Review Summary: From the days I behaved like a thug, I don't get rich from this. This a labor of love
At first glance, a game of chess and life as an NYC drug dealer seem to have almost nothing in common. One represents a constant struggle to survive, while the other is merely a thinking man's pastime. It takes a special kind of eye to see the similarities between the two, let alone make an entire album about their overlap. Through a series of intricately crafted cautionary tales, Ka does just that. Using a wealth of knowledge in both subjects and his unique point of view, Ka seamlessly fuses life in the gutter with the game of chess.
The album opens with "You Know It's About", and it sets the mood for what's to come. It features a nocturnal style of production, with relentless drums, and a guitar down pitched so heavily, it comes off as menacing. The instrumental itself is sparse yet strangely satisfying. It allows for Ka's incredibly gritty delivery to take center-stage. His flow takes on a pace akin to spoken word, and his rhymes are all the more impactful for it. Don't let this high attention to detail in production fool you though, Ka's true talent lies in his ability to craft endlessly quotable lyrics.
Though the overall theme of the track is about life as a crack dealer, it is rife with remarkably complex wordplay and immensely clever references. Whether its comparing life as a drug dealer to that of a church minister, or using double entendre of shooting guard, Ka is no slouch when it comes to writing bars. This track alone makes abundant use of complex metaphors, double meanings, and allusions to a myriad of topics all while retaining so much energy. Though it is an exceptionally good start the album, its not far above the rest. The album as a whole is remarkably consistent and continues to develop the gritty, hard-hitting sound pushed in this track.
To some extent, this could be seen as the pitfall of the album. Though the production itself is adventurous when compared to mainstream hip hop, it tends to stay pretty comfortably within the bubble created by the first few songs. There's clearly experimentation present, but not an abundant amount of variety across the 11 tracks. Some form of dusty guitars, distant drums and jazzy horns appears on close to every track, and some people may see this as a drawback. The song topics themselves however are a different story.
Though many of them will focus on at least some aspect of life as a drug dealer, there are a number of introspective tracks present. Perhaps the most interesting among them is "Nothing is", in which Ka reflects on his position in the rap game and why he continues to pursue a career in an industry in which many people simply haven't heard of him. It ends with a bittersweet revelation of his motivations and it provides for a surprisingly emotional moment on the album given the subject matter of most of it.
Overall, the album is a solid work of creative expression, and a testament to the idea that even a concept as crazy as chess and gang life can be made to work given the proper attention to detail and a passion for writing good lyrics. It is a gloriously gritty and nocturnal album with some of the most cryptic wordplay hip hop has to offer. If you're into out-there rap music, this is something you're sure to enjoy.