Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ka: Descendants of Cain [Iron Works, 2020]
Street criminal turned 20-year FDNY veteran and now captain Kaseem Ryan is also a rapper who doesn't declaim or quick-lip and doesn't mumble either. He just talks, in cadenced rhymes for sure but that's not the point--the point is what he has to say on a catalog comprising five albums plus extras going back to 2008. Always a matter-of-fact realist--"I live this vivid shit, I ain't that creative"--he's never been averse to recollection or commentary, and this album assumes a didactic stance he puts across. "I still feel hate every now and then," he begins by reporting; "My heroes sold heroin," he soon recalls. But his basic aim here is to report on not preach about the devastation the street life leaves in its economically understandable, politically defensible, humanly unjustifiable wake--reporting that leaves room to articulate emotional alternatives, so that "Had to use your fists to change your fiscal" evolves into "Times the inner me cry from the imagery." Yes he can translate his two-sided experience into a political goal as utopian as it is limited: "Some equality, none in poverty, I'll be joyous then." But by closing with "I Love (Mimi, Moms, Kevs)" (wife, mother, departed homeboy) he makes clear that human connections are a precondition of whatever joy comes his way. A-