By any measure, 2015 was a highly charged year in politics. In the United States, conversations swirled about the militarization of the police and the increasingly obvious systematic racism present in many public servants across the country; so how does a New York City firefighter, one of the most visible public servants, release the best album that you didn’t hear?
REAL TALK, I HAVE NO PROBLEM ADMITTING THAT @BrownsvilleKa IS THE BEST RAPPER. HIS ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND OVERALL SKILL LEVEL IS UNCANNY
— EARL (@earlxsweat) December 19, 2015
I first heard of the rapper Ka from an Earl Sweatshirt tweet and after checking out what Earl claimed, I have to admit that he was more than right. If I hadn’t already submitted my album of the year lists, there is no question to me that Ka’s latest album, Days with Dr. Yen Lo, would be near the top of my list.
Days with Yen Lo may draw its title from the 1962 thriller, but the sounds are all distinctly New York; the entire EP is produced by Yasiin Bey‘s longtime producer, Preservation, and the beats are clearly from someone with an appreciation for the subtlety that seemed lacking from more mainstream rap this year. In fact, the more I delved into Ka, the further it seemed that he wanted to remain from the mainstream.
Peppering an album with samples from a movie about Communist brainwashed assassins and titling every track of the album “Day [insert number]” is not the thinking of someone who’s concerned with commercial acclaim. At times, the album feels more like a soundtrack from a serial noir movie than a rap album – Ka’s voice, a monotone that flows syllable to syllable hypnotically, will undoubtedly recall Wu-tang members Raekwon and Ghostface Killah (Ka actually featured on GZA’s 2008 album Pro Tools).
It’s remarkably easy to find yourself getting lost in the album; there were at least three times that I found myself catching the tail end of a particularly clever flow only to come to that realization at the end from being too immersed within the track. While Ka is undoubtedly going to experience a jump in awareness of him thanks to Earl, Days with Dr. Yen Lo is more than worthy of checking out, even if you don’t like Earl at all. Once you’ve heard Days, you can rest easy knowing that there’s brand new Ka coming in 2016 – the Brownsville rapper has a collaborative project with Roc Marciano slated to come out sometime in 2016. In the meantime, check out the best album you didn’t hear this year below.