Underground Report: Ras Kass
While most noted for his lyricism, Mr. John Austin too attracts attention through controversy, notably the legal battles with Capitol Records and the two publicized incarcerations. Irrespective of both however, Ras Kass remains vital in Hip Hops playpen as a window to the woes where he is currently working on The Quarterly, a weekly leak of original tracks which will develop into a finalized compilation. Hes here to show you what this mic is for. Kass discography entails an assemblage of creation showcasing official, unofficial, bootlegged and scrapped albums, including Soul on Ice, Rasassination, Van Gogh, Institutionalized Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Eat or Die, Revenge of the Spit, Razzy Kazzy. Eyes dont lie and neither does Ras as he sits down with HipHopDX to discuss passion, the appeal of violence and why the new never gets old.
HipHopDX: Where have you been?
Ras Kass: [Laughs] its a transition period. If youre talking about as far as putting out major label albums, theres that sense. If youre talking about legal situations, decisions that cost me, Ive been going from thereand then theres the concept of where Ive been recently. [Laughs]
DX: Lets address each, at least briefly. Whats happening with you and Capitol Records?
Ras Kass: Me and Capitolyou know, they want party records. We didnt see eye-to-eye. That went on for a long time, basically five years. I cant go into that, we agreed not to talk about each other.
DX: What do you owe them as of now?
Ras Kass: The initial contract that I signed was for five albums. I can never seem to get the third album done. That was Van Gogh and that died, and the fourth album was Goldyn Childthere were different perceptions. At that point they would have said that I didnt turn in an album. I just really felt like everybody else - all my peers, some people I considered my friends - their careers were progressing and mine was kind of halted. So I took the steps I felt were necessary to change the situation. And that resulted in a lawsuit. And that dragged on for a long time, five years. There it is in a nutshell. Weve settled in, and I think everybodys better for it. And its a new day now
DX: Are you happy with the vision of your current projects? Right now, The Quarterly.
Ras Kass: Yeah. Im enjoying myself. Just to be able to do something in spontaneity, of being able to be your own artist, do what you want to do, when you want to do ittheres pros and cons to everything. The con is that you dont have somebody thats willing to upfront and thats willing to make all these things happen, or get you to this place, or BET Awards. Were gonna fly you and pay for your hotel and give you 20 dollars a dayall that. Thats the pro side of being on a major label. The con is that sometimes they get caught up in so much red tape or politics that you lose the time. You cant get it done fast enough because either youre busy in an office trying to convince someone that this is a great idea or they think its a great idea but theyre still taking this long to process it.
I just like being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, to be perfectly honest. Thats how I and most people get signed doing what they want to do. [Laughs] You do you and these people come along and say Hey, we want to facilitate an environment And then you get into this machine and they signed you for doing you but now they think you should do something different. And thats just a conflict of interest off-top. But Im really happy with what Im doing. I enjoy every day. Im excited to be creative.
DX: You raise a good point about the signing mechanisms. Are artists signed due to their marketable potential, and then tricked into meeting label demands, or does the demand of the market change so rapidly between the time the artist is signed and the time she or he is expected to release an album, that labels feel they have no choice but to cater to the new market trends?
Ras Kass: Both of those could be the case. I wouldnt make an absolute on either one of them - everybodys case is unique. I can honestly say by the time I actually signed, and the lawyers it was a whole year later. My first album came out in a transitionary point where Hip Hop sound actually changed and so my project didnt sonically fit - everything changed within a year. That stuff happens sometimes; growth spurts. In my case, it was a bit of both.
I dont think it was some evil plan [where] labels want to sign people and then change them. These bosses dont even listen to the music. These A&Rs and sometimes its not even the A&Rs - but they sign people because of the buzz and not necessarily because they appreciate what the artist is doing. So once the artist has a buzz, they may want to sign that artist because somebody else wants to sign them. Its like the jealous girl that doesnt want the guy until the other girl wants him. And then they sign him and realize I dont want them to be like this. I know so and so wanted him, but now that I got him, I want him to do this. Theres also a misunderstanding on the part of the artist going into a situation
DX: Are you presently interested in creating an album?
Ras Kass: I wasnt really interested in an album. I kind of look at it from the aspect of the market and try to do creative things. There are more rappers than there are fans at this point. There are more producers than there are fans. There are more label executives I want to be the next Baby [click to read] than there are fans. I just want to look at the successes of people who utilize the Internet and be in the genre of Rap but not necessarily in the exact catalogue of where some people would try to stick me. I just did what I call The Quarterly. Its The Quarterly, not an album.
DX: Lets get to The Quarterly in a second. I dont want to talk about your legal situation for it isnt relevant to your work. But I do want to ask what you took away from it?
Ras Kass: It sucks. Anybody that raps about it and says it like its cool probably never really been. You can look at it for what it is, who did this and who got beat up in the neighborhood, whos a stripper, whos a weed tosser. Its like WWE. Some wrestling shit. Im just a pretext that its real. The fundamental thing is that its bullshit; its a waste of life. I dont want to be here.
DX: The Quarterly. A total of 16 tracks released every Monday?
Ras Kass: Its basically a single a week. I wasnt sure exactly how to do it. Its kind of worked itself out. Its bleeding into the fourth quarter. I planned on doing one for every quarter in length. In the next week or two Ill be dropping a leak along with six additional records. So the first 500 people will get it for freeand for those who want to support itit qualifies as an album. Original records, period. But its not an album in my brain so I wouldnt call it an album. [Laughs] Itll be 16 songs. I dont know if Im putting a skit or anything in it. I may add additional songs that Ive done with other people in the context of the past three months. So me and Nino Bless [click to read] did a record called Sparta [click to listen] for my man Veteranos mixtapeso it depends.
DX: Do you have a main objective with these tracks? What do you want the old Ras fans to know, and the new supporters to learn?
Ras Kass: I dont want to use the term rebranding, because its really not. With a Jay-Z [click to read], you can look at Reasonable Doubt to The Blueprint 3 [click to read], and its official release is dated with an official video. You can get a perspective of this person, their growth. I didnt really have that. Because only my first two albums [Soul On Ice and RasAssination] officially came out, people tend to have this weird interpretation of who they think I am, and they have no idea. I mean I tried to document it. Ive literally dropped the same amount of albums as anybody who started around the same time as me. But because I didnt have an official title with a barcode on it with so and sos label printed on it, people dont perceive that as being who I am for some strange reason. I think its completely stupid but people are people and thats what they think.
So for me, because they havent officially solved my progress and growth, people tend to live in 1998, and Im not in 1998. Were in 2009, thats 11 years ago. So definitely the goal is to start from scratch. People dont expect Mos Def and [Talib] Kweli [click to read] to necessarily jump up and do a political album. Kwa is doing records with Justin Timberlake nobody talk shit. Because they understand that people grow and evolveLudacris [click to read] evolves, Eminem evolves...Ive kind of been relegated to being stuck at some point. So my thing is to get people up to speed - this is who I am. Get with it if you want to. Not every song is for every person. I make songs for myself and Im a multi-layered, multifaceted person. Sometimes I like club records and sometimes I like Jazz records, Rock records, battle records. Im gonna be creative and do things I like. And if you try to scold me to one particular brand of Rap, then youre sadly mistaken cause Im not gonna do it. Aand if youre gonna criticize me for it then youre a true idiot.
DX: If This World of Mine, is reminiscent of Immortal Techniques Payback which youre featured on, and Ludacris Growing Pains on a somewhat re-collective note. I know you cant speak for Doo Wop, but where did you want to go with this track?
Ras Kass: I approached it differently. Doo Wop [click to read] is my friend, hes always helping peopleI always show him love. Doo Wop did the record and sent it to me. I liked where he went with it: if this world was his and his very selfless. He just wanted to save [Notorious] B.I.G., which was dope. And then I thought about, if this world was mine, what would I do? And Im just my own mistake. Im just my big brother I dont have any brothers. So if I had a big brother, thats what I would have taught my little brother to do if he wanted to rap[Doo Wops] world was selfless and I think mine was selfish. I try to approach everything independently. The beat was dope - Pete Rock [click to read] selective. And what Doo Wop did was really dope. It made me reflective, and what popped up in my head was my journey and what I wish I had.
DX: On Amazing you said rappers might sell more, but lyricists is savages. Where is the place for lyricists in the industry? I ask particularly in relation to up-and-comers. You mentioned Nino Bless earlier on, and he just announced that hes bowing out of the industry. One of the reasons he mentioned is the increasing divergence from the art of Hip Hop.
Ras Kass: Ive known him for a long time so Ill have to go pick his brain. For whatever reason he feels like he doesnt want to be a part of [the music], hes always gonna be a part of it because he likes doing it. I would have to say that maybe this is a short-term decision to him. For some people its a passion. I enjoy what I do. I dont enjoy the business side of it; I dont enjoy doing shows; I dont enjoy getting on radio shows and rapping and shit like a trained monkey I dont like any of that.
But what I do enjoy is being with somebody thats talented and them making a dope beat, and us coming together and creating something that we both think is really dope. That is my passion in life. So whether I want to do it as a business wouldnt change that I enjoy doing it. Some people like playing basketball. Obama wants to go play basketball. I dont give fuck about basketball - its not my passion. My passion is getting in the studio, hearing a dope beat and try to figure out how to approach it, make it doper, or give it what its supposed to have on the vocal side. So I dont have a comment about Nino except that its still his passion; I know him as a person. Whether he wants to do it professionally, thats his decision. Sometimes the bullshit outweighs the passion
DX: You got together with Killah Priest on Milli Vanilli and youre also working with Kurupt. Any HRSMN news? Or are you sick of the HRSMN questions?
Ras Kass: No, Im never sick of it. [Killah] Priest [click to read] is my man; Kurupt [click to read] is my man. This is my homie. Theres an intricate story of how who met and how we even became the HRSMN. But we are the HRSMN; everybody functions independently but when we come together, we represent something that was an ideal that I think maybe we didnt executeand a lot of times, to be perfectly honest [laughs] my girlfriend was the biggest problem and thats a metaphor for the label I signed to. We initiated and attempted to do something that hasnt been really done in Hip Hop. And we were gonna have a revolting fifth member. That was Phraroah Monch on certain songs, though it was very inclusive. It wasnt like were this clique and we dont want nobody else. We wanted to just have lyricists so if Nas was willing to put one songWe wanted to make something special thats Hip Hop-oriented. We started that foundation, and watching Slaughterhouse [click to read] take it to the next level and actually put out a recordwere part of that foundation.
DX: Your appreciation through the track Thank You is heartfelt. Real tends to describe the main response on the blogs. How is that form of real distinguished from the youll be missin till fishermen see your corpse form of real? For example, when one hears genuine tracks such as Kanyes dedication toward Jay-Z through Big Brother, the initial response is it is real; emotional; friendships, bonds, real life, loss. Then theres the whole side of machismo and violence, which is also perceived as real. That person killed five people, theyve been to jail, etc. It seems as though to survive or stand out in Hip Hop, one has to experience violence or subscribe to criminal activity in order to identify with a listener and disidentify with another artist. In Hip Hop, why does the quest for identity still tend to cater toward violence?
Ras Kass: I dont necessarily think its the Hip Hop phenomena. We go watch movies everyday, we watch TV shows ER somebody gets sliced and theres dramathe doctors fucking the nurse but shes in love with the outpatient and then everybody gets their head chopped off. We just live in a world thats fundamentally cavemen or something to that effect. I dont think its anything unique through Hip Hopwere human beings that respond to strength and violence is strength. Period.
DX: What is appealing about encouraging violence versus encouraging fabric softener use? That is, putting people into body bags versus putting softener it into the washing machine?
Ras Kass: Theres a place for both. Maybe its imbalanced but it is what it is. Its like complaining about gravity. I like gravity but Im not stupid enough to jump off the seventh-story floor and say gravity, you should understand how I feel. Part of it is being ill. When Nas said, when I was 12, I went to Hell for snuffing Jesus. That fucked my head up. I come from a Judeo-Christian background. I was like Oh shit, he didnt just say that? Hes going to Hell but it sounded great. Its just the nature of the beast. Rap was created by urban people. Majority [it was] Puerto Rican and BlackIm sure its whites too and some Asians whatever, some underprivileged people. It was created by some motherfuckers who didnt have a lot. If you listen to some of those older songs, especially Blues, niggas is talking about they caught their wife cheating and they gonna kill a bitch. Its the experience of being a second-class citizen. Thats where most of this music comes from. Even the Gospel shit. Talking about Mastas fuckin me up, but Jesus is gonna save me.
Why do we spend all this money to watch a boxing fight or a football game? Its gladiator. We like seeing the strongest survive.
DX: Is it that we like to see the strong survive or are we empowered by watching others become subjugated? Its false power of course. But is it falsely empowering?
Ras Kass: I think it motivates us. I watch Gladiator and thats the one movie from which a tear came down my eyes. Deep down theres something about having everything stripped from you and you being soldier enough to do the right thing and still accomplish and win. Even though he passed away, he won. Maybe it motivates me like Fuck that, Im a soldier, I can do that shit. They can take all the money and they can take the videos and they can sue me or whatever it is, in any situation. I have to hold my head and Ill be alright. Theres pros and cons to everything. If listening to rap music makes you want to shoot people then youre a fucking idiot. I dont think its just rap music. Your value system is fucked up already. People were killing before the invention of TV and video. Man is just man.
DX: If Gladiator motivates areyou, are you also motivated by romantic comedies? LikeLove Actually, Definitely Maybe?
Ras Kass: Im a guy. Im not gonna say I havent enjoyed those movies, but Im on a different wavelength. Im not a woman. Im not geared toward emotionalism, Im geared toward rationalism. This may sound like a sexist thing, but its really not. Im just saying were fundamentally different and thats a good thing.
DX: Fans debate expiration dates on rappers. How old is too old? Who is lying about their age? What topics should be off limits after a certain age, etc. Throughout North American media and Hip Hop alike, why the pre-occupation with aging and why is it shunned so much?
Ras Kass: Young is usually prettier. Your skin is more supple and your titties are bouncing. Its just the world we live in especially in North America. We are vain. We used to have a very rigid vision of pretty thats not very inclusive. At least now we have somewhat of a broader definition of what beautiful is. But it is what it is. And theres a business standpoint to that. If I come out at 16 and I get fans who are 14, and 15 and 16, I have a 10-year life span to grow with them as they grow and they relate to me. Demographically, 16 year-old white girls influence spending habits of everybody else. Thats the new demographic. We want to make songs that influence 16 year-old white girls
Dont ask me my age. What does that have to do with anything? Let me look how I look. People are obsessed with age. Its just how the world works at least the world in North America. But does it really matter?
DX: Some of the best emcees are not particularly attractive. But those same emcees whove been in the game for at least 10 years are victims of the retirement discussion. Perhaps its not the level of physical attraction, or sexual appeal. But rather, age. There is discussion about whether Jay-Z should retire circling strictly around his age.
Ras Kass: Ive heard those conversations. Kids I know they like whatever they like; some shit I cant get with. And then there is always a preoccupation with whats new. Jay-Z is not new. Rick Ross [click to read] came three years ago. He was new. He may be 40 years old Im not saying that he is but Im sayingFlo Rida or whatevertheyre new in a sense of being new and not young. So preoccupation with age may be about the new.
DX: Great point. Youre a fan of history. Any particular theme you enjoy?
Ras Kass: Nothing in particular. I dont really get into politics per se. I just try to get ideas and the back story of the cultural anthropology. Whether you take it from a natural history point of view or a Juedo-Christian point of you, youre dealing with two people anyway. You just start with two. Somehow we all end up being unique in how we look. Whoever you want to think Adam and Eve were, if you come from the point of view asking were they white, were they? Cause now we got white, black, Asian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Serbian, Croatian we got all these people who have uniquely become their own cultures and we all stem from the same. And thats the biggest story period. So looking at it from that point of view to me is always interesting. Looking at how tribalism has extended to nationalism which then extends to racism and classism and sexism and all this other shit. Its an interesting story; an interesting movie