When word dropped down through the grapevine that John Austin was gonna be in town for a show and album release party for Soul On Ice 2, I was both stoked and a little bummed out because I knew I was already booked myself on the night he was playing in Vancouver with WC. There must be another way!
Like Ras Kass, a name borrowed from a legendary Ethiopian King, would tell you, the only time some of us hear our full names like that is when our Mom’s is pissed or we’re in something deep from the boys in blue. Still, the name Ras Kass might not ring the same bells that true heads to the craft would experience like a gong in their frontal lobes.
Coming out of Carson, California, Ras Kass came hard on the scene with razor-sharp bars, and a gruff and commanding tone welded together with thought-provoking, intelligent social commentary.
You think you’re woke, now?
Ras seen that shit coming two decades ago. Pfft.
Two of his early works that originally drew critical acclaim were ‘Come Widdit’ with Ahmed & Saafir, and ‘Miami Life’ from his Priority debut Soul on Ice, a solid album also featuring Dr. Dre, RZA, Twista and Xzibit. In addition, ‘Miami Life’ was on the soundtrack for the Movie The Substitute, which cracked the Billboard 100 Album Chart and hit as high as #18 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Album Chart.
Long before downloads, streaming, curated playlists and the proliferation of singles in the record industry, movie soundtracks were a great way to get a mix tape of dope new music with sick, and sometimes off the wall collaborations. These were compilation albums that used to be another significant revenue stream to movies in addition to helping promote the flick. They still happen today but their relevance isn’t as strong (with one exception being the Kendrick Lamar produced Black Panther soundtrack). Go check out the Juice OST or better yet the Judgement Night soundtrack if you don’t believe me. But that’s an entirely different piece I could wax poetic on at length.
Coming of age in the late 90s, he is widely hailed as one of the Left Coast’s finest, referred to by Source Magazine as the West Coast’s answer to Nas. About.com named him #30 on their All-Time Top 50 MCs list and not for no reason. Dude slays.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time and ended up with Ras at my friend’s studio last Thursday a day before his show at South Hall in Vancouver. You know, I didn’t even really think to interview him. Which is kind of dumb move on my part in hindsight considering the nature of this site, but honestly I was a little more laser focused on the fact that I had been working on a song that needed another MC, and if you are looking to sign a free agent for your next playoff push, why not get a proven performer.
I had put this half-finished work on ice for a minute to concentrate on other things and because in my years of producing hip hop, doing shows and doing my time as an MC and songwriter, I’ve learned that the best things come when you let them flow naturally. I’ve been on a run of shows for a few months and have neglected some other projects, and that’s okay. It’s when we’re out living our lives and just doing stuff, that’s when we find inspiration. And sometimes the universe throws you a solid.
So, I rebooted my old computer and wrestled with it’s snail-like responsiveness for an hour to find a rough demo bounce of the song I was after. Then I sent that bad boy off to my brother-in-tonearms, DJ 151, tied up some loose ends and we were on our way. While I ripped out my hair navigating through North Shore rush hour traffic and a relentless Vancity-esque downpour, Ras hit the notepad and by the time I was there he had most of his verse ready. We said our hellos, talked for a bit, and had a couple laughs before he was ready to lay some takes down.
It’s always nice to work with a pro. You can tell right away.
You know it when you’re in the room and you feel the strength, ease and command from the writing to the recording that only comes from thousands of reps and working with the best. The 10,000 plus hours he has no doubt blasted through. This guy is a beast and was hella nice to work with. I hope he starts to get a little more shine in the near future, as he has a bunch of stuff on the go.
Let’s get everyone up to speed.
His latest album, Soul on Ice 2 is available online at all reputable retailers and features a solid cast of heavyweights. Snoop Dogg, Xzbit, Cee-lo, Styles P, Immortal Technique and Everlast all stop by for spots on this high-anticipated offering that showcases the technique and strong social commentary we have come to expect from this wordsmith..
Then Tom Petty died/They ain’t like that
The irony is / They don’t like facts
Black drug addiction / We get jailed for our vices
They cried for treatment when it happened to the white kids
War, drugs, the Opioid Crisis
Big Pharm killed more Americans than Isis….
(from Opioid Crisis)
While we were tracking there was a videographer capturing footage from the session. Not an uncommon occurrence these days with the never-ending quest for content that most creatives have to endure in order to stay in the conversation and promote their craft. Be on the lookout for a documentary on Ras that should be coming your way later this year or in 2020. I don’t know enough of his background to comment with any authority, but he’s had his share of hard knocks and has managed to stay the course and keep forging ahead. Peep the doc for a deeper dive on his life in and outside music and I will let you know when I hear more about it.
In addition, you can check out his album release party tonight at the South Hall in Vancouver with fellow Legend of the West Coast, WC, DJ 151 and a lot of other great local talent in the mix. Shit is gonna be off the chain, so get to the spot early, support the scene and spread the love.
Stay on the lookout for Ras touring throughout the fall and winter in North America and possibly Europe, as well, with Mr. Pimp Your Ride himself, Xzibit.
Lastly, keep your ears peeled for my next single with Ras Kass coming your way before the end of the year. So, in case you were wondering…
I ain’t done with this shit yet.
JT James is a DJ, MC, producer and writer based out of Vancouver, Canada. A veteran of the DJ and recording worlds he has produced several projects in the genres of hip hop and electronic music under various aliases including, James Divine, Track Nicholson and Sandy Villanova.