Published Aug 29, 2018For rapper Ka, home is a malign malefactor. Growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, he was truly raked over the coals; violence was a fact of life for too many young people in that pre-Giuliani tinderbox, but few could turn their childhood baggage into cerebrally meditative underground hip-hop like Ka does.
On new album Orpheus vs. the Sirens, his fifth in nearly as many years, Ka — the titular hermit to producer Animoss's recluse — retells his life story with the occasional cutaway to his favourite scenes of ancient Greek philosophy. And why not? His problems as a youth were the same, in kind if not scope, as the poorest Athenians 3,000 years ago. "For respect, I had to be the villain of the village," Ka raps on "The Punishment of Sisyphus." "'Cause I'm the only ones chilling was the ones willing to pillage."
For decades, Ka was just a growly backbencher in the New York underground; even after holding his own on a track with the beloved esoterist GZA, his stock failed to soar — that is, until he dropped Grief Pedigree in 2012. Only then did Ka find an audience for his trancelike, soft-spoken soliloquys.
Ka's music will be a tough sell for hip-hop fans accustomed to baroque maximalism. Orpheus vs. the Sirens is almost confrontationally intimate; long stretches pass without any percussion at all. In lieu of that we get hushed church organs, koto-like guitar plinks and a cold, damp atmosphere of repentance. (Obol for Charon)