Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Descendants of Cain, the new album from undergroud New York rapper Ka.
If this hellish year’s somehow fared well for anyone in this game, the elder MCs have begun thriving with superhero status to boot. And it’s only right for Brownsville Ka to collect the blessings of a faint silver lining, gently reemerging like clockwork. A retired firefighter, Ka spent the last decade refining his pen and publishing some of the most engrossing songs in the street rap canon of the renewed New York underground. He prizes minimalism and technicality; each record becomes a vehicle for the vulnerability of a former hustler detailing his conditions and atoning for the ills of his past. It’s made for thrilling work, but never jubilant; he murmurs of filthy secrets and dirty weapons devoid of the glory, most often in a grisly deadpan that gnaws on memories. There’s no rejoicing in the spoils of war, but plenty of pride like a true Brooklyn survivor from somewhere many threaten to forget.
The longer Ka’s kept at it, the more cerebral his executions have become: he’s invited other producers into his orbit — a notable change from self-producing and releasing the majority of his catalog — and based projects around the depths of mythology and religion as a frame for his storytelling. (He’ll even change names to commit to the bit.) In Descendants of Cain, Ka favors the near-ubiquitous New Testament story as a lens to fixate on the squalor itself, his navigation of it, and the fallout of his actions. On the surface, the obvious parallels arise: envy, greed, trust and betrayal. But Ka never coasts on surface alone; a weekend (even a week!) doesn’t render enough time to unveil the many depths he’s laid within these rhymes. The $20 .wav price pays for itself: Ka sounds like he’s rapping over his nightmares, every passing minute painted in a grainy sepia with no nostalgia for the hunger pangs in his young gut, or a near-murderous rage brimming his ballcap. He even makes Roc Marciano drop his guard all the way, and makes us pine even more for the Metal Clergy album we’ll never receive.
When damnation is one’s baseline, the wreckage is rife with lessons and gems. For Ka to serve them in such intentional abundance, he’s had to walk in his failures and showcase his scars. This album — Ka’s oeuvre at large — is truly about decisions, point-blank. He persists and perseveres, even when he relapses back into old pain and the leftovers of his old ways. When he didn’t trust his abilities, even the page became his enemy. Descendants of Cain isn’t an album of blame or a quick fix; there are no easy ways out, should any exits exist at all. But in what's arguably his finest work, Ka continues to find light no matter how darkly he dwells, sliding from image to loop with an unmistakable grace that places plenty of his truths in plainspeak while sliding raw power in plain sight. It’s a rewarding journey for anyone willing to be dazzled by one of the finest rappers working, cloaking the lifestyle in the literary to shadowbox with the unknown once more.
But triumph is all he knows, anyway.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.