Ras Kass: Liberation
On Tuesday evening, Ras Kass, still in a state of calm and euphoria, spoke at length to HipHopDX. Although bound to limited discussion concerning the terms of his contract release, Ras Kass does hint at where hes headed or at least whos offering. Despite the fact that he admits that music is an escape from insanity, the "Vincent Van Gogh of Hip Hop" also admits that hes not hung up on throwing together an album. With at least 100 jewels on his Macbook and in notebooks, Ras Kass has the assets to deliver the greatness that he hinted at way back in 1996 with Soul On Ice. Unlike the original Van Gogh, lovers of the art of emceeing are likely to meet the master long before he leaves his canvas instrumentals awaiting slaughter.
DX: Do you draw any parallel to being locked up in jail to being locked into a record contract?
RK: Let me say this, I cant speak at all about the terms of my divorce, but I can do general statements. So yeah, definitely. I always felt like the experience with a contract was harsher than the prison thing. I definitely see a complete parallel. A contract, from the experiences Ive seen, are unwritten rules. At least in prison you know the rules. A lot of this is youve gotta play it by ear when you sign something. Its definitely not designed in the best interest of the artist, its for the multinational corporation. The same reason people are mad at [George W.] Bush for immigration: these companies are making all the money while Americans cant fuckin make a living. [Laughs]
DX: To what extent do you think youve been a pillar of hope for other artists, whether Crooked I or Saigon or whomever, that appear to be locked into contracts? And, were there people you looked up to for hope over the last seven years?
RK: Not to sound arrogant, but I think I was a pillar of hope more so to my peers and the people who knew me. David Banner, who I saw through his hard times and tried to be a friend or Twista or whoever. We went through it at the same period, I just went through it differently. Seeing them being sincerely happy for me kind of meant a lot more for me or Jay-Z or T.I. Technically, I was a younger kid but Im still Class of 98, when its about to be poppin; odds are we can pop. [Laughs] Some people dont know my story. [Talib] Kweli knows my story, Mos [Def] knows my story, Twista, whoever. Seeing them rallying for me in ways that they couldnobody wants to fight the fucking Goliath. I made certain choices that every artist goes through. I just chose to do things how I did them. In retrospect, maybe I can look at and say I shouldve done some of it differently, but at the time, I tried to make the best decisions I could. Theres nobody I have beef with. Im completely happy, man. I would hope I wouldnt make the same decisions again, but overall, its been an interesting ride. Thats what lifes all about anyway.
DX: Let me clarify. You and M.O.P. were some of the first major label artists who pioneered this idea of releasing mixtape-albums or street albums that were reaching chain stores like Best Buy while your paperwork was still tied up. Were seeing that more today with Red Caf, Joell Ortiz or Strong Arm Steady. I mean, the last time we spoke, Institutionalized had gotten a XL in XXL magazine.
RK: Those things were real accidental to be honest. What I realized was that I would be judged based on an album from 98. Everybody evolves. So within the confines of what I could do, I wanted to people to at least hear the music. Dude, Im growing every day. Those things were by the blessings of God or somebody reaching out to me and saying, Hey, this is an angle that you can do. I didnt plan that, I was just fortunate enough to stumble onto that.
Usually Im making music to not go crazy. [Laughs] Im ventin, nine times out of 10. Im just makin shit, but I want some amount of people to hear it just so I can get some feedback on it. That was the main thing. Institutionalized was for me and it was for the dude in Poland who took the time to write me a letter while I was locked up. I had to figure out ways to get that to the dude in Poland.
DX: Whether it was a phone call, a letter or leaving a meeting, what was that day of freedom like for you?
RK: I was just kind of numb. Surreal is probably the better word for it. Its definitely not the same experience, I cant even compare to what slavery mustve been like. But to say its over, I was kind of used to living like this. Is this is a sick joke? Is somebody gonna say, Syke! [Laughs] You dont know how to feel. On a better note, its probably what a football player feels like when they get drafted, and they go to the bank, and there actually is 13 million dollars in the bank. I was pretty numb.
DX: You mentioned not having beefs. In life, it can be difficult to watch people beneath you succeed. If you mature, you can deal with it. But Capitol/Virgin has found a lot of success this year with MIMS and J. Holiday. Was it frustrating when you think about how hard they worked those projects, or hearing it on the radio, and all the years you spent fighting?
RK: Nah. Everybodys path is everybodys path. I dont know MIMS that well, but CL [Corey Llewellyn] from Digiwaxx was my old roommate. Thats my friend; I like to see people win. Maybe thats the just the difference of me. I like to see my peers win, whether I can get with that particular song or notdo your thing. I never grew up gauging my success compared to the next mans. For me, that wasnt ever a problem. If it was, I just totally removed myself from the equation, which means I didnt watch BET. I dont want to be a hater. I come from L.A., and that shit means a lot. [Laughs] People that know the code of the streets and the rules of engagement know dont be a hater. You be a congratulater. Mother Theresa said, Why be antiwar when you can be pro-peace. Sometimes you spend all this energy being anti-something. Im not a homosexual, but why should I be anti-gay? Im just pro-heterosexual. I dont have to hate everybody. Your rights end where my start. As long as youre not stepping on my toes, I dont give a fuck, do your thing. Ive tried to be appreciative and genuinely happy for everybody. Because if I had to compare my bank account to Xzibits or Jay-Zs or Nas or even Games, Id jump off a building. [Laughs]
DX: To what extent do you call yourself a free agent today? To every? To none?
RK: I am a free agent in every sense of the word.
DX: In the past, a lot of us sensed you were moving towards Aftermath and later G-Unit, especially when both were becoming homes to artists with troubled deals in the past. You couldnt speak on it then, that was years ago, what about now?
RK: You know what? Time changes, man. There are things I didnt speak onI can speak on them now, I guess. I had an opportunity to do DTP [Disturbing Tha Peace] for the last year and a half. I just asked people to be patient with me. They just had a lot of talented artists, and who knows, they just made peace with Chingy. So who knows? I really havent hadits been three or four days. Ive had some interesting conversations within those three, four days, but I dont know. My job is to get back into the studio. Ive been waiting to exhale, and Im exhaling right now. Now I can actually work.
DX: Is that what the process is now, shopping an album instead of shopping yourself as an artist?
RK: Im blessed enough to have relationships with Dr. Dre or Bun B or Jazze Pha, and have somebody say, What are you doing? Get in here now. Lets do it! Okay, fuck it, lets do it! I think Im in unique category because I think people genuinely respect my talent and genuinely like me and are rooting for me, so thats my blessings. Thats what HipHopDX gave me, and XXL and The Source, Im your favorite rappers favorite rapper, then Im a cool dude too. I dont have a lot of enemies in this business. I just happened to make some enemies that could control my life. [Laughs] Now that weve made peace, the rest is just work ethic.
DX: Youve been so patient. How much of the situation your looking for will come down to how fast you can get an album on shelves?
RK: Thats a tricky question. I made what I felt. So Institutionalized was the album I wanted to make. Did I get to do it in a $2,000 a day studio? No. Did I want Kanye [West] to do a beat? Maybe. With the tools Ive had to work with, Ive made the albums Ive wanted to make.
I actually havent been interested in making an album recently. [Laughs] Thats probably not a good thing, or a cool thing to say in an interview, but its true, so fuck, Im usually penalized cause I tell the truth. Fuck it. Im not that interested today; I may snap tomorrow. Im in like happy-mode, I just want to be thanking God. Im observant. I just like just listening. Im seeing the world through a whole new set of eyes than I have. The only thing I can compare it to is when I got my lasik surgery. I can see. So right now, Im just looking around. [Laughs]
Xzibit asked me to write 100 songs in prison. I wrote 100 immaculate songs. Then I didnt have nothing to do with them. [Laughs] I got a million songs in a million notebooks. I got more catalogues than 2Pac probably, to be honest. All I gotta do is go lay em find the right beat to match em, or make the beat around the rhymes. Im constantly creating, but Im not in a rush to do an album till I figure out what the fuck is going on here. For me, Im just breathing easy for a second. I could pull up my Macbook and give you an album of fire right now. Dog, I wrote some shit. Trust that.
DX: You were part of the BET Awards. Being a free man, what was that experience like for you, without those invisible chains on you?
RK: It was a blessing. I want to thank BET for reaching out to me. Its like being ostracized. I havent had the opportunity to be part of my fraternity, which is emcees. It was just nice, and ironically perfect timing.
DX: For those tuning in, who else is part of the cipher, the fraternity?
RK: Mine was me, Joell Ortiz and Cassidy.
DX: How true of a cipher was it?
RK: For the most part, it was. I think we kind of had an idea of what we was gonna say, but we had to work within the parameters, so we had to start switchin shit up. Every take was different. It was 90% freestyling, which was cool. But even a freestyle aint a freestyle. As a freestyler, youre not gonna freestyle cause youre gonna look at dude and start thinking of shit you could say about him, if youre battling somebody. That was the cool shit; we all kind of went into it on that. I think it came out dope. I said one line in mine and Bun B turned around and gave me the thumbs up, that meant a lot to me.
DX: Last question. Your fans have signed petitions for you, theyve made your two label albums collectors items, theyve rode hard. In the interim between now and whats next, what can fans for you?
RK: I just want to say thanks. I think theyve done enough. Hit me on Myspace; I do some interesting things, check my funny pictures and shit. [Laughs] Get a laugh. Im grateful to my peers, to my friends I call my fans my friends, to the critics who actually thought it was worthwhile to even write about me. My homeboy Clay [Evans] that runs Grand Hustle told me when I came out of prison, and hes with one of the biggest artists in T.I., Nigga, you the shit. But theres so many people whove sold more records than you, who nobody gives a fuck about, and you still aint sold what you supposed to, but people want you to. Thats a big thing to take in. I didnt feel like the end of the world, ever, because I always had people pulling for me. I just want the fans to get ready for the show, its a wrap. Ill tell you one thing: I used to get slightly offended. You cant name a Top 10 and not mention me. For anybody who does, Ive got something to prove to them.