Like his friend and collaborator Roc Marciano, Ka has thrived outside of the group setting. A former background member of Natural Elements, the Brownsville, Brooklyn emcee found a career renaissance since 2011, without reliance on features, but rather, creating a one-man, self-produced show that presents street life uniquely. The Night’s Gambit is the third LP in as many years from Ka, built for those who love an active listen with wisdom-drenched bars that guide an urban safari.
While Ka’s contemporaries Styles P and Prodigy are fledgling novelists, the Brownville emcee is literary with his themes of The Night’s Gambit—especially with setting. “Knighthood” is built around a street-corner character in pursuit of making a living as the sky moves by and the streetlights change every 20 seconds. “Jungle” raises the stakes, alluding to Biblical figures with strong contrast to the code of the streets. Rather than weld violence or brag about doing dirt, the song urges listeners to take heed to what’s offered, for sheer survival in a crossroads of predators. The Night’s Gambit is strong with these motifs: spirituality, survival, and a lot of imagery surrounding timeless elements of the overlooked ghettoes of America. Through characters and personal testimony, Ka is the old head that can connect with the youth, and the good guy that the villains don’t test. On album-standout “Barring The Likeness,” he discusses one of life’s most beautiful moments amidst grim surroundings, rhyming, “Lost my innocence / On a porch of tenements / Dingy / Stingy / My thoughts was generous / The pen is rich…” It’s an interesting character archetype that differentiates him from even his closest of peers, and makes Ka’s brand of Hip Hop so authentic
Aside from the single “Off The Record,” it’s rare to hear a 20-year vet avoid talking about the genre and industry. Because he’s not quick to call out Rap peers or criticize the state of the art, Ka comes off as wisdom in the form of a rapper. He’s just as much influenced by Gil Scott-Heron as he is Smoothe Da Hustler. Moreover, the music that Ka provides is simple, sparse and connects his present-day images with the 1970s and 1980s New York streets that so many emcees try to identify with. Dusty Rock loops, simple drum arrangements and obscure sampling make this the ultimate 2013 for the night drive. The Night’s Gambit is a dim-light street symphony.
In a year where artists are making grandiose social commentary, moving from the studio to the gallery, and fusing with sounds in the Electronic genre, Brownsville Ka reminds us that not every subject and lesson from the streets has been unearthed. The Night’s Gambit plays like a mid-‘90s Spike Lee movie. At times Crooklyn, other times Clockers, Ka is the ultimate comeback story, and it’s little surprise that with a narrative as original as his, few can share the mic, let alone the vision.