It's 1996, a turning point in music. Stacked high above your combination CD/cassette deck in heavy rotation are numerous hip-hop classics like 2Pac's All Eyez on Me, the Fugees' The Score, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, and Nas' It Was Written. If you're like us here at County Grind, you dug deeper than just the mainstream and pulled out backpacker classics like Heltah Skeltah's Nocturnal, Ghostface Killah's Ironman, and, last but not least, Ras Kass' Soul on Ice.
From the minute Ras emerged on the scene among the often-bubblegum raps dominating airwaves, he stood out as one of hip-hop's most talented lyricists. One listen to the critically acclaimed track "Nature of the Threat," and you realized -- hip-hop doesn't have to be about busting gats and banging hoes. Rather, hip-hop, if done right, can explore issues like religion, homosexuality, the government, and even the history of Western Civilization, as evidenced all over Soul on Ice.
Since then, Ras has continued to release critically acclaimed albums, from 1998's Rasassination to 2010's A.D.I.D.A.S. (All Day I Dream About Spittin). His thoughts and beliefs have evolved -- but one thing has remained the same -- Ras Kass can rap with the best of them. On the eve of his return to the Fort Lauderdale area to perform at Green Room's Brown Bag Wednesdays, County Grind caught up with Ras Kass for a candid interview.
County Grind: You are a former resident of Fort Lauderdale and have professed your love for the South Florida area in the past. How does it feel to return for a performance here?
Ras Kass: Ah, man it's a beautiful thing. It's been about two years since I did a show in South Florida, the last being a performance during Winter Music Conference in 2010. I'm looking forward to not just the beautiful weather -- but I have a number of friends and family in South Florida I look forward to seeing. I have twin boys age 14 that live in North Miami with their mother, so it will be nice to just stop and be a dad. But the first thing I'll do when I get there is get a haircut.
Do your kids rap?
They told me a couple of days ago they formed a crew with two of their friends. You know, nowadays with the skinny jeans -- I'm not mad at it.
What songs do you plan performing at Green Room Wednesday night?
I'll probably play it by ear, as I do at most of my shows, but you can expect to hear a song I did called "Miami Life" and a track from Evidence's album Cats & Dogs with Raekwon.
You've said in the past you have been inspired by Ice Cube, Rakim, Scarface, and KRS-One. How has each influenced your rhyming?
When it comes to rhyming, I'm similar to rappers like Common, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. Kool G Rap and Scarface had incredible stories, especially street stories. I also admired Scarface for the way he never glorified the street stories but gave more of an introspective take. Rakim gave me science, and KRS-One made me realize it was OK to use my big vocabulary when my friends initially scoffed at me for using big words. KRS also touched on history -- I love history and have a worldview I try to articulate in my music.
It's almost impossible to find a fresh copy of
Soul on Ice nowadays. Have you thought about rereleasing it? If so, would you rather go through a small label like
Institutionalized Vol. 2 on Baby Grande Records, or do you have more of an interest releasing music through your website as you did with
I know [it has been tough to find]. I had to buy my own album on eBay. I've thought about it, but a lot of my views have changed, or rather opinions have evolved. Not exactly changed, but you know when you look out the window you see one thing, turn your head and you'll see something else. Not sure I would rerelease the whole album. I have a lot of other things I want to get off my chest.
After releasing A.D.I.D.A.S. with Kickstarter, I learned a lot about creative marketing. The way I look at it over the years, I got burned like gonorrhea and don't want to sleep with another label. I can say I'm still here, though, and the sky is the limit. Right now I'm taking my time with my latest project, Oxymoron, which I worked on with Miami's own Jack Splash. Jack just won a Grammy for his work with Cee Lo. We don't know if we want to shop it for a major label or just release it through the internet. We still have a lot to learn.
What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop, and what artists besides yourself are on your playlist right now?
I feel like hip-hop is kind of stratified now. It started with New York; then you had the West Coast, then the coming of the South, and now even Canada with Drake. It's stratified. Hip-hop has evolved to be whatever who's practicing it makes it.
It's recognized around the world, but we need to be recognized for bringing change and progress to our communities. As far as what I'm putting on what I call my "mixtape from hell," pretty much everything. Sometimes I feel like hearing Young Jeezy sell a bunch of coke. Sometimes I like to hear Lupe Fiasco talk about why he didn't vote for the president. You have to be a student of the game -- don't think you are the master or you'll stop learning.
Ras Kass with Dynas, LMS, and Co$$ at Brown Bag Wednesdays at Green Room, 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale, on Wenesday, May 23, at 11 p.m.
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