Ras Kass Interview (by DJ MF)
In the musical climate of today, with bubblegum pop and hip hop dominating the airwaves with little to no message, it’s rare to find an MC who can intelligently touch upon a number of diverse topics without sounding preachy (see Dead Prez). Ras Kass is one of those few MCs. Having been anointed one of the greatest of all time after the release of his rookie LP “Soul On Ice”, Ras, much like Nas, has had many obstacles and expectations to overcome. To continue the analogy, much like Nas, many have argued that Ras had failed those expectations after the release of “Rasassination”.
When word had it that Ras Kass would be dropping his 3rd full length album a few years ago, entitled “Van Gogh”, and that it would be a return to the “Soul On Ice” Ras Kass, anticipation and expectations that Ras would claim what was supposed to have been his all this time rose to a fevered pitch.
And then it all fell apart.
Label politics. Bad decisions. More politics. Bootlegging. And even more bad decisions.
Currently serving 3 years in California for his 3rd DUI offense, and after a load of controversy surrounding his label status in the last few years, Ras took the time to answer a few questions for us :
Break down what the last 12 months have been like for Ras Kass. What is your current status with Priority? Did you get your release?
Ras Kass: After 4 years, I had finally gotten Priority to (semi) believe in my music enough to release an album titled “Goldyn Child”. I caught a case and was sentenced to jail time but given an extension more than adequate to fulfill my part of the deal, 6mths. Priority agreed we’d continue, until they found out Dr. Dre didn’t want his song to be the first single. The agreement I had with Priority Records was to make the title song, ‘Goldyn Chyld’ (produced by Premier), my first single. Priority went BEHIND MY BACK (draggin their feet on the ‘Goldyn Chyld’ single) and tried to change the plan! Dre said no, I said no. They then waited 2 weeks before I was to turn myself in and told me to “go fuck yourself we ain’t puttin your record out”.
The “Goldyn Chyld” masters “disappeared” and I left the state of CA. I recorded a new album, handled some bizness and later surrendered in Las Vegas, NV. Back in Cali the judge at the Van Nuys court hit me with a figurative kitchen sink (3 years) and the rest is a special guest cameo on HBO’s OZ. Ya know!!!
Priority is still fighting my release but my attorneys are confident we’ll win. They’re in breach. They want a messy divorce.
At what age did you get into hip hop, and who inspired you to become an MC?
Ras Kass: As long as I can remember I was into hip hop. It was just rap back then. I was inspired by Rakim, KRS-1, Ice Cube (NWA), and Scarface. Also, De La, Quest, and Big Daddy Kane. LL Cool J too, definitely.
Your style is pretty much your own and I can’t really hear any similarities to other MCs, but are there any other rappers out there who you see as having influenced your sound?
Ras Kass: I learn from everybody I hear. Some I learn what to do others, what not to do.
You have some of the most complex lyricism in the world today. What does your writing process consist of? Do you write to your beats or do you write your lyrics first and then try to tailor beats to the lyrics?
Ras Kass: It varies. Nowadays, 9 times out of 10, I write on the spot to the beat. That’s something I picked up from Dre. The 10th time, usually a political song, or a personal song I write first then create the beat around it. Sometimes the music is in my head and I just have to find the right producer to play what I hum, like ‘Interview with a Vampire’.
The “Van Gogh” LP was heavily bootlegged before release, which according to reports led to you having to go back and rework it. If the bootlegging hadn’t occurred, and it was released as scheduled, would the problems between yourself and Priority gotten to the level they did?
Ras Kass: Yeah because I was being forced to release it in the 4th quarter with nobody working my record. No radio spins. I didn’t even get added to BET because they hadn’t worked my record. I went to the (then) VP of A&R and asked to be dropped because I knew the record was not gonna perform, Soundscan-wise, because nobody at an executive level had done their job. She agreed. It would’ve come out and been another “Soul on Ice” dope but under-marketed, under promoted,. I just needed to leave.
On that same note, were you happy with the “Van Gogh'” LP?
Ras Kass: With the resources I was given I think it was great. Given more resources I can make greater (I.e. ‘Goldyn Chyld’ produced by DJ Premier, tracks by Dr. Dre, Hi-Tek etc…) I would always tell Priority executives “you give me a road kill cow and pair of scissors but you expect a pair of Air Jordans, it’s not fair” Ironically I would still somehow manage to make a couple pair. Meanwhile they flooded money into Lil’ Zane, WOW!
After the reworking of the LP, you released the 12″ ‘Goldyn Child’ remix with Primo on the boards. Was it your first time working with him? What was the experience like?
Ras Kass: Yeah, It was do or die. I felt like if I couldn’t air out a Primo track and get his “thumbs up” I couldn’t consider myself a true great MC. That was a big step in my career.
What other producers did you work with on your redo of the “Van Gogh” LP?
Ras Kass: Scott Storch, Hi Tek, Jelly Roll, Dr. Dre, and Denaun Porter, (who produced on Eminem and 50 Cent’s album) Whussup D!! and my man Paul Poli!!!
Is the “Goldyn Child” LP forever lost? I’m assuming Priority owns the masters. Have they indicated any willingness to release it commercially? I’ve read in other interviews that you’re telling people to bootleg it if they can, since it will likely never see the light of day.
Ras Kass: No, Priority Records doesn’t physically have the masters. I’ve never told people to bootleg it. I said it might get bootlegged.
Most everyone now knows about the whole Alchemist beat drama. You addressed it on the “Van Gogh” bootleg, and on the EP, you mention Alchemist again. After the whole thing went down, did he ever call you up to explain himself? Did you ever speak with Jadakiss about the situation?
Ras Kass: I never had beef with Jadakiss. I’m not mad at Alchemist anymore either. I just don’t respect him so therefore whenever I feel like it, I’ma diss him. Because I can. It’s not Jada’s fault. He just bought a hot beat. The shoe could have been on the other foot and Alchemist could have sold it to me after he sold it to Jada, feel me. Either way, Alchemist broke the code of producers in hip-hop: “Don’t play a beat anymore if it’s sold.”
One of your most famous tracks is ‘Nature of the Threat’. How do you respond to some of the criticism of the track as being historically inaccurate and racist? Are there any plans to ever do a ‘sequel’ to the track?
Ras Kass: Prove me wrong. Get your books. No, no sequels. ‘Interview with a Vampire’ was the prequel.
After “Soul On Ice” was released, you were hailed by many as one of the future greats of hip hop. The sound of “Rasassination” really differed however, as well as some of your lyrical content. Was that a conscious decision by you? Was there any outside pressure to make a more radio friendly LP? Looking back, do you view “Rasassination” as a failure or a success, and is there anything you would have done differently?
Ras Kass: Is Biggie criticized for ‘Juicy’? Is Jay-Z for ‘Aint No Nigga? Mos Def for ‘Oh No!’ Featuring Nate Dogg? No I think I was criticized for no good reason. I always say “strip both albums of the beats and you can’t tell any two songs apart”. I think the media keeps tryin to make me ashamed of “Rasassination” because it didn’t sell, when I think it was better than “Soul on Ice” in many respects. ‘It Is What It Is’ was written to my mom. I wrote that first verse crying hysterically. When I played it for her we cried together. I can’t let what other people think negatively effect me as a creative person. I’ve always been a true artist. I also like to experiment, and that’s a part of growing. Basically, marketing and promotions (politics, hype and buzz) make records sell. They’re not what makes an album dope or not. My shit is still ahead of its time. Especially from a west coast rapper perspective. The last great rapper we had was 2Pac and almost every rapper out east coast and down south is using his style.
What’s the deal with the “Re-Up Compilation”?
Ras Kass: Its like the Nas’s “Lost Tapes”. Just a lot of different things I’ve done that didn’t get released. Some guest appearances and giving Scipio and 40 Glocc some exposure if I can.
How did the Four Horsemen come about, and is the unit still intact? Why did the rumoured LP never materialize?
Ras Kass: Wendy Day Rap Coalition MC Battle. Kurupt put me and Canibus on his team. Bus introduced us to Priest. Yes we still the HRSMN enforcement! Label politics & bullshit.
For years people have anticipated a Golden State release, only to be teased by single tracks. The insert in the Xzibit “Restless” LP even advertised it for Open Bar Entertainment. What’s the status of Golden State, and can we ever expect to see an LP?
Ras Kass: Yes in some form I think.
Speaking of which, do you have any opinion on the beef between Likwit Crew and Xzibit?
Ras Kass: No, X is my dog tho!
Which MCs or producers would you like to work with that you’ve never worked with before?
Ras Kass: Kanye, Bink, Timbaland, Missy Elliot, The Neptunes.
Going back to ‘Re-Up’, what can you tell us about some of the new MC’s you’ve got on there?
Ras Kass: Mainly just my homies, Scipio mostly. 40 Glocc, Donna Karin (she from Philly), Micheloeb from the Bay, Baby Momma she’s from Oakland, Just tryin to give some other west coasters a chance to get some little exposure.
One of the biggest criticisms that hip hop heads have about Ras Kass is that you don’t pick good beats. Could you explain your selection process and the criteria you’re looking for?
Ras Kass: I like what I like. You can’t please everybody. Seems to me though, whenever some rapper gets hot everybody clings to whoever produced his single. Then no other producer is good because everybody judges your music based on stupid criteria—- the hot rapper (ha-ha).
This may sound like a stupid question, but what does ‘Ras Kass’ mean?
Ras Kass: John the 4th.
What are your thoughts on the globalization of hip hop? What was once an American artform has now branched out into all parts of the world… Europe, Canada, Africa, just to name a few.
Ras Kass: It’s great. An international black (and bitter oppressed peoples’) language. Like Swahili. That’s hip hop in its purest form. The rest is just a billion dollar bizness!!
Do you view hip hop as a culture or as an artform… or as both?
Ras Kass: Both.
Do you think mediums such as the internet have had a positive or a negative effect on hip hop?
Ras Kass: Both. It promotes artists internationally. Bootlegging becomes uncontrollable, tho. It just needs some regulations, that’s all.
Hip hop has gone through a number of phases since its inception, from the Golden Era all the way up to today, where it seems like hip hop has become the dominant form of popular music. Where do you see hip hop 5 years from now? Do you view its popularity in the mainstream as a fad or as something that will last?
Ras Kass: Hopefully with me on top of it! It’s not a fad it’s a part of life.
Do you have any words of wisdom for independent MCs and producers?
Ras Kass: Get a good music attorney!
It may be premature to ask, but have you thought about the future after you get out? Any long term plans as far as your musical career goes?
Ras Kass: Yeah, it’s premature to ask. But I plan on adding my name to the list of (credible) great rap stars. BIG, 2pac, Rakim, KRS-1, Nas, Jay-Z, Eminem, etc…. without being shot, killed or dying poor and under-appreciated. HOLLA!
Ok…word association… I’m going to list some things/names, and you can tell me the first thing you think…
Ras Kass: AS IN FUCK Priority Records.
Ras Kass: Warriorz.
Ras Kass: Genius.
Ras Kass: The illest whiteboy ever!
Ras Kass: Groupie.
Ras Kass: My other fav producer.
George W. Bush
Ras Kass: Idiot.
The War On Iraq
Ras Kass: How to steal oil, white supremacy in action.
Ras Kass: Chickens coming home to roost.
Ras Kass: Why wasn’t I ever invited to be a mentor?
Ras Kass: Still imitated, never duplicated. Charisma and passionate.
Ras Kass: Similes.
Ras Kass: My Foundation. West Coast finest with that gangsta shit.
Ras Kass: The homey. The realest superstar I ever met!
A big thanks to Naomi at Launch Media for coordinating the interview.