Artist: Ras Kass
Album: Soul On Ice
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
The year, 1996. Hip hop’s fan base has for the most part transferred back to the east coast way of doing things- grimy beats, and hard hitting lyrics, as exemplified by groups such as the Wu, Mobb Deep, Nas, Black Moon, and Biggie. The west is still bumping the G ish, and the vast majority of heads on the east just aren’t feeling it anymore (including me at the time). The solution? Ras Kass.
Before he’d even released his first LP, the hype surrounding this man was incredible. I remember when I first got my copy of his promo EP, and I was in awe of his lyrical ability. Finally, it seemed that hip hop had someone who could match up with the golden age of lyricism of the mid and late 80’s. The successor to KRS and Rakim had been found, in of all places, California. Let’s get one thing out of the way first though – Ras is NOT your usual MC, especially on this LP. He doesn’t rely on punchlines or battle tactics, but he also doesn’t rely on “conscious” matters only. He’s a unique artist in that he’s able to combine all of the best elements of great lyricism, while still making his lyrics distinct.
One quick note before we start. The name of the album refers to the novel written by former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, where he wrote about the status of blacks in America. The subject matter deals with this topic and much more in a pretty blunt matter, so those who aren’t interested in hearing a different point of view on things shouldn’t go on.
Now sit back, grab some popcorn, a beverage of your choice, and let’s rumble…
1) On Earth As It Is…
We start things off with a pretty scary beat. Scary in an apocalyptic way. A vibration noise runs throughout this track and some standard drums accompany this track. The “apocalyptic” feeling I’m talking about is the minor note piano keys sprinkled in, in addition to some pretty scary noises that I can’t pinpoint, and some choir-like sounds. You’ve also got samples running throughout of what sounds like church-people talking about God. Not one to disappoint, Ras drops a couple of verses that blow your mind away, and caused me to repeat the song about 4 times when I first heard it, just to take it all in. He’s taking Biblical metaphors, and combining them with the present. Some might call it blasphemous. I call it ingenious.
“The hip-hop martyr who sacrificed and gave my life,
But got 4Pac, so I’m livin the Thug Life in the afterlife,
Then I be walking through the pearly gates
With an infared scope ten millimeter heater,
Cuz if my name ain’t in the Book of Life I’m snuffing St. Peter,
Drinking the blood of Jesus Christ and p**sing Holy Water,
No QUESTION who can come cleaner M-P-C plus M-I-C equals Holy B-I-B-L-E to me,
Matrimony is getting head but I refuse to break bread with Jezebels,
my management already gets twenty percent”
2) Anything Goes
One of the singles off the LP that was properly released by the label, this track slows things down quite a bit, with a laid back, almost jazzy feel to it. The bass and drums sound like much of what Jay Dee is doing today with Slum Village, and the melody is carried by some female voices singing notes. Very relaxing beat. The lyrics on this one deal with the fact that you need to do whatever it takes to make it in life. Again Ras just rips it with lines like –
“Niggaz got stripes like, Tony the Tiger,
But niggaz got strikes like Oral Hershiser,
So look alive, inflation rise like yeast,
S&L scandal stole millions
But we need more police to take back our streets, it’s drama
We all know that one-time be extortin them big-ballers, Gettin extradited with warrants in three states,
Overcrowded prisons hopin’ the DA drop the case”
Ras then drops a little accapella freestyle in a skit immediately following, which doesn’t get it’s own track however, and also includes a pretty funny story about Jack in the Box cheesecake.
Another jazzy slow paced track here, with what sounds like a synthed organ playing the melody, some slow drums, and nice bassline. You’ve also got some watery sounding effects in the background. Pretty simple, and nothing too special. Ras departs the social commentary for this one,and just rhymes about chilling and relaxing, using the standard cliches, but somehow making them sound fresh and innovative, mostly due to his use of metaphors and his style.
“I get around like Dolby Pro Logic,
But running them streets too much get fools hated incarcerated, or terminated
At the house we safely intoxicated,
Playing questions, everybodys faded and now, we got the ladies undressing
Like 1st King strippers bouncin’ on niggas balls like the LA Clippers
The phone rang, my little shorty said “What you up to, boo?”
Nothing, just chillin’ like Bruh-Man on Martin do
See only when I’m tipsy, when my words start slurring
Do I get caught telling lies like Mark Furhaman”
The mood changes up a bit here, but the beat is pretty substandard. The bass is much faster paced, but the drums are slow like before, making for an interesting dynamic. However, even moreso than the tracks preceding, this sounds dirty, and not in a good way. It sounds like the production was done on the cheap unfortunately. It might have sounded alright otherwise with a horn sample that juts in and out of the beat, and some nice subdued keys as well, but as it stands, it doesn’t do the job. The chorus uses a sung sample of an older song, and is pretty effective, considering it IS R&B :). Ras drops the playaisms of the last track, and returns to commentary on the ghetto, and on the music industry, and more specifically the hip hop industry in particular.
“So as flesh and bone I zone my thoughts explode with rap shranel syntax
That’ll wax to the past, and present the future
Of Ras Kass lies in the skull like the coronal suture
So I write truly fat shit for the core audience
But sometimes I wonder does it really exist?
Cuz true lyricists in hip-hop Joe Public be dissin
Niggas don’t relate
Elevate and its treated like elevator music
Cuz’ nigga don’t listen
But ridiucle is the burden of genius
Have you ever seen this socioeconomic guillotine rip a nigga’s hopes and dreams
And now I’m lead to believe that life is all about CREAM
I’m living a life idealistically principle over profit
But realistically good intentions are microscopic to fat pockets
Exploitation is world’s oldest occupation”
5) Nature of the Threat
We’ve reached it. The greatest track Ras has ever done, and some might argue the greatest hip hop song every created. It took Ras Kass over SIX months to write the lyrics for this by the way. Before I go on, find the lyrics for this on the net to get a full idea of the scope of this track. It’s worth it. OHHLA.com probably has got it. To sum it up, this track details the history of man from the beginning to the present. More specifically the oppression of coloured people by whites through history. This track is NOT for the weak of heart with some questionable lines, and some of the history quoted isn’t accurate, but it is still incredible in it’s scope. The beat is minimal, has church bells ringing through it, and other than that, is very very basic, all the better to hear what’s being said. There’s NO chorus, and no break in the lyrics. Ras rhymes for EIGHT minutes straight. Incredible incredible incredible. If you listen to this objectively, you WILL question things, and you WILL go to your library to learn more about what Ras is speaking of.
“Now around this time, Whites started callings us Negroes
That’s Spanish for black object meaning we’re not really people
But profit, and the triangle trade begins – they seize us
Queen Elizabeth sends the first slaves on a ship named Jesus
Stealin land from the indigenous natives
Gave them alcohol to keep the Red Man intoxicated
Whites claim they had to civilize these pagan animals
But up until 1848 there’s documented cases of whites bein the savage cannibals,
Eatin Indians In 1992, it’s Jeffery Dahmer
They slaughtered a whole race with guns
Drugs, priests and nuns
1763, the first demonic tactic of biological warfare
As tokens of peace, Sir Jeffery Amherst passed out clothing and blankets to the Indian community
Infested with small pox, knowing they had no immunity Today it’s AIDS, you best believe it’s man made
Cause ain’t a damn thing changed”
You’re bound to be let down after THAT, and indeed, Etc. doesn’t help you forget the previous track. Ras flips his style here, going to a more rapid fire delivery over a funky sounding bassline with some flutes interspersed. I’d normally say pass, but once again, by the sheer skill of his wordplay, Ras is able to save the track with the subject being your basic braggadacio.
“But if ya lyrics suck, then fuck ya record label’s juice
Ock, I rock hip-hop non-stop and got more juice than Snapple
Intricate to simplistic stylistics I solicit
It gets niggaz open like fallopian ovulation
Fuckin these kids like the Michael Jackson molestations
Sendin’ ya back as the U.S. Nation did AIDS infected refugee Haitians
Uhh, yeah niggaz so what’s the haps
You could put up ya dukes but in the West they bust caps
So bulletproof fists is the only way I’m gone miss, but peep this
My mental’s the bullet, my tongue’s the finger that pull it”
During the time of this release, the east / west beef perpetrated by Tupac and Biggie was also in full swing. This track was Ras’ take on the issue, and to say he was on the side of the west is an understatement. However, unlike some of his more excitable brethren, Ras didn’t diss just one artist. Instead he dissed the entire mindstate of the east coast hip hop scene, calling them out on their feelings of superiority even though many of them had done nothing to think so. Great stuff, and all of it 100% true. The beat is eerie, and heavily bass driven with a crazy flutelike sound emitted every once in a while.
“You got a superiority complex
Based on old statisitics, now listen
Respect due to the pioneers
But what you burrough did in 83′
Is ancient history brah’
So why these niggas actin’ like
Since they live in the state
That rap originates
They automatically, all time greats?
It takes classic material to make phat shit
Not proof of New York residence and an accent
Who expresses the freshest the West Coast was ressurected
By me, I’m the mother fuckin man like homo erectus
So why it matter where rap started
If I wanted to hear from asshole I would have farted”
Ras leaves the beef behind on this track, and addresses relationships. That’s right. He drops a track about relationships that doesn’t immediately include all the normal rap cliches of “bitches and hoes”. Well maybe not, but it’s still an entertaining track that examines what many woman do just to get with someone who has a lot of money. Coolio guests on this too, and drops a wack verse which only further highlights how great a lyricist Ras is.
“I try U.N.I.T.Y. but why?
Cause when I was lackin, bitches made me want to roll over and die
So now I lie, cause bitches are like flies
They attract to the best shit
You gotta play Max Julian’s role unless you plan on being celibate
Cause bitches want the money clip and whatever dick that comes with it
The bitch saw me in the Lex and didn’t know it came from Avis
Now she’s on the Tip like my name was John Davis”
9) The Evil That Men Do
After the change of mindset of the last track, Ras comes back with another great conscious track here. He drops rhymes about the bad things that people do, both to themselves and others and how they don’t take into account what their actions will cause. Interestingly, he also comments on the way that some blacks are made to feel inferior due to outside pressures. Good stuff. The beat is very east coast sounding, with some grimy drums, and a combination of harps and piano keys gently hitting in the background.
“Nappy headed nigga stigmatism at birth
Born to a family of four and so that makes me one-fourth of a dysfunctional home
I had a father who only stayed to see me grown
When I turned twelve he was gone
Alone, no role model I used to watch my Granddaddy and Uncle hit the bottle
And then hit each other Granddaddy beat Grandmother,
But that’s before my time
But I still see how it affected her mind
As a child I was introverted, and drew pictures
While my mother prayed to Jesus reading King James scriptures
She used to take me to church so I could put money in the basket
Tell the preacher how she used to get her ass kicked”
Cool beat here, with a rumbling bassline that’ll shake a room. You also get some “nature” like sounds made by a flute in the background. It’s simple, but really nice. The chorus is an adaptation of an old Dre track from “The Chronic” and sounds a bit out of place. The lyrics don’t let down though, as usual, this time again going back to the straight battle style, as Ras destroys any challengers to his lyrical throne.
“Fools lay claim to fly rhymes but I terrorize airlines
My mind’s a porcelain Glock 7 slippin’ through the metal detectors
Ready to wet ya like baptism It’s rap pugilism when I be placing 208 bones in one zone
With microphones, I’m like the Blade Runner hunting clones
I “Beat It” like one glove and a bad nose job
With more breathin techniques than Lamaze
Ras still be drinkin’ malt liquor brews
And continues the liquidation of crews
With a drunken technique like Shun Di’s kung fu on Virtua Fighter 2″
11) Miami Life
Basically an ode to Miami, but without the wack bass beats that the area is known for. Really though, this is just Ras telling you how much he loves Miami, and the lifestyle over there. The beat is pretty good, but nothing too special, with a faster pace to the drums and bass, and a weird guitarish sounding squeal used. Can’t overemphasize how much Ras’ lyrics save songs like this.
12) Soul On Ice
The title track, and also the subject of the only remix done for the album post-production. Ask me, and I’ll take the remix, which is done by Diamond D, but the original is still up to snuff, don’t get me wrong. The bass again overwhelms everything, with some nie chimes thrown in, and that’s it, except for some weird scratch-like noises thrown in every once in a while. This is Ras at his “I hate society” best, and he just verbally slays everything.
“Give me 50,000 black angry role models
Take me to DC I’ll throw the first fucking bottle
Cause I don’t give a fuck about a menial existence
And I don’t give a fuck about nonviolent resistance
Civil rights will not suffice In the name of
Jesus Christ they got my Soul On Ice”
13) Ordo Abchao (Order Out Of Chaos)
A heartbeat intros the song, and then a beautiful horn comes in, with some nice piano keys, and a sampled voice saying “order out of chaos”. When the bass drops, so does Ras’ verse, as he concentrates on the chaos that black people face everyday, and what they can do to try and make things right. You also get a nice smattering of conspiracy theories in this, which make for some interesting listening. A great track, and a perfect ending to this album.
“The planet revolves, supposedly, man evolves
But no problem is solved, because man is the cause
For the sake of eugenics biochemists create ethnospecific epidemics
Injecting the public in clinics
Then when the truth comes out “You black people are so paranoid”
But who murdered Africa, the World Health Organization
Before 1978 there was no blood with AIDS contamination
It ain’t little green monkeys
It’s little white honkeys crossing bovine leukemia with sheep visna virus”
So what happened? Why isn’t Ras a household name? Well for one, not many people bought the album. As Ras states so eloquently on another white label track he’s done called ‘The Music of Business’ – “But hip-hop fans don’t buy albums, and, then again, tend to player hate” The heads that appreciated him either bootlegged this LP or dubbed it, and those that could buy the album decided that Ras had sold out by going to a major label, regardless of what the album showed. Don’t get me wrong, it sold well, but nowhere near what an album of this quality should have.
So Ras went and recorded “Rasassination” after this, and deliberately tried to make a more “pop” sounding record to no avail. It was good, but nowhere near “Soul On Ice”, and after hearing leaked songs from his new LP due out this fall, it seems he’s going to go back to what he was, rather than trying to conform to the masses. Good to hear.