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list Jun 18 2024 Written by

Ranking Ka’s Albums

Ranking Ka's Albums

Brownsville, Brooklyn has long been a breeding ground for some of Hip Hop’s most profound and raw talents. Among these, one name stands out for his poetic approach to street narratives: Kaseem Ryan, better known as Ka. Emerging from the rough streets of Brownsville, Ka’s music offers a stark, introspective view of life in one of New York City’s most notorious neighborhoods.

Ka’s career began in the early 90s as part of the underground group Natural Elements, but his solo work truly defined his voice in Hip Hop. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ka’s approach to music is slow-burning and reflective, focusing on minimalistic, self-produced beats that serve as the perfect backdrop for his dense, literary lyrics. Each album he releases is a carefully constructed piece of art, often requiring multiple listens to fully appreciate the depth of his storytelling and the subtlety of his wordplay.

Ka’s discography consists of a series of thematic explorations that delve into urban life’s struggles, philosophies, and harsh realities. His debut solo album, Iron Works, released in 2008, set the tone for his future projects with its raw production and introspective lyrics. His 2012 release, Grief Pedigree, truly put him on the map. This album, entirely self-produced and self-released, was hailed for its haunting beats and Ka’s intricate rhyming schemes, painting vivid pictures of street life and personal anguish.

Subsequent albums like The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed the Samurai (2016) further solidified Ka’s reputation as a master poet. These projects are characterized by their philosophical musings and the consistent use of metaphor and allusion, drawing parallels between the struggles of modern-day warriors and ancient samurai. Ka’s music is not just about the gritty realities of street life but also about finding honor, wisdom, and resilience amidst the chaos. His albums, often released with little promotion, create an aura of mystique and demand attention to detail. Each album is a chapter in Ka’s ongoing narrative, offering listeners a profound and often sobering reflection of life in Brownsville and beyond.

In recent years, Ka has continued pushing his craft’s boundaries. Albums like Descendants of Cain (2020) and A Martyr’s Reward (2021) showcase his growth as an artist and storyteller, delving deeper into legacy, sacrifice, and survival themes. His work remains a beacon of integrity and depth in an industry often swayed by trends, proving that true artistry transcends commercial success. Join us as we journey through Ka’s remarkable discography, celebrating the enduring impact of his music and the profound stories woven within each album.

Ranking Ka’s Albums

10. Grief Pedigree (2012)

Ranking Ka's Albums

Four years after his overlooked and forgotten debut album Iron Works, Ka’s second LP Grief Pedigree is the album that put him on the map as an underground rapper to reckon with, eloquently capturing his personal and artistic journey as a rapper hailing from Brownsville, New York. The album delves into Ka’s contemplation of identity beyond his thirties, showcasing the wisdom of age and the complexities of life through his subdued, yet captivating delivery.

With minimalistic production that complements his confessional lyricism, tracks like “Summer” highlight Ka’s ability to weave bravado with introspective themes, creating an evocative listening experience. Dedicated listening unveils Ka’s lyrical prowess and hypnotic flow that delves into corner-hustle details, lost friends, and personal reflections.

Though not with production as strong as the signature drumless sounds that would characterize his later albums, Grief Pedigree was a great primer for what would follow. Ka’s unique blend of thoughtful lyricism and captivating energy solidified his place as a talented underground rapper. 7/10

9. Iron Works (2008)

Ranking Ka's Albums

Ka’s 2008 debut album, Iron Works, is a hidden gem that doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves compared to his sophomore album Grief Pedigree. Unfortunately, many Hip Hop listeners mistake Grief Pedigree as his first album and miss out on the raw brilliance of Iron Works. This album offers the first glimpses of Ka’s signature understated flow, creative pen game, and personal lyrics. Although the beats are simple, they complement Ka’s flow perfectly, making Iron Works an unmissable part of the Ka experience. 7/10

8. Languish Arts (2022)

Ranking Ka's Albums

Ka’s Languish Arts is a deep exploration of self-analysis and a critique of societal cycles of poverty and oppression. The album builds on the introspective themes of his previous works, with Ka reflecting on his life lessons and struggles. His lyrics, rich with sharp wordplay and metaphor, invite listeners into his narratives of emotional and detailed truths.

The lush instrumental layers built on orchestral strings, electric guitars, and minimalistic loops enhance the emotional weight of his narratives, particularly in tracks like “Full Cobra” and “Eat.” Each track on Languish Arts offers a new layer of insight, with each transition feeling natural and purposeful. Ka’s rhythmic flows carry like slam poetry, filled with witty wordplay and metaphors that drive home his messages. Languish Arts is a strong continuation of Ka’s legacy, we wished it had been released as one full album with its companion album Woeful Studies though. 7.5/10

7. Woeful Studies (2022)

Ranking Ka's Albums

Woeful Studies offers a stark and vivid portrayal of Brownsville, delving into themes of penance, gratitude, and the relentless struggle against poverty, police oppression, and street life. Ka’s signature raspy whisper delivers poignant reflections on these harsh realities, creating a visceral atmosphere.

The production, mainly self-done with contributions from regular collaborators Animoss and Preservation, trends a notable shift in the relative brightness and orchestral quality of the beats, drawing attention to the melancholy in Ka’s stories. Tracks like “Ascension” and “Touché” highlight his ability to blend poetic lyricism with rich, evocative sounds, demonstrating a masterclass in minimalist storytelling.

While Woeful Studies shares similarities with its companion album Languish Arts, we slightly prefer it for its more animated flows and layered loops. Both entries offer a glimpse into Ka’s unique world, with profound explorations of trauma, resilience, and understanding amidst adversity, solidifying his position as one of the most consistent and necessary voices in underground Hip Hop. 7.5/10

6. The Night's Gambit (2013)

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With The Night’s Gambit, Ka pushed boundaries creatively, utilizing his exceptional talent as an emcee. This album sees him elevate his poetic lyricism, clever metaphors, and subtle wordplay, all woven with a chess theme that symbolizes his evolution from street life to a conscious rapper.

Musically, The Night’s Gambit is a departure from his previous work, Chief Pedigree, offering an even more stripped-down and atmospheric experience. Through reflective and remorseful verses, Ka reflects on past missteps, demonstrating a deeper understanding of his journey as he navigates life’s challenges.

His storytelling prowess shines through with intricate metaphors and references, revealing a breadth of knowledge spanning culture, religion, music, and history. The album’s standout tracks like “Jungle,” “Soap Box,” “30 Pieces of Silver,” and “Knighthood” show off Ka’s mastery of lyricism, paired with compelling instrumentals that underscore the emotional depth of his message.

With The Night’s Gambit, Ka strategically maneuvers through life’s complexities like a chess game, always several moves ahead, sacrificing some pieces along the way to achieve his ultimate goal: checkmate. 8/10

5. Dr. Yen Lo – Days With Dr. Yen Lo (2015)

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Days With Dr. Yen Lo presents a hauntingly powerful collaboration between Ka and producer Preservation that delves into themes of anxiety and paranoia inspired by John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate.” This album, an extension of Ka’s Brownsville roots, takes listeners on a profound and unsettling journey through his introspective universe. Ka’s intricate and layered lyrics mirror the film’s themes of control and indoctrination, taking his storytelling to profound depths. Preservation’s minimalist production, featuring fragmented LP samples and minimal percussion, creates a hypnotic soundscape that enhances the album’s eerie atmosphere.

Ka’s hushed yet unwavering delivery, paired with precise and meditative lyricism, demands a deep listening experience. His words, rich with internal consonance and expertly matched vowel sounds, seamlessly blend with Preservation’s intricate instrumentals, drawing listeners into a world of darkness and captivation. Days With Dr. Yen Lo is a masterclass in anti-pop rap, offering a thought-provoking exploration of Ka’s struggles with crime and morality. The album’s brilliance lies in its subtlety and complexity, showcasing Ka’s unique storytelling and Preservation’s masterful production in a dark and captivating light. 8/10

4. Descendants Of Cain (2020)

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In his 2020 release, Descendants Of Cain, Ka explores a biblical theme evident in the title, cover art, and song titles, delving into the struggles of street life in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The album features his signature poetic lyricism, blending seamlessly with atmospheric instrumentals by Preservation, Animoss, Roc Marciano, and Ka himself. Layered with hidden meanings and subtle nuances, the album demands multiple listens to fully appreciate its depth.

Ka’s introspective and hypnotic blend of Hip Hop meditation draws parallels between the biblical narrative of Cain and his descendants and the harsh realities of his own experiences. The minimalistic and moody instrumental selection sets a dark, haunting tone, creating an immersive atmosphere. The album’s imagery and lyricism vividly depict the gritty and brutal lifestyle of the hood, exemplifying Ka’s exceptional storytelling and wordplay.

While some may find Ka’s subdued delivery hard to get into, his sharp and unrelenting pen game creates a captivating narrative that inevitably commands the listener’s attention. The stark and cinematic production, consisting of dark, gritty beats and haunting samples, reinforces the album’s visceral impact. Each track weaves a cohesive and powerful narrative, drawing parallels between biblical allegories and modern-day struggles, offering a thought-provoking exploration of societal issues and personal introspection.

Descendants Of Cain may not be suitable for casual listening or social settings, requiring patience, repeated engagement, and a deep appreciation for lyrical craftsmanship. With its evocative storytelling, raw lyricism, and immersive production, this album is a powerful part of Ka’s discography, appealing to fans of spoken word, underground rap, and those seeking profound storytelling and compelling lyricism. 8.5/10

3. Hermit & The Recluse: Orpheus vs. The Sirens (2018)

Orpheus vs. The Sirens is a collaborative project by Hermit and the Recluse – Ka paired with producer Animoss. This album masterfully intertwines Greek mythology with gritty street narratives. Throughout ten tracks, each named after ancient Greek myths, Ka’s hypnotic voice and evocative writing shine through. Production is top-notch, featuring minimalistic, almost lo-fi beats that recall MF DOOM’s influence. The use of audio clips from old movies and television further enhances the album’s unique sonic identity.

The album’s concept is brilliantly executed, with Ka projecting the streetwise tales of his youth through the lens of Greek mythology. This audacious move pays off, as the intricate storytelling and cold flows pull listeners into a deeply immersive experience. Orpheus vs. The Sirens is almost confrontationally intimate, with long stretches of tracks passing without percussion, allowing Ka’s words to take center stage. His hooks are brief and memorable, leaving ample room for his layered verses filled with compelling narratives.

Animoss’ sample-heavy, abstract beats are slow and rough-edged, creating a dark, chilling atmosphere that matches the album’s themes. This minimalistic approach allows the focus to remain on Ka’s personal narratives and clever bars.

Orpheus vs. The Sirens is a powerful work that blends ancient themes with modern-day struggles. Coupled with its haunting production and intricate lyricism, it makes it a standout project in Ka’s discography and a must-listen for fans of atmospheric, poetic Hip Hop. 8.5/10

2. A Martyr's Reward (2021)

Ka’s A Martyr’s Reward is a masterclass in lyricism, delivered by one of the most refined pens in the game. Known for his beautifully crafted poetic lyrics, aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes, Ka continues his legacy with this project. Like his previous works, A Martyr’s Reward features minimalistic, understated instrumentals that allow Ka’s hushed, hoarse flow and intricate wordplay to shine. This album is one of his most personal, with a narrative deeply rooted in his life experiences.

The album’s production, handled by Ka himself, is hauntingly skeletal, looping solitary notes from sparse instrumentals, sometimes joined by subtle drum lines and sleepy bass. These threadbare beats create lush sounds, making each track feel like an intimate story. Ka’s voice, gravelly and wise, adds a unique depth to his profound lyricism. His smooth, intricate wordplay covers a variety of personal and societal issues, including poverty, gentrification, religion, sexual violence, and race relations.

Tracks like “I Need All of That” and “I Notice” show off some of the best wordplay and double entendres in Hip Hop. The album’s standout moments include the twinkling, Eastern-inspired production on “We Living/Martyr” and the staggering wordplay on “Enough Praise/Recovering.” Despite its minimalistic production, the album never grows dull, thanks to Ka’s ability to paint vivid pictures with his words without being overly descriptive.

Ka’s music is an acquired taste, but those with an ear for atmospheric instrumentals and true lyricism will find A Martyr’s Reward a searing, soulful gem. Even when Ka slips into his old habits, his rapping is on a level few can match. Ka’s work is both immensely dense and unorthodoxly light, suitable for both high-attention, analytical listens and as background music. This album is filled with technical prowess and profound storytelling, solidifying Ka’s place as one of the best rappers in the underground scene. 8.5/10

1. Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)

Ka once again delivered a chilling masterpiece with his 2016 album Honor Killed The Samurai. This project is the perfect example of his skill with aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and intricate rhyme schemes. Honor Killed The Samurai showcases Ka’s ability to craft conceptually rich projects, featuring minimalistic, understated instrumentals that give ample room for his narrative and subtle wordplay to shine.

The album’s 10 tracks are underscored by menacing musical backdrops, perfectly complementing Ka’s hushed, raspy tone. This combination creates a quietly fearsome vibe that pervades the entire album, drawing listeners into its dark, introspective world. Ka’s production style is a grim rabbit hole of found sounds, minor keys, and sparse drum patterns, which set the stage for his lyrical prowess. His voice, though hushed, carries a vicious intensity, cementing him as a preeminent stylist in the modern Hip Hop landscape.

Honor Killed The Samurai is a prophetic work, predictive of the drumless Hip Hop wave that would come to dominate the underground in the late 2010s and 2020s. Ka is a powerhouse poet who packs wit and wisdom into every bar, effortlessly switching between introspective humility and assertive braggadocio. On tracks like “Just,” Ka reflects on equality and humility, while “Conflicted” features some of the most beautiful and vivid instrumentals in Hip Hop. The samples throughout the album effectively connect the themes of bushido (the samurai code) and street life, particularly on the final track “I Wish (Death Poem),” which features a bluesy guitar riff and a shuffling drum beat, with Ka rapping about the harsh realities of street life.

The synths on “Just” provide one of the album’s most hard-hitting and unique instrumentals, while “Mourn at Night” envelops listeners in its nocturnal sounds, with Ka whispering his ad-libs over a delicate string sample. Lyrically, Ka delivers great bars on every song, illustrating the dangers of street life and his success in overcoming these challenges, often using his gains to help struggling communities.

Honor Killed The Samurai is an atmospheric album packed with substance, drawing clever comparisons between the life of a samurai and life in the ghetto. Ka is a true poet, his words carrying immense weight, supported by skeletal, nocturnal beats that make each track feel more gut-wrenching than the last. His ability to evoke deep emotions without forcing them is a testament to his skill; few words are enough to convey profound feelings.

Each bar on the album feels carefully handcrafted, whittled to perfection, and placed with great consideration. The laid-back, stripped-down production complements Ka’s almost spoken-word style, emphasizing his cold, intricate lyrics. The unique comparison between America’s harsh street gangs and the ancient ways of the samurai works brilliantly, highlighting codes of honor, the inevitability of death, and the poetic nature of both worlds.

Ka created something special with Honor Killed The Samurai, a fantastic LP that never overstays its welcome. It’s a lyrical masterpiece, a perfect blend of poetry and raw street narratives. 9/10

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