There are some rappers out there whose minimalism and low-key, low-rumble style of hip-hop can be effective without having to dumb anything down. Examples of those (at least, to me) are Roc Marciano, Earl Sweatshirt, Flatbush Zombies, and on this edition: Ka.
Kaseem Ryan (aka Ka) is a New York rapper and FDNY fire captain hailing from Brownsville, Brooklyn. A former member of the group Natural Elements back in 1993, he has been making solo efforts under his name since 2008, such as Iron Works, The Night’s Gambit, and of course Honor Killed The Samurai which that was one of my top albums of 2016, and 2 years later, we have the follow-up to that.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I put Hermit and the Recluse in there, this is a collaboration with him and L.A.-based producer Animoss, who’s worked with artists like Joey Bada$$ and Roc Marciano in the past. Collaborations like this aren’t new for Ka (he did Days With Dr. Yen Lo with Preservation), so how’s the album overall?
Well… I already have Denzel Curry, Jean Grae + Quelle Chris, Roc Marciano, Pusha T, Westside Gunn and Freddie Gibbs on my top rap albums this year, and guess what? From the moment the first song played on this album, Orpheus is up there too. This album is phenomenal!
Like his previous albums, Ka has always spat about the trials and tribulations of the street life but through a loose concept. The Night’s Gambit involved chess; Honor Killed The Samurai had the samurai code of bushido, and now Orpheus vs. The Sirens has Greek mythology. The first sign of that is the starter of the album “Sirens,” with a sample taken from the TV Movie Jason and the Argonauts with Orpheus convincing Jason to be a part of his crew on his ship. This smoothly transitions into the song, and Ka definitely brings it with these verses.
Weighin’ the crime, still payin’ for mine, haunted by the Three Furies
Should discover y’all brothers instead of throwin’ signs that divide you
It ain’t never shoot you, just headed to you with nines
It’s the Hydra
Being deprived of the papes made a lot of mistakes in my era
Hard life course you needed white horse to defeat the Chimera
Every morning wake, never caught a break, revealed I was jinxed
To be the man deciphers life’s riddle or get killed by the Sphinx
Yes, there is a lot of Greek mythology references, but they’re not used in a way that’s gimmicky. It’s very akin to his previous works: a cinematic experience but on wax. “Atlas” is used with Ka having to reflect on his burden as an artist and a man, similar to Atlas’ task of holding up the earth for an eternity. “Hades” not only has some great delivery, especially noting that his brother Kev (whom he collaborated on a group called Nightbreed) passed away in 2015. but even a rare guest feature from folk-rock musician Citizen Cope.
“Argo” was also another track that got some attention from me as that’s the name of the ship that sailed past the Sirens, the creatures that led a lot of men to their doom, and this lyric does pique my interest:
If what you provide is not inspiring, I’m not amused
What word hurt me, Euterpe was the 9 I used
Hope you pick appropriate when this shit time to choose
Our boys hard as Spartans, if not trying hardest you try and lose
Euterpe is the goddess of music, and for Ka, that meant he went to music instead of the guns. The story of “Oedipus” (yes, it’s that same Greek tragic hero that ended up killing his father and marrying his mother) also applies here. How? Well, it’s mostly following what I mentioned along with the whole “if you’re not family, then you don’t see where we coming from” thing. These lyrics did get me to look into that:
I’m ill prepared, stupid ready
My tale on tape, super heavy
I been felled at welter and bantam weight
Apparently we ain’t family, you can’t relate
And it’s mostly that Welter and bantam weight are boxing weight class. WORDPLAY!!
One last thing to note here (on “The Punishment of Sisyphus”) is that with Ka rapping about his humility in contrast of the king Sisyphus who needed to be humbled (as he praised himself for being smarter than Zeus), he had to roll a stone up a steep hill that proved to be useless.
This is also an epic-sounding album. The production may be what Ka is known for, but it is so sonically beautiful from the use of guitars, cymbals, organs and minimal to no usage of drums, and the melodies and hooks to those tracks are ear-pleasingly gorgeous. Now with this album, this isn’t going to be for everybody, but then again I don’t think Ka ever expected making this. He made another great album that embodies the spirit of gritty East Coast rap in a compelling, experimental way, and props are given to Animoss as well for providing the excellent production. Not only is this is one of the best rap albums of this year but it’s also the best album of 2018 period.
Final Verdict: BUY IT. Hermit and the Recluse – one sermons, one produces and made this masterpiece.
Orpheus vs. The Sirens is available on CD, Vinyl, Digital Download and streaming on Obol for Charon Records. You can also purchase it on his website: Brownsville KA