Close to 75% of the New York State prison population comes from seven New York City neighborhoods—Harlem, South Bronx, Lower East Side, Bed Stuy, Bushwick, South Jamaica and Brownsville/East New York. Ka never went to prison, but he is from perhaps the most violent on that list, the Brooklyn area that spawned the likes of heavyweight champs Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, not to mention heavyweight professional-beater-uppers M.O.P.
Ka and I met up in front of Guitar Center in the Atlantic Center and took a quick lap through Fort Greene to talk about Brooklyn and his music. Though he shared a lot about his memories of Kings County, he asked to speak off the record on more than one occasion to answer a question about his days as a wayward Brooklyn youth. He also kept the steering the conversation back to the music, something that I think speaks to his unwillingness to engage in tough talk about his past. It’s just the music he wants you to put forth.
Ka’s entire aesthetic is stripped down. His videos and beats are simple and straightforward, leaving nothing but a tsunami of words he floods your senses to sell you on his vision. Take it or leave it. The strategy would be suicide save one thing… the guy can actually rap.
Not that I’m complaining in the least, but why do you flood your bars with so much shit?
I do it intentionally. I do intentionally because I want the music to be around forever. I don’t want you to hear it one time and be like “Oh, OK, I got it.” Nah, fuck that. My mans called the other day. He’s had the album since it came out and he calls me to tell me that he just caught a line. He was like “You bugged on that. I’ve listened to that song four or five times and I just caught that.” To me that’s the best compliment.
So you produce, you direct and you of course you rap? Is that from necessity or do you like having complete creative control?
Out of necessity because I wasn’t hearing the type of beats I wanted so I went out and made my own beats. It was fun finding samples and deciding if I should add a snare or whatever. But also I love having control because win or die it’s on me. If you hate it, that’s all Ka. And if you love it, well that’s Ka.
So how come no mixtapes and no features?
I do features. I got a joint with Roc Marciano and I did a joint with GZA. To be honest, though, I feel a way about charging for 16s. I can’t set a price on [my raps]. As far as not putting out mixtapes… I don’t want people to hear my music until it’s really done. My lady doesn’t hear my shit until it’s done. I like that though, I like hoarding my shit until it’s ready, ready. Anyway, ain’t nobody checking for me like that yet so I can take my time.
You just put out Grief Pedigree in February. What’s next?
I know this is the age of instant gratification but I’m not going to put out another album for the year, no mixtape. I’m not too fast a writer and I’m deliberate with the lines. I like to flood my lyrics and that takes time. If I’m working on something you’re not going to hear it for a while.
You were once living a crazy existence. What changed you and at least calmed you down a bit?
A few things. Mostly though it was my mother telling me she was disappointed in me when I was like 19 or 20 years old. That shit rocked me. Also just getting older, things bothered me more. I have friends who did time for selling crack who were making $200 a week, like $18,000 a year. That’s money we could’ve made at regular jobs if we knew better. I have friends who got killed over a coat. It makes you appreciate life more.
Appreciation is an important lesson to learn.
It is. But it’s hard. I used to envy the kids who lived in the projects because they had heat and their roof didn’t leak. I lived in a one-family house with twelve cousins, my grandparents, my parents, everybody. I think that says a lot about where I’m from if the projects were actually a step up in a way.
Did you always want to be a rapper?
No I used to play ball. I went to Lincoln High in Coney Island, same school as Stephon Marbury. Then I went to Nazareth on a basketball scholarship the last two years of high school. I used to play all over Brooklyn.
I’ve been listening to Grief Pedigree nonstop. Great music. Are you worried it’s going to go right over people’s heads?
I’m not worried at all. I’m about to be 40 years old this year. I don’t hide that fact one bit. I felt like the music I grew up loving wasn’t speaking to me or for me anymore, so I decided to create my own. I wanted to make music that you weren’t going to figure out on the first listen. I didn’t come in the game to try and get rich with easily accessible music. That’s not what I’m here for.