Passion can be a hard thing to come by. The world’s constantly moving parts can make pinning down the time to do anything a chore, but passion keeps the flames lit. Passion helps artists like 21 Savage push through deep personal pain and create music that speaks to fans in multiple ways, regardless of its content. Passion is the difference between one in-school suspension too many and recanting your stories over Metro Boomin beats.
But there are few rappers – or musicians in general – who imbue their joints with the amount of deep personal energy that Ka does. The Brownsville, BK native born Kaseem Ryan has a very precise pen that he’s used to bring a world of forced sorrow to life, which his increasingly stripped back production style accentuates. The end of the first verse of “Cold Facts” from Grief Pedigree is as gripping now as it was back in 2011: “Hold the chrome tight, the beast’s on the creep/I own the night; the heat’s my receipt.”
His latest release Honor Killed The Samurai is no exception, and it recently led Ka to Montreal for a Red Bull lecture with Jeff Mao. Mao and Ka talk about his origins as a member of Natural Elements, working with GZA, and his creative process. After a bit where he explains why he’s reluctant to do many live shows (“If you’re coming to me for party songs, I’m not your dude”), the conversation moved toward ageism in hip-hop.
He acknowledged his place in the “young sound” of hip-hop, but stood his ground on what is, after all, his passion. “I shouldn’t let my age scare me from doing something that I love doing,” he said. “Are you prepared to do what you doin’ when it ain’t cool no more? That’s a passion.” His urge to give back can be felt most on the cut “$”:
“With bars of greed, I plead, how many cars you need?/When fathers bleed to fill ribs of kids that hardly read/Fuck your little rhymes, and the new finds you purchased/If you ain’t buyin’ no soup for them soup lines and churches.”
The New York Post tried to turn that passion against him earlier this year with a hit piece that detailed his job as an NYC fire chief and attempted to paint his lyrics in “Cold Facts” as anti-police. Art is a reflection of people’s reality, as many many rappers have explained in the past; and Ka’s reality of urban blight and discrimination in 1980s New York speaks to that. We should all be glad he found that kind of passion in saving lives while writing, producing, and distributing music singlehandedly on the side. Our culture – and his mental health – are all the better for it.