Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Brief Note on "Marksmen": the Intricate Lyrical Design of Citizen Ka

Preparatory to an upcoming review of my favorite album of the year thus far, Orpheus vs the Sirens, by the Hermit and the Recluse also known as rapper Ka and producer Animoss (of the Arch Druids), I'd like to briefly make a note on a lyrical tactic from a different song involving these two. The song is "Marksmen" from Roc Marciano's 2017 album Rosebudd's Revenge, featuring Ka on the first verse and production from Animoss.

I love this beat from Animoss, it seems so odd and simple. The distinctive short looped sliver of lightly dribbling guitar string was shrewdly selected out of the original sample "Love Feeling" from Mecki Mark Men, the song title "Marksmen" partly an homage to them. The tiny piece of sound Animoss chose here, and how he deployed it in the beat, fascinates me. Only somebody in a crew with a name like the Arch Druids could have devised this sound.

I've listened to this song frequently the last few months while binging on some of the more recent music from Ka and Roc Marci. The more I've heard this the more things I've noticed in it. The track interests me for a number of reasons. Besides Roc Marci's verse weaved as an array of interlocking musical instrument references, what stands out to me is Ka opening with what seems like a hook over the beat's initial bridge and how he then transitions into the verse. It is that transition from hook into verse and especially the final bars of Ka's verse, that I want to focus on here. There's a fascinating bit of self commentary on the design of the verse itself.

At the end of Ka's verse he says:

"A true verse but too terse
I hope the hook grab em"

and then repeats "I hope the hook grab em."

There's no obvious hook on this track though and certainly the repetition of "I hope the hook grab em" isn't a hook. So what he's referring to here then is the slower delivered set of lines that open the song. Ka rhyming over the beat's precursory windup, beginning of course by saluting the production itself:

"To our production, much destruction for our appetite
With steel fist, if meal missed wasn't for lack of might 
We been binging, we purging dividends with snub nose 
My buds rose, my service citizens..."

I add the ellipsis at the end there because this transitions directly into the first lines of the verse, "My service citizens... Cain and Abel my rapping plight." I believe when Ka mentions he hopes the hook grabbed em he means I hope the listener is drawn to the hook and the clever triple entendre I built there. He draws our attention to it and by doing so gives even another layer of meaning to it.

The first connection that stands out is to the film Citizen Kane, wherefrom the "rosebud" of the album name Rosebudd's Revenge came, with allusion to it in "My bud's rose" and the aural sound of "My service citizens/ Kane." Of course there's also the allusion to the Biblical twins Cain and Abel. And to service citizens cain would be to serve dope to the citizenry, Ka often invokes the economy of crack cocaine cooking and dealing. (Using this last angle then "My buds rose" would also be cooking crack like baking bread, rising yeast.)

So already that quick transition from the final line of the "hook" into the first line of the verse has at least three references:

- Citizen Kane
- Cain and Abel
- Selling crack

He doesn't have to say much in order to invoke these, it's basically all stuffed into one line or one and a half lines. That alone is extremely clever. The creative tactic of directly feeding from the "hook" into the verse, that alone is cool too.

Then to actually make a reference to this "hook" and confirm that the opening is a hook while also explicitly hoping the listener picks up on what he's doing in the hook, you catch the last trick he embedded here: that line "I hope the hook grab em" refers to the hook which hook's right into the word "cane" after all. He hopes to hook you in as with a cane. Or to get citizens hooked on cocaine. Or provide a service to the citizens in the form of cooked verses, an addictive crack of intriguing lyricism.

This little bit of ornate lyrical design, finishing the verse by sending the listener back to the beginning to focus on what he planted there while layering one last bit of meaning onto that part of the song, is just the type of lyrical craftsmanship I've come to associate Ka with. Much as with dudes like DOOM and GZA, Ka is a writer intensely devoted to devising the cleverest turns of phrase, puns, and triple/quadruple entendres with every chance he can get. It is the artful verbal tricks deployed in the hooks throughout his newest album Orpheus vs the Sirens that intrigue me the most about that record. Fitting, then, that I've been so preoccupied with this clever lyrical device from Citizen Ka attempting to pull the listener in with the hook of "Marksmen."

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