Yay or Nay: Days with Dr. Yen Lo


factmag-ka-interview-1-8.17.2013
A couple years ago, Brownsville rapper KA reemerged as a whole new MC. Many of you may not know but he was once a part of 90’s/early 2000 underground rap collective “The Natural Elements”. At that time, he rapped aggressively , using his coarse voice to spit fairly average braggadocio rhymes. He never made much of an impact back then so when he vanished , like so many other rappers from that era, no one really noticed.

Flash forward to 2008, and he popped up on a GZA album and released “Iron Works”. Still, not much was said until four years later when a video for a song called “cold facts” started making the rounds. In this song/video we found what seemed like an entirely new rapper. The production was as bare as can be. Just  a loop with a little percussion. The rapping was done at loudness you might hear in a library. KA rapped calmly, like the old wise dude on the block who had seen it all. His words were meticulously arranged. It would have appeared that the man had found his voice and style. The album that followed that single was “Grief Pedigree” and it was great. Keeping with his game plan KA talk rapped over bare loops. Barely a drum on the entire thing. He followed that album with “The Nights Gambit”, which was very similar to the previous record. Dark, stark and relentless in it’s mood.

Well, KA just released a new album. It’s called “Days with Dr Yen Lo” and it’s a collaboration with producer  Preservation. To be honest, Preservation’s beats could easily be the same beats KA was making himself. Bare back samples with little or not drums. And here’s where I want you to let me know how you feel. Ka is now 3 albums deep. He’s fortified his sound. Dude is unquestionably great at what he does. But do you think he needs to expand his horizons? How many whisper rap songs over beats with no drums can one man make? Or, perhaps, it’s a style all his own that he can run with forever? I’m curious to see what you think. Here are some selections of his new album:

This one kinda has drums on it!

.

Now, I’m a guy who’s always loved weird rap. And KA is no exception. he manages to make avant-garde rap without seeming pretentious. In fact, he’s unapologetically a street MC. I think he’s great. But, even with that in mind, I’ve kinda reached a point where I need something a little different. I feel like a boom bap dinosaur complaining about the lack of drums but it does wear thin on me after 3 full albums. So, while I can listen to this KA album and recognize how good it is (it is very good, in my opinion) , there’s a tiny piece of me that’s let down by the lack of evolution to his sound. Judging from the response to this album, that could just be me. From what I’ve heard, people are loving it. Which is fine cause it is without question a good album. But what do you think of KA at this point? (you can pick more than one answer)

23 thoughts on “Yay or Nay: Days with Dr. Yen Lo

  1. Dude, you pretty-much said everything I’ve ever thought of KA. He’s incredible, and the formula he’s evolved does work (really well actually), but as a formula it is bound to become redundant. KA’s such an exceptional MC. Like, he doesn’t NEED to change his steeze and/or his sound, but after a third album of much the same aesthetic, it might be in his interest to do so going forth. If he sets it at three album in this tone, that’d be perfect. If he goes for a fourth album with this sound, it might be too much.

    But what kind of beats would KA rhyme over? The sparse, moody arrangements are customized and tailored to fit KA’s delivery. It’s kinda like he has the perfect musical concoction, but can’t keep hitting it ’cause the effect will eventually dissipate and not be felt. On a similar note, I’ve always thought what it’d be like to see KA live. Like, would his delivery even be heard?

    But thanks for speaking on KA and speaking on this particular topic. KA is def one of the best out. KA is a Renaissance-man in that he runs so many aspects of his art (rhymes, beats, film). KA is one of the exceptional and immensely artistic figures in hip hop. But he’s gotta switch it up after this album, which I think he will.

    Last thing I’ll say about KA is that he doesn’t make singles, he makes ALBUMS, and I fuckin’ love and respect that shit.

    • Yeah, the “what kind of beat would he rap on?” question is indeed a good one. It’s funny, cause i think he could slightly raise is energy (like to “Cold facts” levels) and rap over all these same loops with drums. At the same time, i could see him sounding dope over some cloudy , almost trap like production. I know that won’t happen but it would be interesting as that style of beat tends to walk the line of mellow and head nod.

    • I think he’d work really well over beats like the ones on the new L’Orange album. They’re still dark and moody but they’ve got a little bit of motion and dynamic to them. There’s peaks and progression, which could really help the “flat” feel that’s kind of creeping up after three albums of basically the same.

  2. hello Blockhead, I was thinking maybe you could put some drums over one of these tracks? Could be interesting to see how that would sound.

    • Yeah when I heard the album. 2-3 tracks in the loops were perfect. But it also gave me anxiety because where my brain heard drums coming in they never showed up. Ever.

      To the point, where I myself wanting to load a session and do the drums and have a good version that still knocks.

  3. cold facts still the dopest song in his style so yea a change b dope (but what? need to sit this nigga down and have him listen to some drake and reform his whole ting? Or is it the music bc others show variation by doing the same shit on diff beats but he’s got both being repeated together. That’s the same sound square rooted into each earhole.

    He would Def benefit from some More polished video work: I like the concepts but it just needs some love on the edits (terrible syncing) and vid quality in my opinion.

  4. His music is great. Some of the best in the game. The drum thing really drives purists nuts I get it, but honestly I think it fits. He’s a very quiet low-key monk like rapper, his voice provides the rhythm I don’t really miss the drums honestly. I mean it would be cool to see him do a project with drums, but he’s created his own niche. No need to mess it up.

    • I think that’s what I want. Like a song or two here and there with drums. i wouldn’t want to disrupt his aesthetic but it does grow monotonous after 3 albums. A little variety, that’s all.

  5. Oddly enough, the lack of a beat is kind of distracting. Which is unfortunate, because his rapping is very good. You should remix it and add drums.

  6. Just now hearing about this dude, his rapping his very dope. Ill lyricism. Fuck, I’m a little appalled at myself for not hearing about him sooner. Gonna go through his entire catalog now

  7. I love his album, I think he’s one of the best out, and I respect his style. I would be in heaven if him and Droog would work with some more established underground producers, though (Alchemist, Madlib, Knxwledge, Icerocks, Damu). Dunno how great MC’s like this end up with random producers like Skizz or Preservation while great producers make beats for cornballs like MED, Joey Bada$$, Buff1, ect.

      • I don’t think drums is a purist thing is it ? I mean what if like ac/dc made albums with no drumming. Shit would be weird

        Kind of like hip hop with no drums. I mean it was born of breaking drums

      • Same, they both surprised me quite a bit. I just figured that emcees as dope as this would have popular producers throwing beats at them left and right, but i don’t know how any of that shit works, it’s probably expensive to cop a madlib beat

  8. Honestly, the first time I heard Grief Pedigree, the “no drums” thing didn’t even cross my mind. I was just too focused on the whole atmosphere of that album. I wouldn’t mind him putting more drums on two or three cuts each album, but I like how he just lets the samples breath when they need to.

    • It didn’t bug me on Grief Pedigree either. Then the next album I was like “Hmm…”. When this new one dropped I was like “again?!?!” but still, it’s an awesome album. I actually think I like DR Yen lo more than “The Nights gambit”.

      • After 3 albums with similar beats, I hear you. Do you think he has more drums on the songs during recording? Like some basic hats and snares to help him time the vocals, then he removes them from the final product?

  9. Hah! I have just clicked the link on the page and when I hear the track, I started to looking for dr yen. When I could not find something about him, I was mad. Sound is familiar but not the name. When I started reading the page and see that he KA, It was a bomb 😀

    New identity and dark tunes… The combination is so classy that I wish he could find a way to advertise himself to get the attention he deserved..

    Thanks for sharing

  10. i like to think of Ka of the rap game equivalent of Lungfish (punk band out of Baltimore,Maryland) you could argue they did the same thing of their albums from 1990 to 2005 and like Ka their formula was really distinctive and easily identifiable(two/three chords repeated while the lead singer bellows crypic lyrics). but their development was pretty glacial if anything they were refining their formula as they went on,taking away every little detail they thought was “unecessary” until it was refined.

    So don’t get me wrong i can understand why people feel this way about the album but i like it and especially in this era when people want change to happen overnight, i like that he’s taking it really slowly.

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