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DAR Interviews: Soul Remains On Ice - Ras Kass

Interview Conducted By @CherchezLaPorsh




Introduction By @CherchezLaPorsh
-Anyone who knows me and my love for hip hop KNOWS I am huge on every aspect of lyricism. Wordplay, rhyming, stories, themes and of course the incredible delivery of it. So, it should come as no surprise that Ras Kass would be ranked as one of my favorite MC's. "Soul On Ice" was his debut album back in '96, as this year is the 20th year anniversary of that release. That debut album was epic, it had lyrical ability, wordplay, rhyming and album concept at its finest. I quickly learned that Ras Kass was a brilliant artist, a master of the craft and could easily rank alongside Cube, KRS, Rakim, you know, the legends, after all he himself would become one.

Three weeks ago, I contacted Ras Kass' press team (very dope people) and collectively we were able to set up a phone interview. I can't describe this moment, to say it's unforgettable is an understatement, I had one of the best and one of my favorite MC's on the phone and I was able to ask him questions and hear candid insight and perspective. We covered everything from inspiration and beginnings to new releases 20 years later. This has been one of my most favorite moments being part of the DAR team and with True's guidance, support and encouragement, here is how that conversation went.


Porsha:
You draw inspiration from KRS, Rakim, Scarface, and Ice Cube.  What aspects of their styles did you draw from and why are they vital?

Ras Kass:
Those people specifically? Like KRS-One had a bigger vocabulary than most MC's, though everybody has a bigger vocabulary for some reason than most MC's now a days.

I grew up in Watts, but my homies always let me know I talked a little different, they would always say I used big words, so I think that was the big commonality. I never really thought I could rap anyway, the first time I did, you know I was messing around and my homies didn't understand some of the things I was saying, so KRS-One made me feel like it was okay to be myself as far as how I talked.  He was killing it and he had a big vocabulary and he was doing history, and that was something I really got into, you know I really have a passion for history.

Rakim, I think his appeal for me, is just probably being who he is, a God MC and a legend. All those people are legends, but I think what it really was with Rakim, I was hearing Brand Nubian, I was hearing a lot of MC's that once again were talking about socio-political stuff but he's the first rapper I ever heard say "I'm God". So, my family is from Louisiana, my mom and I went to catholic school til I was in seventh grade, so ain't nobody talking about they God over here [laughs]. I remember the first time hearing that as a not practicing Catholic, but as a baptized Catholic, it freaked me out. I was just thinking it was like New York slang, I didn't know what he was saying, it was like my brain couldn't process that somebody said they were God. I then investigated and it took me on a different journey to understand what Five Percenters, Nation of Islam, and what they were getting at, what they were saying, and that's the lasting foundation of one of my biggest appreciations for hearing somebody challenge my belief system and my thought process, my perception that way.

Face, one of the greatest things is that being a fan of Face and actually him being a big brother. Like he always talks really highly of me, he literally just named me one his top 5 MC's period again and that's crazy, cause it's  somebody who's incredible that think you're incredible, but that's just an added bonus. Really with Face, I always look at his impact as a lyricist from the south, so he's not really from a place where they consider.... you know lyricist usually tend to... you know people have always kind of considered them to come from the East, so early on for Face to be from the south, well Southwest, but it's still the south. His consistency is crazy, so you know, talking about someone with 25+ years, maybe 30 in this rap game is crazy, cause most people from that era aren't staying like that. You know everybody is influenced by somebody, so you know you have to look at the impact Scarface had on Tupac, you know Pac was highly influenced, I mean you can look at him, you can listen to him. He said he was  influenced by Scarface, Ice cube and Treach, you know those are things that he acknowledged cause you know we all learn from somebody, you don't just come out the womb and rap and dress how you dress, you observe stuff and learn. That part of it I really respect, but obviously the first core foundation. One of my favorite songs was "I've Never Seen A Man Cry Til I Seen A Man Die", so Face just always created vivid incredible street hood stories, but it wasn't like escapism rap such as the "you know I got the Bentley, I got all the money, I got the heart to kill all the people" type, but his music had consequences, so there was always something haunting him you know, like even with the Geto Boys(Mind Playin Tricks On Me), so it's always the darker aspect ....the consequences. A lot MC's glorify one part of life/street living or whatever, but they don't deal with the reality of prison, death, brothers being killed or committing whatever so he always had that. It just had depth of character, depth of experience it was always kind of sad. His music has always been like super gangster, but also let you know it ain't all pretty. For me, you know, as a young kid listening and observing in the streets, you wanna hear the turn up music, you wanna hear like you know I'm the super negative shit like I'm hard, but not everyone makes it out, some people really get murked, some people really get life oyour friend gets 15 years and he's 25 you know. The person who is 25, he's like, wow you got 15, his life's over, he get out when he's 40....like what is he gonna do? He's done. Those consequences are not really what people put in songs anymore, you know, at least the songs we glorify or that the blogs and the radio and clubs are playing. I look at my own cousin and the whole BMF thing, like they had more money then all these dudes rap about, but a lot of people went to prison for life, so they pop off for 4 years or 5 years with millions of dollars for real, but then some niggas dead, some niggas talk and some niggas got life forever. They'll never see the streets probably, so how fun was it to pop off for 4 or 5 years when you gotta sit there for the rest of your life and I think Face just makes that kind of music you and it's music I can respect. I know people like the shit that makes them want to have a great time and feel like they the super nigga and we glorify the so-called gang members, when half these niggas ain't really even that. They are industry gang members that surround themselves with real street niggas so the game is so fucked up. There's no oversight these days....it's just mindless fantasy shit, so those are the things of reality that those people had depth of character in different aspects. It could be gangster, it could be political, or it could be history but there's a depth of reality.


Porsha:
I believe you are hands down the most lyrical MC from the west coast. How have you strengthened this lyrical and wordplay ability?

Ras Kass:
Really it's just natural, I'm a writer anyway. I'm a bit of a thinker, you know, they say you gotta put your 10,000 hours in, and once I really became passionate about this, you know I'm sure I'm on hour 100,000 now and I still give the effort, you know 110%, so really a lot of times, especially in the climate of where we're at with music, it's not really that hard to outshine most of these rappers or be lyrical, because they're just not lyrical, they're not that good, so its by default certain people stand out or seem really good. These days, it might be a really cool song, but it's not what we consider like well written or incredible.

You know it's easy to repeat the same thing and make a really catchy song for the club, that's not writing and giving me content and saying something and speaking to my soul. You might be speaking to the drunk dude in the club that I wanna be on the weekend, but you're not speaking to me and giving me anything outside of this club that motivates me or gives me another point of view. It really becomes art that changes people and affects people and it just serves its purpose in that club when I'm drunk or when I'm ready to feel turnt up and angry, but that's it. I'm blessed with a natural ability to write and I give the effort and I put the time in. I'm always studying and finding influence, I'm a student, not calling it a student of the game, I'm just a student of the craft and I want to learn because I wanna be the best and I want the accolades of being the best. I enjoy it so much that I'm constantly studying it.



Porsha:
"Soul On Ice" was released in '96. What are your most memorable experiences from that album and what are your favorite songs from that album?

Ras Kass:
My most memorable experiences? There's a lot. I mean I... I never thought I'd get a record deal, but then it really....it just cost a lot for people to help you do a demo. It's not like now with Fruity Loops, there was no doing it at home, making a record at homejust didn't happen. You required about 100,000 dollars worth of equipment to try to have a studio at home then. My favorite times of being with Battlecat, Domino Theory, Wine-O, those are people that gave me the foundation and allowed me to record. My momma was dropping me off cause you know I was younger than I was saying I was, and I  had to catch the bus home or walk home from the studio. It's all a journey....it's all been peaks and valleys, so even when it's shitty, it's cool, and even when it's cool,it's kinda shitty, so yeah [laughs].

As far as my favorite songs I don't really have one in particular. Everything was written for a reason, so I mean there's nothing in particular, but I very recently listened to "Sunset" and I was like "wow, you wrote the shit outta that" like when I listen back I'm like "damn" cause I hadn't listened to most of that stuff that in at least 10 years because you know I'm not a person that listens to myself. Some rappers like to listen to their shit all day and I'm just not that kind of person. I've never been. I hear me talk all day, so I don't really want to hear me rap, but yea nothing in particular honestly. What stood out though, was listening to the song "Sunset", which was done during the East-West beef and I was addressing it. There were mixtapes coming out where Q-Tip said something and actually Lauryn Hill had said something kinda slick in a song and there were only certain venues where literally everybody had to perform at. For instance, the Wake Up Show. Before that, Biggie wasn't getting on no radio like in the morning, Tupac, nobody was. You kinda had to go through that cut to get to the next side. Jay Z had to go through the Wake Up Show at midnight, that was the only avenue for the LA radio and we're the second biggest market. It goes New York, LA, I think San Francisco, Miami and New York had to come through LA to break a record back then, that's how it worked. Biggie and Pac and Jay Z and Wu-Tang were underground until those records went on to sell millions of records, but they had to start there. I happened to be a little kid and in that journey watching them cats rockin out at those places and  it was bubbling back then. Just listening to "Sunset", watching me address it, and I remember the blow back I got, you know from the East Coast.

You know what? One of my favorite memories had to be right when the album came out. I had to go to New York for the first time as an artist like officially signed artist and I did my first show. It was Lyricist Lounge and Pac had just got killed, so the album had just came out. Pac was dead, but Biggie wasn't and Guru from Gangstarr actually performed. He did like a freestyle and then he introduced me. He was always like a big brother and he introduced me. Before I really started rhyming or performing, somebody said "where's Tupac" and the interesting thing is that I know this cause somebody sent me the actual audio from it, like the video. The video is really blurry, but the audio is crazy and what you hear is Guru rapping over Wu-Tang themes and then introduces me. Then you hear me talking and about to perform, but somebody is like "where's Tupac" and I'm like .... you know? Basically I'm 3000 miles from home and some niggas making a joke about somebody who is like my family, but I'm outnumbered and me having to ride. Like I love where the fuck I'm from and I don't laugh at the dead. That shit ain't funny. I still got to perform and that was great, but again it was bittersweet. For me, it was a great moment in the sense of the character, that I stood up even though it could've been all bad for me, but I stood up not even knowing I'd actually get the audio and be able to hear me keep it 100. Guru has passed away now and to hear him say these positive things about me. That's the journey, like that shit is cool, I've had such a blessed journey.


Porsha:
So I've recently discovered great indie artists like True God and Team DAR. Indie artists are pivotal to this game. With that said, who do you listen to these days?

Ras Kass:
It really varies for me because when I'm recording, I'm so wrapped up in doing what I'm doing that I haven't really listened to anybody honestly. There are people I think are dope, a lot of the battle rap MC's are dope, you know they have a skill set.  However, today, you don't need to be a C+ MC to be successful anymore, you just gotta repeat and do a trap beat, so there's a lot of D- rappers. Most of what we hear is D- quality, so anybody who is C or even a B+ MC is standing out like he's incredible. I just haven't had the time and I know they exist all across the country, because there are really talented MC's, I'm just kinda focused on me right now, so I haven't paid much attention. I took on a lot, like what I'm doing with this "Soul On Ice 2" campaign and how I envision the project is just a lot of work so I just haven't had a lot of time to kind of vibe out and enjoy everybody else's hard work yet.



Porsha:
I understand that. Also, IndieGoGo, I see you tweeting about that all the time, what is that all about? How do we support it? How do people go and support that?

Ras Kass:
Yeah, it's IndieGoGo and its Ras Kass, Soul On Ice 2. There's a few things I wanted to do. I always try to explain that to people, like pretty much every year I make a project, you know I'm always working. I was thinking like I am James Brown, the hardest working man in this industry, but you know getting producers, whether it's a famed producer like Apollo Brown or Pete Rock or Premier, those are based on the relationships and bartering system 9 times out of 10. 9 times out of 10? it's saying "yo, can you knock this out", because they may have asked me to do something, so it works in return, but there's other aspects of making a record.  Engineers don't really do favors, he wants his per hour, so plus him, so you're paying for studio and the engineer and that's tracking the music, just recording. Now that I got KRS One to come here, I still have to pay for a studio that he's comfortable with to record his verse, so paying for studio is a cost, mixing the record is a cost,  then you gotta pay for the mastering, which is a whole different thing, that compresses the thing to what you hear by the time people hear it. It's already been through three studio processes by the end, tracking, mixing, mastering, all different with three different costs. Then getting artwork, trying to promote it, shooting videos that we're going to give out to YouTube for free that's probably gonna cost you from $500-$700 per shot and people want these different videos for different songs and those things cost. You want to get the PR person so that they can go to all the cool websites and they go to HiopHopDX and they can go to Pitchfork and this is all costing. So, we have incentives and all these pre-orders help me with the mixing, the mastering, shooting the video and promoting it and that's what it is. It is just a campaign to help like I said. I want to promote it as best I can, so we're doing that, check "Soul On Ice 2 IndieGoGo" and there's packages from $10 all the way to the really extreme with a lot shit in them for like $500, so we have a goal we're trying to reach and hoping people will support it.



Porsha: 
Yea of course! And Soul On Ice 2, when can we expect that?

Ras Kass:
"Soul On Ice 2" is basically a part of the trilogy. So the original was obviously 1996 and then 20 years later what I wanted to do was finish the trilogy with 2 records this year. Really, part 2 of it is "Intellectual Property" so it will be Intellectual Property and then Soul On Ice 2.0. In June/July, the goal is to drop "Intellectual Property", which is almost done, and then "Soul On Ice 2.0" will be in December to bleed into next year too. It's spaced out and gives things time to breath. I already dropped one record, it's called "Downward Spiral" with Bumpy Knuckles and Onyx. You know, we already shot the video for that, and my  hope and my goal is to be able to finance shooting about 5 to 7 videos, and just giving really good content. We have some really great guest features on it, I haven't leaked the tracklist yet but you know.


Porsha:
Are you gonna be releasing the tracklist soon?

Ras Kass:
Yeah I am. I'm not ready yet, but I'm getting there. My last session recording wise will be monday and then I'll move into the next thing, which is mixing and then mastering, so once I get into mastering which I would hope would be in the next 2 weeks or so, I'll be a little more confident cause I don't want to give a tracklist if things change for whatever reason, and sometimes I second guess. I'd rather have it 100% written in stone, the shit is getting mastered and done. By the time this interview hits, I should have the tracklist out hopefully or soon after.


Porsha:
I don't want to take too much more of your time, but I really want to thank you for taking the time to join me and discuss with me, and we all can't wait for both albums.

Ras Kass:
Thank you as well, and yeah stay on the lookout for those both.



Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-Ras Kass, a phenomenal yet underrated MC, has two albums dropping in 2016. Through all the ups and downs, rumored signings, great moments, not so great moments, beefs, and such, Ras has remained a central figure in West Coast hip hop and with his 2 albums coming to finish off his trilogy (I know a lot about a trilogy...), 2016 seems to be a big year for him. Stay tuned.

-DAR

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