They have six studio efforts, numerous EPs and a live album to their credit, and every song on every album except one takes, as its theme, a known serial killer. Others are so obscure that only true crime buffs are likely to recognize their names. Look them up at your peril: These are people whose crimes will give you nightmares. It begins with a thudding kick drum all alone, with the central guitar riff ambling in murderously after two bars — a figure that lurches methodically through three five-note patterns to resolve on three descending chords that land like boulders being dropped on a house.
My iTunes play count shows that I listened to it more than I listened to any song in except for drafts of songs I was writing myself. Scott Carlson of the legendary Repulsion sings it; the incarnation of the band was essentially a reboot, with Mikami the only original member. It has a cowbell.
You can bang your head and sing along. I have spent a fair bit of idle time over the years wondering what it says about me that I want to indulge this mood at least a few times a week for the rest of my life, occasionally at earsplitting volumes in clubs. When I was young, if I heard something that sounded too celebratory of death, it terrified me. How much time can I spend with it? What part of me is it? What does it look like up close? The cheap answer is something about the cathartic value of transgression, etc.
The truer answer, for me, is that sometimes you really wanna kill somebody. It would be wrong. You try not to do wrong. But if you spend a little time in the presence of a perfect groove contemplating the wrong directly without moralizing about it, you can ride the feeling in safety and go in as deep as you want, emerging later not wanting to kill anybody. Coates sat on the edge of a couch; Levi took a chair; each looked expectant, borderline anxious.
It had been a busy year. Levi is also a producer and D. Coates has scored films, too, but is better known for his work as a cellist. Its 13 tracks, some less than a minute in length, jump from beat-heavy, densely layered and looped orchestrations to atmospheric and spacey noodlings. It is a sketchbook in which every figure gestures toward newer, more exciting ideas to come, outlining musical rules a key, a beat, a melody one minute only to abandon them in the next. Before they listened to the record, Coates reached into his backpack and pulled out a coloring book.
He showed Levi one of the images he had colored in, a mandala filled with bright blues and greens, thin wisps of gold, bursts of coral pink.
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Levi leaned in for a closer look, drawing her finger across the page. It was a visual cantus firmus, she said: a fixed melody providing a structure for a limited range of improvisation. The pair sat in silence, pleased enough but also distracted. A few tracks later, Coates looked up at Levi, who was looking at his mandala.
It seemed like a familiar conversation. Levi massaged her temples, thinking, listening. Maybe, Levi said, you set up the rules and then find a way to break them; color inside the lines, so to speak, and then scribble a face over the results. Coates liked it. In fact, he added, his coloring was loaded with mistakes already, but the mistakes were what made the thing come together, in a subtle way. He turned the page, exposing the blots where the pen ink bled through to the other side and the sharp lines of the pattern were barely visible.
Coates and Levi met almost a decade ago. Coates had come to perform student string quartets for a class Levi was taking, and he was struck by her compositions. Coates sent Levi a video by the electronic producer Daniel Lopatin, also known as Oneohtrix Point Never; Levi sent Coates a mixtape she made with some tracks by Harry Partch, a composer who created new musical scales and built his own instruments.
He wanted an experienced composer who had never written music for a movie, someone who would come at the task differently. For 10 months, she worked on almost nothing else, worried that if she listened to anything — particularly another soundtrack — she would unintentionally steal from it.
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The soundtrack is unsettling, but also strangely empathetic. Levi describes much of her work as mixtapes. She was thinking of music not in terms of classical or hip-hop or any other genre, but in terms of people.
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Some music was Oliver Coates music. Some music was Mica Levi music. I f you buy a record on brownsvilleka. Every few days, Ka sits in a study in his home near Prospect Park in Brooklyn and goes through the orders on his site. He was there on a morning not long ago, with a MacBook propped on his knees. On the floor were cardboard boxes holding copies of his five full-length albums.
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He placed five CDs in a padded envelope. There was a time when Ka took a guerrilla approach to promoting his music.
I still had, like, CDs left. So I started giving them away. This has become a tradition: On the day that Ka drops a new album, he tweets, turns up on a street corner and sells a few dozen records out of the trunk of his car.
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It would be hard to find a more thoroughgoing D. Ka is the rare rapper who handles both rhymes and beats, writing his lyrics and producing the music that accompanies them. He has directed most of his videos, and he self-releases his music, on his own label. It is not a profitable venture. Over the past several years, Ka has released some of the most gripping music in any genre.
His records offer a poignant, distinctive take on classic New York hip-hop: vivid stories of street life and struggle narrated in virtuosic rhymes over music of bleak beauty. His output has won him a small but passionate fan base and critical raves in Pitchfork and Spin. In , the Los Angeles M. For Ka to have won even modest recognition is an improbable underdog triumph. He spent much of the s trying to make it as a rapper, quit music altogether and returned a decade later, releasing his solo debut at age Today he is This career trajectory defies one of the seemingly immutable laws of pop, and of hip-hop in particular, a genre in which the cult of youth and novelty is especially pronounced.
And when I come home, I try to make some dope music. Last Aug. With me, they had all three. Ka grew up poor, in Brownsville. As a teenager, he drifted into the drug trade, dealing crack and selling firearms. If Ka is not in the music business, his wife definitively is.
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Today she is chief creative officer for i am OTHER, a multimedia company founded by Pharrell Williams, the superstar rapper-singer-producer. But a commercial breakthrough is far-fetched, and a prospect for which Ka seems constitutionally ill equipped. He has performed just a few live shows and professes little interest in playing more. Those records are, in the best sense, strange. His songs are unnervingly quiet and still; they hold a listener in thrall because they hold so much back. Often the songs discard drums altogether, opening vast spaces that are filled by samples in brooding minor keys.
It is an unshakable voice of experience, delivering hard-boiled tales and hard-won wisdom. Ka excels at this kind of writing, brisk storytelling that unfolds in a pileup of rhymes and puns. So I speak about the things that I did, the things I pray I never have to do again. How do I finish my life in grace? She has performed it many times, and at least once, 10 years ago, someone filmed her in a church.
About midway through the nine-and-a-half-minute video, the band and the organ, which riff all the way through, fall quiet. The band kicks in again, and a slew of sonic histrionics, pyrotechnics and acrobatics follows. This was the moment that stood out to a musician called DJ Suede the Remix God, who just before Thanksgiving took that snippet — just eight seconds in all — and laid it over a trap-style hip-hop beat of his own making.
Suede then offered the beat to the internet, calling it the U Name It Challenge and inviting others to put their own spins on it. The singer Chris Brown recorded a video dancing to it. Countless other dancers and rappers followed him.