The Making of Grief Pedigree

Posted: April 19, 2012 in Best of 1st Q 2012, Hip Hop, Interview, The Making Of...
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In hip hop we generally think of rappers approaching their forties as being removed from the inner city youth that shaped their music, running out of subject matter and too distanced from their youth to connect to the things and subject matter that caught listeners attention the first time around.  Ka has the benefit of being able to look back over the course of nearly 4 decades living in the same borough of New York City.  From being the wild kid just doing what he needed to survive, no matter who was looking, to the grown man telling some teen to slow down because women or kids are around.  It’s a perspective not shared by most rappers in their late thirties, and it makes for a uniquely entertaining album that some are already dubbing a modern classic.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Ka and walk through the album track by track to discuss inspirations, beats, rhyme structures, and many other aspects of Grief Pedigree.

From the start The Making of Grief Pedigree does not work like a traditional “Making Of.”  There aren’t 10 different producers to interview, a couple DJs, maybe a weedcarrier, and a few guests and A&R’s.  Other than Roc Marciano’s verse on “Iron Age,” there were no other artists, label representatives, or producers involved in Grief Pedigree, so everything we can glean about the creation of the album, comes from Ka himself.

Despite his former history with Natural Elements and a lifetime of rapping, the DIY Iron Works was his solo debut in 2008.  It received some acclaim and some criticism, it seemed Ka put more energy into the album’s lyrics and rapping then he did into the production, or perhaps his production techniques just weren’t as developed at that point, but either way Ka decided to go “all-in” on the creation of Grief Pedigree.  He worked hours of overtime and extra night shifts to save up the funds to record Grief Pedigree in a professional studio setting.  Knowing that if he didn’t give 100% on the album that he’d always live with the regrets of not producing the album he knew he was capable of giving to the hip hop music he felt had given him so much over the years.

“Chamber”

Starting the album with the shout-outs on the first track was intentional.  I put the shout-outs on the song where it’s upbeat enough where you probably won’t cut it off.  It’ll keep you up so you still listen all the way through to the end of the track.  I wanted to get that done up front so if they only listened to one song, they could hear their name.  And you feel good when you hear your name on a record, on the shout-outs.  I know I do.  So I wanted to give light to my people up front.

I approached “Chamber” different from how I approached “D.N.A.” (from Grief Pedigree‘s predecessor Iron Works).  With “D.N.A.” I wanted to put something slow and tougher, because I wanted to weed out certain cats and only keep a certain type of listener who would really be into my shit.  With “Chamber,” I wanted to pull people in, so I picked one of the more upbeat joints on the album to catch people’s attention.  So, I got off my elitist shit from Iron Works and really wanted people to listen and get into it this time.

“Cold Facts”

That’s when I knew I was going to do Grief Pedigree.  You know, I remember doing that and I heard beat from “Cold Facts,” and I was like, ‘This is the skeleton of the album.’ I need that – you know that’s how I build my albums – is I need something that I can build around and that was exciting.  So, I heard the bars, and just tried to really flood the bars. I approach every song like it’s my last song.  And that’s one thing I could tell you about how I approached the whole album.  I made every song on Grief Pedigree, like it was the last song I might ever record.  I want people to rock my shit forever and ever, so I that’s why I flooded every line.  You might ask 1000 people who their favorite rapper is, and 600 might say Jay-Z, 100 might say Nas, 100 might say Kanye, but if 1 person says me, that’s what I do this for.  So that’s why I make every song like it’s my last.

“No Downtime”

You know that’s a joint I actually made for my lady.  She likes more upbeat hip hop.  She loves me and loves my art, and has supported me through making music, but she doesn’t really want to hear all the darkness and gritty shit.  So I wanted to make a song, where my lady could be bumpin’ my music when she’s getting dressed, working around the house, doing what she do.  That song’s like soul food without going too sugary.  But I had to keep it hood, and keep it gutter.  You know I had to tell a tale, but keep it real, real gutter so that people wouldn’t think I’m soft or nothing.  A lot of people do music from a place of celebration, but that’s not me.  I feel like I need to write off something going on with me, but you know girls, they’re not all into that.  They don’t want to be hearing us talk about guns or drugs.

“Summer”

That was my take on the Summer jam.  Everybody always says Summer is uplifting or makes some fruity happy song about Summer.  But to me, when Summer comes – you might have a day when you play ball or look at girls or whatever – but that’s when everybody be saying “who block this is,” and that’s when the shit really heat up.  The most violence happens you know.  That’s when people are catching the most bodies.  You know in the hood you see more people, everybody’s out, so you see people.  So that’s when the shit pops off.  So you know, there’s a million Summer songs that are different, but that’s my take on Summer right there.

“Decisions”

“Decisions” was the album’s concept song.  Just thinking about a lot of the decisions that you make periodically – be it over a long period or a short period of time – that’s going to affect how your life is going to end.  Some of them are slight, some of them are very slight, and some of them are major forks in the road.  Again with me, music determines what I write.  And I feel blessed that this verse came to me.  So many ill songs come to other people, so I just feel blessed to get what I get.

I made “Decisions” for the kids, if they get into something raunchy and you know I was eight years old getting into Richard Pryor records, so I know kids always go for the raunchiest shit out there.  So if a kid stumbles across my album, I just wanted to give them a little something to think about.

“Collage” 

The rhyme scheme started coming to me when I was listening to the music.  I was going through records, and heard the loop and thought “this is good.” I was rhyming to it and it was coming, the rhyme scheme and structure, but it was a tough structure to write within, but I always want to challenge myself.  So I kept using it and trying to challenge myself to keep the structure and make it coherent.  I knew it was going to be appreciated.  I knew artists were going to like it.  A fellow artist would appreciate the time, like “wow he kept that the whole way through. The wordplay and the cadence and pattern.”

It felt like I was piecing a lot of things together.  The title came from when I was younger, collages seemed really popular.  Everybody had a collage that they had out, it was the art of the time, but it kind of went away after awhile.  Anyway, that’s how I felt when I put the song together, like I was piecing together a collage.

“Every…”

I don’t sit down and tell whole stories in a song.  I look at that like, Slick Rick does that the best and pretty much any other story songs I start skipping over after multiple listens.  It’s usually the rhyme song where you just want to listen to it over and over again to pick up phrases and lines and see if you can pick up something new.  So I don’t really like doing stories.  But when I heard the beat it was reminiscent of a storytelling track.  I usually do a quick four bar story, and flip some other shit, but I felt something when I was listening to that and a lot of shit was coming back from my childhood.  It felt good while I was saying it and a lot of the shit is therapy.  That’s a big element of making music for me, that shit is therapy.

“Iron Age”

That was another upbeat track.  When I found it, I said to Roc yo I like this.  He said yo it’s cold.  I don’t really like doing songs with people I don’t really know.  So Roc he’s like one of my good friends. So I asked if he wanted to get on it and he heard it and said this is right up my alley.  He was excited about getting on it.  I got a really good friend, that’s one of the best in the game, that I can say, “Yo son, I need you on the album.  It was also a show of what is to come.  I wanted to show people, because a lot of people didn’t really feel me on “We do it.”  I didn’t want to be the weak link in Metal Clergy (Roc Marciano and Ka’s group).  I wanted to do my share on the Metal Clergy, so I wanted people to see that we have a good chemistry and that I bring something to the table too.  That’s just a preview.  So you got a preview on Marcberg and you gotta preview on Grief Pedigree.  But I just wanted people to know and expect that when you hear us, you gonna get some good hip hop.

We recorded our verses together at the same time.  You know, I’m from an older time, I don’t really like doing internet recording.  It makes the collaboration more harmonious.  I don’t want contrasting styles, or to be competing with another guy on the same track to see who can outshine the other.  I don’t approach music like that.  Fans do that.  They might say “Oh you got him on that track” or “Damn, he got you there.”  To me, we’re making music, that’s like saying what’s better the snare or the kick, you know?  The product has to be harmonious, I don’t want competing or contrasting styles on an album.  You might get to great verses that way, but you won’t get a great song.

“Up Against Goliath”

I had the hook for a long time, a long time man.  And I was convinced that somebody  was going to use this.  It just sounded too obvious to me.   But I just think in rhymes, I guess just from doing it for so many years. Every time I hear “David,” “pavement” was all I thought about for years, and I just kept thinking somebody is going to use this and I’m going to be mad.  I had the hook for a long fucking time.  So I was afraid that I would hear it and somebody would come out with it on their song, because it just took me so long to find the right song for it.   So when I heard the beat I said “Yes.”  You know, I’m in my room with my turntable and my mp for hours.  Listening to record and listening to records, and then I find a loop and I just put it on loop real quick and pick up a pen.  And start doing what I do best.  The verses, they just come from the music.  Once I get goosebumps from music the words start coming – I need that from beats.  When I get that then I can give best that I’m looking for.  I only wanna give my best performance, because again this song I’m working on could be my last and I do not wanna go out like a sucker!

“Vessel”

The beat was kind of weird.  I had to write like that, because you know it was a four bar or an eight bar beat.  It was an odd number of bars maybe three, seven, or five bars, something like that (Ka’s refering to the fact that the beat isn’t in classic 4/4 timing and thus requires a non-traditional writing structure here).  So that breakdown was in order to make it sound right.  So I was listening to the beat over and over and writing. And the timing is off.  I’m sitting there like “I’m buggin!” because I get to the fourth bar and I’m like “what the fuck?”  This was something else, I really love that joint.  So I kind of pieced together my four bars, and then take a bar off, then do another four and take a bar off, until we have a song.  Then I filled in those extra parts and finished it off.

“Born King Never Yield”

That song is about Brooklyn.  BKNY – Born King Never Yield was my interpretation of that.  I’m proud to say I’m from Brooklyn.  It might sound stupid, but you can’t intimidate me.  I was 13, and they pulled guns in my face.  So what the fuck are you gonna do?  I was born king and I will never yield.  There’s nothing you can do.  It’s crazy because a lot of the shit I might regret, because I never had a lot, but it made me resilient.  There’s probably some guy sitting there, who might have been born with a silver spoon and had everything he needed his whole life, but probably questions his manhood.  Because he doesn’t know if he defend himself or worries if he can defend his family.  Me – I was broken and hungry, but I know how to fight, and I’ll be the one to take the first bullet.  I don’t have those issues of shookness.  That was my ode from Brooklyn.

Musically, I liked the beat.  I listened to it and I’m getting like a melody hook on this one.  I was kind of like intimidated to do a melody hook.  So I had this melody hook, the one that I used, but then I was like nah let me not do that.  So I went against my first instinct and said let me try to do another hook, you know a rhyming hook, and it’s corny it sounds forced.  So I went back to the melody.  Do what God gave you B,  and don’t worry about what people say that.  I like the rhymes on that there.

Some Final General Thoughts:

When asked the meaning behind the album’s title “Grief Pedigree,” Ka answered that he always liked the term pedigree.  Phrases like “What’s your pedigree?” or “I know your pedigree.”  The concept of nature vs. nurture was powerful to him, and had him often considering how much of him was his bloodline vs. his environment:

I was from a really raw bloodline, a lot of my family members were real dudes.  I always liked that pedigree sentiment, that it was just in me.  But then as well, the grief of what I’m dealing with in my environment is part of me too.  I’m seeing all my friends dying around me, the poverty in the hood, all the heroine and then the crack, the prostitution on the corner.  I’m happy that I made it through that.  That’s my pedigree, I’m from grief and that made me strong.  Had to deal with a lot of things that others didn’t have to deal with.

When asked why the album is a “Man’s album” as opposed to an album he or other rappers could have put out in say ’95, Ka had this to say:

This album is a man’s album because of the reflectiveness of the album.  How much can you reflect as a teenager? I’m reflecting as an almost 40-year-old man.  I’m reflecting through my formative years, teens, twenties thirties.  I’m giving you a lot of the truer side of the hood.  I still have it in me.  I’m starting to see now – when I was young I wouldn’t pay attention to kids or older women if they were on the block and I was doing something, I would just do it and not give a fuck.  Now I see young kids about to do something and I’m like  “Yo – you buggin’ right now – there’s kids” or “there’s women over there.” I’m dropping jewels now that I don’t know that I would’ve been able to do in ’95 or when I was a teenager.  I wasn’t as patient.  It was more me, me, me back then. Now I’m not as selfish.  I think that comes across, I think you can hear that this is just a child stomping around.

In closing Ka had this to offer his fans as well:

If you take anything from me – I was in the matrix… I wanted to see what it would really be like, and I pulled away from it, and I didn’t want to follow the path, and I pursued it and I wasn’t scared about what the critics were going to say.  They could kill me, they could still kill me, but the right now people are hearing it.  And it’s getting good love.  With love comes hate.  So I’m ready for that.  Right now I’m just getting a little bit of hate, so I’m like “That’s all you got?”

Forever as long as times goes on.  Hip hop has given so much to me, I wanted to give everything.  Totally in my control.  I want to keep doing that.  Of course it’s a lot more work.  I’m doing duel jobs.  I might get lost in the shuffle, in this time of a lot of people putting out.  A lot of times nowadays its how much you can put out, not the quality of what you put out.  If you put out three albums in a year, and some people put out four albums a year.  You’re not going get another album from me this year.  So, I wanted this album to have legs.

If you haven’t supported Ka yet, or are lucky enough to have not heard Grief Pedigree yet and still have the opportunity to hear it for the first time, please check out his website.  You can cop the album on cd or vinyl or get your “I Own The Night, The Heat’s My Receipt” T-Shirt and there are also links to cop it digitally.

Comments
  1. […] Here are the two pieces of the interview I did with Ka this year on the making of Grief Pedigree (Part 1: Track-by-Track, Part 2: Additional […]

  2. […] 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 perhaps […]

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