The Ten Best New York City Rap Albums of 2012

Categories: Lists

1. Ka, Grief Pedigree

"Sutter and Stone, Rockaway and Dumont -- the gritty arteries of Brownsville..."

So informs the sampled voice that gels together Ka's meticulously crafted 11-song album. Phrased against the backdrop of the rapper's Brownsville, Brooklyn, locale, Grief Pedigree sounds like it was created in the idealistic way that we pine for: An artist writing from his heart and first-hand memory, rapping over beats chosen solely for the purpose of meshing wholly with the words. It's a formula that Ka himself has admitted makes the album a slow-burner: He's said he expects the first listens of a song to underwhelm. But then comes the moment when it reveals itself as something approaching greatness, and Grief Pedigree solidifies as this year's best homegrown album.

Entirely self-produced, Grief Pedigree's songs are possessed of a stark beauty that's capable of inspiring moods of brooding danger and melancholy lament in the listener. (Future career wildcard: 50 Cent regains his creative spoils by employing Ka and Roc Marcy to produce the entirety of his parting shot to Interscope records.) To this Ka brings verses that focus on the idea of contrast and muses on the way choices made in the moment can change a life's course (a concept taken to the extreme on "Decisions"). On "Iron Age" he raps with a noble dignity as he explains, "In time you'll see [a] thin line between friend and rival/ Between you and me, stupidity and men's bravado/ Almost died trying to make paper, now I pen survival."

In another era Ka held down a brief spell as part of indie rap cult favorites Natural Elements. Fittingly, Grief Pedigree exudes the best of the mentality of independent music. Orders on his website are prefaced with the small-town-like disclaimer, "Please be patient with your order, I don't go to the post office every day." Thankfully, there's still shopping time left before the year's out to make him haul a bunch of padded envelopes over to the Brownsville USPS depot.

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