Ka has proved time and time again, that above all else, he is a student. When he’s showcasing his wordplay, and constructing minimalist songs out of a handful of samples, he’s not doing so from a place of arrogance. Rather, Ka’s albums are a product of patience and practice. Over seven studio albums, the Brownsville rapper has delved into metaphors and mythology to create a body of work that illustrates the importance of taking your craft seriously, especially when dealing with high-concept releases. On Descendants Of Cain, Ka’s stylistic and conceptual choices meld into a foundational record, one that feels both potently intimate and stoically aware of its influences.
Christianity is not a remotely new influence on hip-hop. They have intermingled through Gospel music, contemporary Christian-rap, and waves of new artists like Chance the Rapper and Kanye West creating sleek reinterpretations of what it means to be a rapper with Christian themes. Rarely do we get albums like Descendants Of Cain, a collection of songs that fills the world with stories of generational betrayal and cycles of violence. Except, these aren’t ordinary revelations of street life.
On “Solitude of Enoch,” Ka cracks open the mentality one must have to survive: “Fear built relationships rapport couldn't/Being angelic get you popped, saying something that's off-putting.”Ka’s stories are simultaneously current and Old Testament; these are tragic portrayals of families corrupted by their environment. There is no glorification of God, no martyrdom of modern day saints–his world is one of depravity and shame and the unending death of our brothers. The stories of Genesis are ongoing to Ka, and they brim with the knowledge that things haven’t changed for thousands of years.
That’s not to say he has led a hopeless life. While family remains a tenuous and fragile thing to maintain on this album, there are moments where it provides support. The final track, “I Love (Mimi Moms Kev),” is a soulful ballad about the three uplifting forces in his life: his wife, mother and best friend. While an outlier on Descendants Of Cain, its luminous presence feels like Ka’s genuine attempt at showing gratitude for the positive relationships that come in life. An understanding of the Old Testament’s savagery and salvation isn’t implemented in the most subtle of ways on this album, but their callousness washes away every time Ka murmurs
These scenes are truly elevated by Ka’s talent as a student of hip-hop. None of the 11 songs are wildly experimental. Descendants Of Cain relies on the framework of Golden age hip-hop, splicing together obscure samples and barebones percussion. A few tracks feature production from Preservation and Animoss, frequent collaborators with Ka on his side projects, and there’s even a surprise feature from Roc Marciano. But for the most part, Ka solely produces, writes and performs everything you’re hearing, and that’s to be expected by a veteran of his stature. What’s so unexpected is how much mileage is squeezed out of this formula and how much Ka hammers these ideas to expand upon the eerie wasteland he’s written. Skeletal beats are scrounged from soul and funk samples, acoustic guitars are muddy complements to eerie background vocals, and a greater focus is placed on tonality rather than musicality. The end product is boom-bap for a broken world, where drums are replaced with ambient tones and echoing pianos.
It may not be evident when you hear how these songs bifurcate and morph between clips of biblical films from the 1950s and abstract rhythms that Ka has been at this for a long time. Only, it’s when you hear him rap is it obvious that his style has been honed through endurance. His voice is still a hushed, borderline-whisper, but his flows are easily the most complex they’ve ever been. Labyrinthine, yet measured, Ka folds complex metaphors in on themselves without it seeming strained or forced. A verse could be packed with lines of philosophical weight and laconic brutality. The standout “Patron Saints” ends with five bars that would be unrivaled by most rappers. “I was raised to age a few years in a day/If not elite, didn't eat if you didn't pray/As much as I heal, had to deal, all my scars are here to stay/Our senseis spent days peddling/Our heroes sold heroin.” Ka’s songs brim with classic tales of pain that are undercut with brief, imperious lines of the impact of living in his world.
For many of his projects, Ka uses unique analogies to reveal more about himself. Playing chess reveals how cutthroat and strategic you must be to survive. The rigidity of life codes you must follow can be compared to that of a samurai. Even Greek mythology has moments of ubiquity for Ka. Yet it’s on Descendants Of Cain that his penchant for adopting canonical concepts has become truly ingrained in his work. Ka’s deadpan delivery of stories of violence in his past not only reveal the chronic nature of the cycle of violence, but also shines a light on the universality of the Old Testament. The concept no longer feels like a unique angle to compare two walks of life; the concept is the foundation of Ka’s perspective and approach to rap. To Ka, the answer to violence begetting violence is to toil at one’s art, humbly master one’s craft, and forever remain a student of what the world can teach.