Album Review: Ka – Grief Pedigree

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 1st Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , , ,

“Cold loaded, waiting for a reason/praise me when I’m dead, make bread while I’m breathin’/Can’t take it when I’m leaving/Judge me too quick, mistake me as a heathen/cause I had tools moved weight it was thievin’/when I was broke out the gate, I was grievin’/had a cold heart cause my apartment was freezin'”

– Ka, “Cold Facts”

It seems like every few years you come across a New York rap album that avoids the impulse to sound remotely modern, and yet somehow manages to navigate the pitfalls of the misguided intentionality of “nostalgia rap” (see Termanology, Celph Titled, and numerous releases after about ’03 or ’04 from washed up NYC golden age rappers).  In 11 brief tracks, Grief Pedigree manages to cement itself into an elite group of 4 or 5 rap albums from the last half a decade that manage to remove modernity from the auditory equation, without sacrificing the authenticity of the listening experience.  It’s a very rare group of records indeed that can make you feel like you’ve stepped into 1995 musically, without asking you to reminisce or revisit – they just take you there.

It would be a total anomaly for an emcee with Ka’s aptitude for DIY artistry and 92-98 grimy New York authenticity to appear out of nowhere and Ka is not unlike NYOIL (UMC’s), MF DOOM (KMD), and Roc Marciano (Flipmode and The UN), hailing himself from the 90’s group Natural Elements.  Like the other emcees on shortlist, Ka has a unique skill set on the microphone and shows a dedication to his craft both on the mic and on the boards that is seldom exhibited in the quality of the artistic output among modern rappers.  For example, the rhyme schemes and vocal cadences are so thoroughly structured that at times the committment to the practice feels equal parts eccentric and devout.  Religious and spiritually inspired imagery and advice litters the album without coming across as overbearing or preachy, much in the way that 5%er linguistics and lessons were woven through the fabric of Wu-Tang albums for years.

The production on the album sounds remiscent of the MPC-60 era, with hints of 94-98 Havoc production and sprinkles of 4th Disciple or True Master methodology.  Unlike NYOIL’s Hood Treason, which while well produced, sounded cheaply made at times, and Marcberg, which was just a bit too ambitiously unique in a couple of places, there is not a song on Grief Pedigree, that is skippable on the strength of a potentially grating or lackluster production approach.  That’s not to say that the album is perfectly produced, but rather that it is neither over nor under produced, and the melodies are pleasant enough to appeal without distracting.

On repeated listens, individual songs standout as new wordplay is uncovered or overall themes come to light. The first track, “Chamber,” a perfrect introduction, takes the listener on a deep dive into the full gamet of Ka’s stylistic offerings, mixing stick-up kid rhetoric, drug commerce knowledge, visions of poverty, and ancient religious imagery high paced over driving keys and kicks.  On “Decisions,” Ka revisits the tried and true method of taking a simple concepts (think Mos Def’s “Mathematics,” Common’s “The Questions,” or Atmosphere’s “Scapegoat.”) juxtaposing two alternate possibilities, without suggesting a proper path.  On “Iron Age,” Ka and Roc Marciano exchange viciousness over one of the album’s darkest and more fast-paced tracks.  “Vessel,” paints a descriptive picture of the circumstances and surroundings that defined and created Ka.  “Born King NY,” concludes the album by rehashing all of the aspects of the ten preceding tracks, outlining the relationship between poverty, hardship, and crime and the healing power that comes with the nourishment of knowledge and spirituality.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of the album to a golden age hip hop fan is the amount of engagement the album demands, forcing the listener to rewind or repeat to take in the full picture that is being painted on each track.  The complexity of Ka’s structures allows the listener to both appreciate the album on a strictly sonic level, as the vocal cadences are relayed with the predictability of a verbal drum track, but because it is so easy for the listener to get swept up in them, they can cloak the subtlety of Ka’s wordplay, which is dynamic and present throughout the entire album.  If asked to draw a direct comparison to another artist or record I would say this, Grief Pedigree, is the album I hoped Killah Priest was capable of making after hearing “B.I.B.L.E.” for the first time.  By all accounts this record was completely DIY, and has no label backing, so I highly suggest everyone does the right thing, and gives the man his 9 bucks by copping a digital copy of the album on Amazon, rather than bootlegging this gem: Cop it here.  It’s too early to call this Independent Hip Hop Album of 2012, but it’s clearly a top candidate.

“Decisions”

Comments
  1. cubakastro says:

    great review, Grief is already in my top 5 of the year

  2. […] Album Review: Ka – Grief Pedigree […]

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  4. […] who crave albums that become more illuminating with each subsequent listen, this and Ka’s Grief Pedigree are clearly the album of the year candidates to […]

  5. […] one rapper and one producer (in some cases that’s been the same person) as Ka’s Grief Pedigree, Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation, El-P’s Cancer4Cure, Killer […]

  6. […] from one guest shot from Metal Clergy cohort Ka (a pattern Ka would mirror on his second album Grief Pedigree) – it was marked by a stark and dusty minimalism sonically and the words of a slick talking […]

  7. […] the first track off the follow-up to last year’s seminal low-fi 100% DIY effort Grief Pedigree, Ka hits listeners like Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Shadows in a dark cavern, or […]

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