that. Some of the younger artists didn’t get tired of hearing that because they never heard it like that.
KA: They weren’t around in ’92 or just too young to really know. We grew up with the artists so like you said I heard those drums since the ‘70’s, the ‘80’s, the ‘90’s and the 2000’s. I don’t want to hear those drums no more. I do want to the listen to them until I listen to Marvin Gaye. I don’t want to hear no one doing Marvin Gaye.
SUNEZ: You sampled from everywhere and I definitely don’t want you to give up your crates.
KA: [laughs] I can’t. I can’t. But hey are from everywhere.
SUNEZ: Tell me about some of the work to get them and decision making in them.
KA: Some of them aren’t so obscure. Your father got that in his collection. Some of them nobody’s found them. I go from some that you have found to ones you can’t find anywhere. No one has still found “Cold Facts” yet. I don’t think no one will find it…Sometimes I be bugging like, ‘how the hell they ain’t use this. This ain’t even a rare album. There’s three of them in the bin. I just picked one of them and listened to them. Some of them are that crazy album that there’s only one print of. I try to go all over. But it’s not about the obscurity of it, it’s about the sound. At this point I’m sure all the songs that I’ve got on Iron, on Grief and on Night there are demos somewhere with all of those same beats on it. Somebody probably mad like ‘I rocked it better than him!’ So we’ve all gone through the same stuff so I’m kind of getting away from that. If someone used it already, then I’m gonna use it and try to body it better. So that now when you play that shit you think about my voice on it. That’s the dominance to Hip Hop. Soon as you hear that sample you think about one MC on it. Soon as you hear someone else you’re like, ‘Nah!’ That’s like the inner battle.
SUNEZ: Are you interested in producing for others?
KA: I just want to produce for myself. I got a lot of beats that I would never rhyme off of but this would probably sound good for somebody else. But then I’m like, that’s not my sound. I got so many beats I want to give them to people. And say you might like this sample but I’m not trying to produce for nobody. It’s crazy because I know I can’t produce for anybody. If I find an ill, ill sample, I’m selfish. I need to rhyme on that. Every producer/MC, if they’re producing for somebody else you’re not getting their best. Unless this person has transcended some kind of other realm where they are just so unselfish they don’t really care. If you’re giving your fieriest fire to someone else then you are a different kind of person. Me, I know it takes me too too long to dig for records to find a gem. I don’t want no one to hear it until it’s on the album. When I found “Jungle” nobody heard that. I didn’t play that for no one. When I found “Jungle” and “Peace Akhi” I was nervous when I was listening to that shit. I was like, “please, can my album come out before someone else find these and rhyme on them. Save on my disc but don’t erase!” I was like wait until they hear these songs, Sunez. They are going to go crazy.
SUNEZ: When these songs were coming to you for Night’s Gambit, did they come in blocks or are you mixing different things?
KA: Once I get the music and I get an idea I try to stay on topic as best as I can but I never know what’s coming next. It just so happens that the rhymes that come next were supposed to be for that song. I can’t even sit here and explain how the shit gets done. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I really don’t want to know because once you look into the box and you find out really how it works you might not be interested in it no more. So I don’t want to know. All I know is once I have a hook I could stay on that topic where the creativity does come. That helps me a lot. Once the hook comes I know where I’m at. Then I can be creative in any realm. I’m not doing conceptual albums like that. It’s very loosely based conceptual albums because I still want the freedom of being creative. I still like the rhyming part of Hip Hop. The whole song don’t have to be “30 Pieces of Silver” where I’m just talking about Judas the whole time. I want to be able to move out of it and then back into it in a creative way that people are like, ‘ooh, I get the relation.’ When I’m writing one joint, that is the joint I’m writing until I finish. I never start another joint until I’m done with a song.
SUNEZ: So you make a joint like “Our Father” it’s that one ‘til it’s done.
KA: Yeah, especially when it takes me so fucking long to make music [laughs]. On the real, I have so many rhymes in between the time I wrote “Our Father” that those are just like scrap rhymes. That’s definitely not for “Our Father” but something else. I probably lose so many songs just doing that but I have to finish “Our Father” like some OCD shit. If I start writing another rhyme before I finish that song then that song will never get done. That’s over time. I’ve been writing for so many years I kind of know how my mind works with the shit.
SUNEZ: As a writer, I see it. I often toss certain sentences, paragraphs, phrases aside all while I focus on that one piece. Then later I might spark new things mixing them.
KA: And I’ve tried to do that. Mix and match joints. But when I do I feel like it doesn’t come across right. Even if people don’t hear it I hear the change. This one came out way different. It don’t got the same feeling. There are a lot of intangibles with it too. A lot of it is feeling. I could try to do some masterful rhyme but if that don’t feel right I could give a fuck about the rhymes. This shit gotta feel right. When I listen to it back I gotta get the goosebumps cause if I don’t get the goosebumps then how do I expect other people to. How do I expect it to affect people to their soul, their core. I know how important music is to people cause I know how important it is to me. I gotta make sure they feel it. I do want the rhymes to be crazy but if I have to edit something—which I do a lot—to take away to make it feel better then I will.
KA: I wasn’t trying to put every record because the song would’ve went on as long as the album. I did it where I felt like I had enough…I did it for two reasons. First, I did it for GZA. That is my man. It’s like an ode to him. I was just hoping I didn’t fuck it up. He does those joints the best. I was just trying to do it as paying homage to him. Instead of saying, “Peace to GZA,” I’ll do something he’s known for as an MC and try to do it as best I can without stinking it up. Also, I wanted to do it because I feel like the shorties into me don’t know. I hear shit just because I’m on Twitter for certain things. I see shit like, “best album ever” or “classic.” Shit’s been out two weeks and it’s a classic. Or “illest MC alive” or “greatest MC ever.” These are terms I shouldn’t be seeing. I understand it. Every kid wants to live during the greatest time ever. That’s just selfishness of man. Me and you probably think Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, Bob Marley, a Black president—this is the best time ever! [laughs]
KA: Not everybody’s gonna live through these times. Kids want to live through the best times too so whoever’s an MC that they love is the greatest MC of all time. His album is the best album. But if you ask them who they grew up listening to they really can’t tell you. They’re not even familiar with the shit. So if I get an 18 year old who’s fucking with me saying, ‘I’m ill, ill, ill’ this is my opportunity to educate him and let him know. ‘Oh, you fuck with Ka? Well, this is the shit that made Ka. These albums.’ That’s why I started the line, “These pages tell my life in the ‘ville” then I start “Out here Raising Hell with License to Ill.” I wanted to tell my story but also give a lesson to the shorties that are so into me right now. Don’t be so into me. Go learn history now. Pick up these albums and if you get these albums then you’re going to be thirsty to get more. I’m here for the Art. Hip Hop saved me, I know. So if I could save Hip Hop in some way then that’s my obligation.
SUNEZ: Before I continue, I have to say the second verse on “Peace Akhi” was fucking ill.
KA: [laughs] Thank you. I like talking to you because you know the music. And it’s dope to talk to somebody who knows and loves the music. And I haven’t even talked to too many people [about The Night’s Gambit]. I haven’t done a show yet so I don’t even know what songs they would like. So it’s good to talk to somebody that really knows the music.
SUNEZ: I felt like this album had more MC strutting. As on “Peace Akhi” after you had some of the illest lines, then we hear that gong bell. And I’m just like, ‘he just showing out. I said some ill shit. Bong! Another bar! Bong!’ [laughs]
KA: [laughs] You know what it is, I’m trying to be the illest. I’m really sitting there thinking if this shit don’t kill ‘em I don’t know what will. I’m really trying to show lyrical supremacy. Everybody talking about who’s the illest and I don’t hear my name mentioned. I’m trying to be the illest. I’m trying to change that.
SUNEZ: In Hip Hop I can say aside from my own father, many principles and themes of real life, from home to street, I was hearing from the music. Personally, I grew up through welfare from youth through college. Now my vantage point is different because I didn’t do anything illegal—except probably steal records. That was mandatory I felt [laughs]—
SUNEZ: Now I’ve said that some of the deeper principles that were once in the street became lost as the money got bigger.
KA: It is true. Serving babies and pregnant mothers was never done. You used to send off the pregnant crackhead. “Get the fuck off!” By early to mid 90’s you act like you ain’t even seen it and say, ‘What you need?’
SUNEZ: There was some kind of principle that was there. Personally, brothers saw I did good in school so I was sent home from the park and even lectured by some of them.
KA: Right, they wasn’t gonna fuck up your life. I’m not even gonna do this to shorty. Get outta here Shorty Wap!
SUNEZ: So people say we got worse but by America’s definition of capitalism, we became better capitalists because we used all the assets.
KA: We became better capitalists. You’re one hundred percent right. We went from caring and trying to make money—where the two don’t really go to then just getting money. Then fuck caring.
SUNEZ: You had “Jungle” and “Barring the Likeness” and the struggle for righteousness is still there. Tell me about “Soapbox” and just the subtle wordplay with that one.
KA: I’m not trying to hide everything but some things are just part of the Art to let people discover it over time. Soapbox back in the day was something brothers stood on and preached. So they could be a little higher than the people and talk to them and hear them. “We soapbox for dope blocks.” Blocks that hustle. It’s kind of what me and Sun do. He [Roc Marci] talks about Hempstead. He talks about Terrace Ave. I talk about Brownsville, East New York, Bed Stuy. We talk about the blocks that molded us to be what we are. Blocks that are hustling blocks, killing blocks, these are poor blocks so yeah, we soapbox for dope blocks/I get it jumpin’, you know, Hops.
SUNEZ: Now these blocks were so hard was it really possible to ever be righteous? Was everyone just destined to be criminal and eventually it is justifiable to lose any hold to sanity or righteousness? Was it really possible to be righteous in any way? Was it really an option?
KA: Of course it’s possible. As crazy as shit was. I don’t know about everybody’s mother or grandmother but the women in all the craziest communities went to church. And they made us go to church. As much as he dodged them and told them no. Church was a big part of the hood. There’s a liquor store. There’s a church. There was no way you could ignore what was going on. You couldn’t ignore that there was a supreme being whatever religion you believed in. You had belief. And as crazy and wild as Hip Hop is if you ask for symbols of Hip Hop: a cross, a Jesus piece. These are all part of the Art. As wild as Hip hop is there is still a presence of a religious being or a righteous being always there. Just like in the hood, the most hustler dude, what he bought when he got his money? His first piece of jewelry was a cross, you know what I’m sayin?! [laughs]
SUNEZ: [laughs] Word.
KA: That’s just what it is. Whether you were self-conscious or it was just the ill thing to get you got a cross, B. You could have got some studded diamonds. You could have got you anything. Every dude went and got the diamond cross. Until the Jesus pieces came then they went and got that. But these are all religious motifs cause you got indoctrinated as a kid from somebody in the family whether your mother or grandmother, whoever. You’re going to church cause what you doing is wrong. And when every one of my cousins got locked up, my grandmother came to jail to visit them and brought them bibles. Every last one of them. She would pray for every one of them, knuckleheads as they was—I had some knucklehead fucking cousins—but they all loved my grandma. We all loved her—she was fucking special. She was a righteous lady. And that’s what I feel like with everybody. Everybody’s mother or grandmother kept them as straight as they could. That was the hold that she had on us. It wasn’t much but it was something that we always tried to respect that.
SUNEZ: Man, I appreciate that answer to my devils’ advocate question. I can say that when I got knowledge of self and was led to going to Allah School in Mecca, those brothers had lives that were far worse than I could even imagine.
KA: Of course, of course.
SUNEZ: Indeed, those without are often the ones who have no barrier to getting the deepest knowledge and insights.
KA: And look at most of the brothers that was in jail. Especially in New York jails before the Blood shit was popping, most of them came out of jail as Muslim. They were starting to do Islam and realized something ain’t going right. They needed something else to belief in. They went to jail and that was a big converter. They got locked up and started reading the Bible, the Quran. Even in the law libraries they was in there was a spirituality that was part of it.
SUNEZ: Word. I can say teaching youth, I have not lost confidence in them. However, I wanted to pose that question to you as something I didn’t see.
KA: I know you know.
SUNEZ: Word. Now I don’t know if I’m reaching as a writer myself and being a hater—
SUNEZ: [laughs] with this question. But a lot of writers ask about the poverty as something they appreciate through the music. Yet when I’m asking you how it was I went through poverty. I relate to it a hundred percent. Saying that, your records go into the past yet I notice people often want to hear the sound of an earlier age but not the experience that age was built on. They want to forget immediately if they ever did.
KA: Cause it’s hard. Those were hard times. On the real, I get sad that I even had to live through that shit. When I listen to some of my shit I’m very excited that I made the shit. I’m like ‘wow, I can’t believe I’m doing Art right now. I love it. I’m living my dream of making albums and this is what I wanted to do.’ But then I listen to my shit and I’m like, ‘it’s so wack that I know this shit. That I had to live through this shit.’ You know what I mean! [laughs] I mean, my relationship with food is so different than other people because I know what hunger is. I know what that nasty taste of fucking powdered milk was like. Everybody knows about free cheese, free cheese, free cheese. But it was free cheese and powdered milk with those wack ass loaves of bread. I know that all white no frills isle. We was broke, sun. I remember one day I woke up I had three mice on my covers. That’s poor. I used to sleep in my coat. We was fucking poor and it makes me sad that I had to live through that shit. I know now and I can’t forget that shit because it made me who I am. I know how some people deal with things differently. I don’t evade the past to try to erase it. I’m an artist and I reflect a lot. I’m a reflective artist. I don’t be celebrating in my shit like ‘we eating now and we got homes and we driving cars.’ You don’t hear that in my shit. If you want to hear that you gotta lotta artists that be doing that. There’s not too many artists doing what I’m doing so I’m trying to make a balance. And if I’m the first one on that scale then I’m gonna be the first one on that scale. I’m not scared of it. It is wack that I had to live through the shit. I wish I could do it all over again, Sunez. Trust me, I would be a trust fund baby. [laughs]
KA: And that’s why you could relate being in the same shit. You was from these boroughs seeing the same shit. You was born in the 70’s so you know what it was like in the 80’s. Shit wasn’t good. You had to know how to fight cause somebody might walk up to you and ask, ‘what’s your side?’ If you ain’t say it was your side then it was problems. That’s what the music is.
SUNEZ: I wanted your build on this line cause I get it but people ask me about it. In “Knighthood”, “The block was tough/the home was harder.”
KA: Everybody talk about how the block was hot. The block was really wack. There was a lot of fighting on the streets. There was shooting and killing and all that. There was drugs. My home was a mess. Shit was harder in the house. I used to love going outside because I could escape those four walls. Without getting to in depth about it, I just hated my crib. I hated my house. I hated that I was born into this shit. It was all the bullshit of being poor, just not having. I was in the crib there was like thirteen of us. We fought amongst each other. I lived in the house with about six crackheads.
SUNEZ: I appreciate that. Not everybody saw that immediately.
KA: Yeah. Cause it ain’t for everybody. That’s why I ain’t selling platinum, Sunez! [laughs] I sell one or two and I’m good. I’m done. The aim that I’m looking for is when all the young kids will get older, hopefully, they’ll go back then and discover me. All the nice little kid rhymes going on now I want them to enjoy. That’s for them. When they get older and they still love the art of Hip Hop I want them to have some shit they could grow older with. That’s what I’m trying to do. Once they hit 30, 40, 50, they can become a listener. Also, if by some chance—I hope they don’t—but if they ever go through hardships, I want to be the soundtrack to those hardships. I want them to know that somebody lived through that shit too, to give them strength to live through it. I got lofty dreams of not really going platinum, gold or all of that crazy shit. But to really help people with the music. One of the biggest compliments is that I inspired them to do that shit. Or I helped someone get past it which I hear a lot. I love that. I love that I could help somebody get through some shit. Somebody that they fuck with fuck with Ka. You know Ka went through some bullshit. [laughs] You can hear from that man’s voice and his music that he went through some bullshit but he still doing his thing. And they know my story and I ain’t let nobody knock me down. If he can do it then I can do it too.
SUNEZ: Actual fact, my brother.
“It is hard to live in the world and hard to live out of it. It is hard to be among the many. And for the wanderer, how long is the road wandering through many lives! Let him rest. Let him not suffer. Let him not fall into suffering. If he is a good man, a man of faith, honored and prosperous, where he goes he is welcome.”
Sutra 21 – Out Of The Forest
– The Dhammapada
KNOWLEDGE SUNEZ & PREMIERE HIP HOP’S IRON WORKS ON KA:
The Night’s Gambit Review HERE
KA – “Our Father” Single Review HERE
KA’s Grief Pedigree in The Real of 2012 HERE
KA – The B-Side Build HERE
KA on Grief Pedigree @Hip Hop DX by Sunez HERE
KA – Grief Pedigree Review HERE