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Ka

The Night's Gambit

(Iron Works; US: 13 Jul 2013; UK: 23 Sep 2013)

Ever since Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, there’s been a steady decline in the subject of spirituality within hip-hop. Recent examples of this can be seen in the meme-ification of Lil B, Rick Ross assuming Godlike stature on God Forgives, I Don’t yesteryear and Kanye West naming his latest album Yeezus, where he “talked to Jesus” on a track titled “I Am a God”, which guest featured God. Moreover, traditional hip-hop purists are often not impressed with the genre’s growing fascination with hooks, put off by Kanye West’s latest antics or else Jay Z’s talk of “newrules” for Magna Carta Holy Grail that turned out to be nothing more than talk.


There’s a reason I bring all this up: Ka’s latest output, The Night’s Gambit, is a decidedly backwards looking record; his mission statement as seen in a recent interview with Passion of the Weiss, was “to give you the ‘95 feel with the 2012 sound.” His beats are minimal (drums sometimes fail to exist at all) while hooks are scarce (if there at all) and there’s a focus on simply laying down bars as a result. Even Ka’s release method, taking to the streets of Brooklyn armed with boxes full of CDs is wonderfully old-school. The album title and cover automatically ought to recall GZA (whose’s album was the first time the world was introduced to a solo Ka), as well as samples Ka uses to further the album’s themes (such as the chess match from Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows and the chess lesson from The Wire.


Standouts are plentiful. Opener “You Know It’s About” rides on the use of the thunderous Black Sabbath sample. Meanwhile, the beat on “Jungle” might be The Night’s Gambit‘s fullest, thanks to the use of trilling piano, bluesy electric guitar and swelling strings, not unlike what Adrian Younge gave Ghostface Killah earlier this year. “Peace Akhi” despite having a barren beat punctuated by cinematic church bells, constantly pushes forward because of the way Ka has interwoven samples directly pertaining to the lyrics at hand. “Knighthood”, which follows, continues the previous track’s spirituality due to the use of a wordless vocal melody, which sounds like the same James Blake used in “Retrograde”, if James Blake were even more tortured. On the closer “Off the Record”, Ka demonstrates his love for old-school hip-hop by interweaving over sixty hip-hop classics into a cohesive narrative while most artists would’ve namedropped them needlessly.


Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. Due to strict adherence to his DIY approach and—other than a welcome but brief appearance from kindred spirit Roc Marciano—there’s a rejection of the outside world. Throughout the album, Ka fights a losing battle to keep listeners listening. His voice is monotonous; there’s no shift between verses and hooks such that the hooks often fail to hook Meanwhile, his beats are always mid-tempo and minimalistic, and once they’ve revealed themselves, they’ve often nowhere to go afterwards. That being said, the album’s brevity—clocking just under 40 minutes—and his penchant for bookending each song with samples are both welcome blessings.

Rating:

You can follow Marshall Gu on Twitter @freecitysounds and read his blog at freecitysounds.wordpress.com.


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