For nearly fifteen years, Brooklyn emcee Ka has released six solo albums, starting with 2008’s “Iron Works.” Though he’s garnered critical acclaim for his output, he’s so low-key that even some of the most ardent underground rap heads can’t help but to utter “Who?!” if you were to ask them about Ka. His albums are marginally promoted and he works with the material that he has. Most of his output is self-produced, he has a mush-mouthed voice and flow reminiscent of MF DOOM, and a similar stream-of-consciousness multisyllable rhyme style, but without the surreality or the cartoonish aspects. His seventh album, entitled “Languish Arts”, which is a commentary on his rap career: He releases albums that barely make a dent. Even the cover reflects this notion with its image of a derelict classroom in an abandoned school.
Album promotions notwithstanding, Ka can rap. His verses aren’t out of this world, his raps are subdued, but he still drops several wordplay-laden gems within. Starting off the album is “Full Cobra”, which consists of just an acoustic guitar string sample. Much of the album’s production (courtesy of Ka) is very sparse, though it enables Ka to spit lines such as, “Every time we grow, they chopping us down / Wouldn’t have as many plots in the ground if this were popular sound.” Next up, so to speak, is “Ascension”, built from vocal samples and a looped crescendo-building string sample. “No Reservations” contains piano keys and multiple instruments. Lyrically, it’s a study of his upbringing in an impoverished environment, summed up metaphorically in the hook: “We was sinning for dinner / Did it with no reservations”, check out the track here:
Ka then proceeds with a lyrical act of contrition on “Forgive Me”, in which he raps “If I ever pulled a four on you and said ‘gimme’ / Forgive me / If I ever threatened to drill you with a brolic five / And the voice sound familiar, I apologize.” Perseverance is the theme on “If Not True”, and it’s the first time on the album where we hear drums in the production. Over a looped piano sample, Ka raps about continuing to pursue goals without giving up. Ka gives up the reigns of production to Animoss on “Unindulged”, featuring Chuck Strangers. This marks a notable shift in the production as Animoss provides some much-needed snares over an interesting R&B sample. One notable line Ka spits in this track is “Some in sediments for loving dead presidents like necromancers.”
On “Touché”, Ka takes back his position behind the boards and the minimalism returns. “Still Holding” featuring Joi & GoneToHeaven is two verses and hooks about holding fast. The penultimate track, “Family Color”, sounds as melancholic as the other tracks, even as Ka brilliantly raps “‘Til we straight in heaven me and brethren hellbent / It’s money tight tonight, I’m a shell spent.” Finally to close out the album is “Last Place”, which has a prevalent flute sample. While Ka is a good lyricist, his production is anything but. Some see brilliance in the minimalism, but this kind is as boring as underground hip-hop can get. True, it’s an artistic choice, but for the kind of emcee that Ka is, the beats should be interesting instead of languishing.