Album Review: Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai

by Dustin

HKTS

8.75/10

It seems as if Ka has been on a roll since his debut solo album release in 2008. The gritty Brownsville emcee has totaled three solo albums (prior to Honor Killed the Samurai), two extended plays, and a collaborative album under the name Dr. Yen Lo. All have been met with positive critical reviews, and have garnered him an impressive underground fan base. As mentioned, he’s recently released Honor Killed the Samurai. This is his first full length solo album since 2013’s The Night’s Gambit, but he’s kept fans eagerly anticipating it with collaborative efforts and a handful of singles.

It’s finally here however, and it definitely lives up to the standard Ka has established throughout his discography.

When approaching any of Ka’s work, it should be expected that you will have to rewind and replay tracks multiple times to catch all the little details. This is true for Honor Killed the Samurai. With the focus being primarily on story telling lyrics, it isn’t the type of album that one can digest quickly. There is a lot of meat to chew on, and honestly this makes it quite wonderful to revisit. Ka’s presence on the album is most similar to that of a spoken word poet.

I strained to obtain so I could give more,
Most dangerous when there was nothing to live for.
(Conflicted)

Additionally, the production on Honor Killed the Samurai provides a splendid backdrop. The instrumentation feels relatively minimal; however, it’s quickly evident that it was the perfect choice for the overall feel of the album. There’s a degree of consistency to the production that creates a wonderfully cohesive environment behind Ka’s vocals. Though the production is minimalistic, it is a beautiful simplicity. All the tracks sound smooth, there is not an abrasive moment in the duration of Honor Killed the Samurai.

At the end of the day, Ka is the definition of a rapper’s rapper. Those obsessed with storytelling and complex (yet coherent) rhyme schemes will fall in love with this album. He’s immensely talented at painting a vivid scene, and he oozes technical writing ability. That being said, if you’re looking for an absent minded listen (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with), this is not the album for you. The focus is so narrowed on vocals that the listener has to be prepared to pay attention. It’s a rewarding listen, but not an easy one.

So I stood on mine, during the hoodest time,
Was a nightmare, felt like life here was as good as dying,
We was born in the thorns, few arose,
Once a town’s noose, now in soundproofs pursuing golds.
(Mourn at Night)

In a moment of stunning unprofessionalism, it seems fitting to close this with a statement aimed at the New York Post. If you cannot separate the music of a highly regarded story-teller from their personal lives, that is your issue. Do not attempt to write a smear piece on the artist. Simply because Ka writes about things street relate (perhaps things he’s seen, or grown up around), does not make him any less of a firefighter. He’s doing a job most are not brave enough to do, and should be celebrated as such. Not shamed for producing art that many love.

To the fans who voiced their displeasure, kudos. The author at the New York Post showed so little journalistic integrity, and it was beautiful to witness fans standing up for an artist over an injustice. Hopefully those who stood up for Ka also go out and support this project. Honor Killed the Samurai is very much worth the purchase.

Why it Was Good: A History of Violence, by Kuniva

by Apu

HOV

On December 16, 2014, Kuniva released his official debut studio project, A History of Violence. It followed a long stream of mixtapes (Retribution, the Midwest Marauders series, and the Lost Gold mixtape). Unlike the music that was on the mixtapes, Kuniva used all original production (primarily handled by Block Symfany, a production team composed of Rio Da Ghost and T.Boyd out of Michigan), and made actual fleshed-out songs, rather than just long verses and freestyles. Overall, it’s a very solid solo offering. It set the stage for him to grow and dig deeper in his later material.

The best part of this project to me is how Kuniva put it together. It sort of sounds like he sequenced the album very deliberately. The first 4 tracks seem like they’re from the perspective of a younger, more rowdy Kuniva. Those tracks tend to celebrate the street life. It opens up with the posse cut “Michiganish”, featuring Aftermath artist Jon Connor, Mass Appeal’s Boldy James, and Detroit legend Guilty Simpson. It starts things off fairly simply, being a competitive cypher of sorts. The following few songs, “Born Like This”, “Where I’m From”, and “Baileys In Bangkok,” all have a similar sort of vibe. They’re cocky and rowdy. They sound a little ironic and tongue in cheek, almost as though Kuniva was trying to rap the way a younger kid would rap. The content and the way it’s done makes me think he was talking about the street life, from the perspective of a kid living it, rather than someone reflecting on it.

Then comes “Derty Headz”, which is a very powerful song dedicated to fans of his and D-12. It has an anthemic hook and verses that drop all sorts of history about his career. He talks about Proof recruiting him for the group, the beef they’ve had, and the adversity they’ve faced from within since Proof passed. This song is the major turning point in almost every way. Here, flashes of reflection and maturity start to show up. From track 6 onwards, it seems to shift to his perspective now as a man nearly 40 years old after having seen massive success with his group, mournfully reflecting on the hard times in life but looking ahead with a drive to keep moving now that he’s out. “Light Work” and “Where The Hoes @?”, both offer fiery production and strong verses delivered with the hunger and confidence of a man who has seen his fair share of hardship. The title track, which is quite possibly the most personal and poetic song Kuniva has ever released, has him speaking on his past up to the point when Proof was murdered in chilling, almost uncomfortably rich detail, his voice oozing pain over him reflecting on it, and the album ends on “Shoutout”, which sounds like where he’s at now, looking forward into the future with hope after everything he’s been through.

The music on this project is good. There’s no denying that Kuniva is a strong rapper and has been doing nothing but improving since D-12 World. His delivery has become a lot more convincing and his writing has gotten sharper. The production is great too. Block Symfany (and Enrichment, on the title track) were able to provide Kuniva with a backdrop that deviated from the typical D-12 sound. It gave Kuniva the chance to step out of that style and develop his own identity, which is something that he hasn’t had the chance to really do much in the past outside of his Retribution mixtape. I think the first half of the album is a little shaky and unfocused at points, but every song from “Derty Headz” onwards is great. The title track might be one of my favorites of the entire year of 2014, period.

However, what really makes the album good is how it lives up to its name of being a “history”. Kuniva put the album together to actually make it almost like a song-by-song history of his life, from rapping competitively at the Hip-Hop Shop and living in the streets, to when D-12 were at their peak, and ending it with an adult perspective on life. It’s really special, because oftentimes artists don’t do that kind of thing when putting their projects together. You generally hear about Kendrick and the like putting their albums together in a manner like that, but honestly, Kuniva managed to pull off an album concept as well as anybody else. Even if it wasn’t fully intentional, he still clearly had an idea of progressing the sound and content of the project in a way that made sense, as opposed to putting the songs together in an arbitrary order and releasing it onto iTunes. That, to me, is what really makes it good, and not just another hip hop album.

Album Review: deM atlaS – mF deM

by Dustin

mfdem

6.75/10

Among alternative hip-hop heads, MF DOOM is basically a household name. Though the rapper and producer has been relatively quiet for years, most fans still eagerly anticipate new material from the vaudeville villain no matter how rare. Apart from a handful of features, DOOM’s last release of substance was his production work on NehruvianDoom alongside young rapper Bishop Nehru… Don’t get too excited however, as mF deM is a bit of a tease in these regards. All DOOM instrumentation on this release has been heard before.

Don’t let that discourage you though as this project also has an emcee delivering brand new bars. This of course is Minnesota native and Rhymesayers Entertainment signee, deM atlaS. DeM draws influence from a wide variety of musical artists, and really has the potential to create a unique sound. He’s young, but he’s already got a vocal presence on the mic that can’t be matched by some veterans.

So what happens when pairing him with production, albeit previously released, by a hip-hop legend? You get a release with some really lovely highs.

deM atlas seems to be at his best on this tape when utilizing his singing voice. There’s something about deM that feels similar to Camu Tao’s later works at times. On tracks like “Grbge Trsh” he’s energetic, expressive, and stays engaging by conveying emotion excellently. There are many moments on mF deM that are in line with this stylistically. “Nervosa” and “Its Over, Im Dead” being two of the key high points. Even when not singing deM maintained his vocal presence over the majority of this release. When he’s on his game, he’s an absolute pleasure to listen to and super unique.

Unfortunately consistency seemed to be an issue.

Tracks fell flat during moments when deM slipped back into a more conventional delivery; moreover, there were times where he felt quite derivative of other Minnesota based rappers. These songs are still quite listenable, but the stood out as a step below some of the other material being offered up over the course of the album.

To put it in the most cliche way possible, the production is what it is. There’s not really much more to say about these instrumentals that hasn’t already been said, since they’ve been available since the beginning of time itself. Some are fantastic, some are fairly repetitive; basically there’s nothing out of the ordinary for DOOM production.

deM’s voice worked quite well on most of the beats, but it definitely felt as if he was forced to carry the album due to the instrumentation being fairly played out. As a full listen, this album will feel much more fresh if you’re not familiar with MF DOOM’s production catalogue.

Perhaps deM atlaS didn’t “find himself” on this project, but he did a good job of creating songs that are pleasant listens. His potential definitely shows, and deM seems like an artist to watch going forward. Don’t let the score at the top of the page put you off of listening, either. It seems like the kind of album that will have a decent amount of replay value, even if not the most consistent.