Ka And The Hidden Lineage Of Brownsville Hip-Hop

The veteran MC’s latest album, ‘Honor Killed the Samurai,’ is representative of his hood’s overlooked legacy

Written by Brian Josephs // August 30, 2016

Ka uses a minimalist’s palette — haunted instrumental loops and laconic delivery — to color his songs’ brutal realism and serrated wit. The 44-year-old New York MC doesn’t deviate from that formula on his fourth solo LP, the recently released Honor Killed the Samurai. Even without juxtaposing it against the two more obviously mainstream records that came a day before (Rae Sremmurd’s turn-up soundtrack Sremmlife 2 and joyless OVO singer PARTYNEXTDOOR’s P3), the realities that Ka animates with his terse wordplay are still eye-twitchingly bleak.

On the self-produced Samurai, he describes an impoverished land where the law must be broken for the sake of survival; as he explains on “Just,” “To get what we need / We do what we must.” The production — guitar-sampling dirges with smatterings of soul — underscores tales of nihilism (“Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying”) and deadpan threats (“Got bread? / Pull the heat, toast is served”). Ka closes the LP with a painful sentiment: “I wish we didn’t have to live like this.” It’s a moment made even more poignant by what’s conveyed in his distinctive croak, a mix of sour acceptance and the numb exhaustion of someone raised on the streets of Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.

“There wasn’t a block where you could get a break,” Ka, born Kaseem Ryan, tells SPIN over the phone, recalling his old stomping grounds. “What you saw growing up in and out of your block molded who you were. You could hear it in what we talk about — in our tone.”

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