Ka’s enigmatic presence within hip-hop is something that has fascinated me for the longest time. Through albums such as 2013’s The Night’s Gambit, 2016’s Honor Killed The Samurai and 2020’s Descendants of Cain, Ka has been able to create sombre, reflective bodies of work that are seeped in incredible depth and introspection. Thematically, he takes inspiration from samurai culture and Greek mythology, turning his poetry and hypnotic production into intricate bodies of work that are just enthralling and so beautiful to listen to. His work is pure poetry. From his delivery, to the detailed yet skeletal production, he is a true artist, painting pictures and thoughts with words no other emcee or poet can replicate. On his new body of work A Martyr’s Reward, Ka continues to delve into personal themes of personal struggle and family, as well as inner growth and spirituality. His upbringings in Brownsville, New York have been reflected in his rough yet interesting experiences, and his wisdom from all the knowledge he has accumulated living in New York and being a firefighter.
The opener “Everybody Up” sets the tone for the entire project. The mesmeric and mysterious opener has infectious guitar melodies and a subtle but groovy beat, but is dominated by Ka’s growling voice and fluid flow. “Them bigots did us how they treat peasants / No gifts, but always police presence”, he says, a play on the words presence and presents. The stark contrast in words especially in the context of police violence in the US, makes this quite a powerful and poignant moment on the track. “I Need All That” is a powerful moment that sees Ka reclaims “My culture, my music, my look”. His lyrics are so poignantly in touch with reality, and his monotonous yet incredibly present voice brings such an emotive and assertive voice on societal and political issues. Police corruption for instance is a prevalent theme on “Peace Peace Peace”, an oxymoron within itself. Over the synth-heavy beat and vocal sample of “Sad to Say”, Ka reflects on having “Had a hard life, hard life / Sad to say I know some glad to hear it”. On the one hand, it seems like Ka has come full circle. It seems like he’s finally content and at peace with life, at least with the family he has around him. The gratitude for other human beings is so pure and perfectly said on the last track of his last album, “I Love (Mimi, Moms, Kev)” and it seems like this time around he senses true clarity within himself. One of my favourite tracks off the entire album comes from “With All My Heart”, where he states “No innocence here / Since seared by sin, all I ever been is sincere”. Seared, as in burnt (reference to hell), sin, doing something considered immoral (reference to the deadly sins), sincere (being honest and truthful). The dichotomy there between committing sins while being sincere and the reference to burning in hell and the innocence of Jesus Christ on the cross… That’s how I interpret it anyways. Even the title “A Martyr’s Reward” is indicative of this willigness to give in for the greater good, to sacrifice individualism for collectivism and the collective good of religion and the belief in God. The reward for staying loyal to these beliefs, as Ka says, can bring some incredible results, but the world beyond that is a dark and eerie place. “I Notice” has a particularly dark and unassuming bassline and groove, and opens up with this gem – “Cops got us under microscopes to make sure we see cells / Know my first vitamin was iron, but I just wanted to beat 12 / Didn’t dwell by the sea shore, but was sure to see shells”. Speaking on prison life and cop control, Ka is able to create this claustrophobic fear of the outside, but he just sounds like a spiritual teacher. My favourite track on the album, however is the DJ Preservation-produced gem “Subtle.” That incredible flute melody over hard-hitting yet subtle drumming and the tribal quality of the track already makes an incredible moment on the album, but what makes it a 10/10 is Ka’s ability to absolutely float effortlessly and flawlessly throughout. He switches his flow up giving you incredible bars – “Paint harsh to aim the brainwash, deepen the condition / Knew defeat, want fruit to eat, had to speak it to fruition / Blocks ruined, my own pot stewing, sneaking to the kitchen / Amid disease, give ’em degrees, til they start leaving tuition / Stubborn we did it, wasn’t permitted, never needed they permission”… and this shit continues throughout. The way he is able to chop his rhymes up is truly incredible not only here but throughout the entire album is a true work of genius and truly exceptional. I can go on for ages about this album.
A Martyr’s Reward is such an incredible album. With introspective and reflective lyricism on the impact of worship and the willingness to give to the community around him, this is the martyr’s reward. Clarity on life external to our own individual experiences, clarity on self and our state of mind and spirituality, and awareness and gratitude of family and friends that are there to help go through life. Couple Ka’s presence with dark yet animated production, with heavier and drum-led instrumentation that are laced with soul samples and raw, tribal moments, you get a mystical body of work. The production, by the way, is for the most part handled by Ka himself, with beats from DJ Preservation on “Subtle” and Navy Blue (who also features) on “We Living / Martyr”. The grandiose sounds on tracks like “Be Grateful” is complemented by darker and more menacing production on tracks like “Enough Praise / Recovering” (another incredible track that deserves its own article, if we’re honest). “Having Nothin'” is a stellar closer, with piano keys and horns that bring a subtle yet emphatic sound so pure. “Having nothin’ gave me everything I need’ he proclaims, a powerful moment on the album that basically confirms that that mind is so much more powerful than anything else, and it Ka’s case has made him the incredibly gifted wordsmith that he is, which is also, in a way, a martyr’s reward. It’s an an astoundingly deep and rewarding experience, capturing Ka’s intellect, as well as his philosophical and spiritual self, through the art of poetry. Go support this shit!