There are individuals in the culture of hip hop that have truly helped create what we have all come to know and love. Ras Kass is one of those individuals. I recently had the opportunity to interview him, and I have to say that, getting to talk to him about not only his own music and experiences, but his opinions of hip hop, and life in general, were beyond enlightening. We covered topics from how he defines himself in the rap game, to issues he has with the mainstream versus underground debate, to how he and Alchemist moved passed their falling out. He also tells me a secret you’ll never get to hear. …but you should read the interview anyway. Enjoy.
So, for people who aren’t from a first, second, or third world country, and somehow don’t know – who are you, where are you from, and what do you do? …but not necessarily in that order.
I’m born and raised in LA. I’m a first generation – my Momma’s from Lousiana, my Daddy’s from Arkansas. I’m an LA nigga. At all times. I’m a Watts baby and a C Arson nigga. …and my name is Ras Kass.
…and what do you do?
I write. Apparently.
Apparently I write.
You spill drinks on people. That’s what you do.
Is that what I do? I do. Thank you. Thank you so much. You learn something better about yourself every day. I have a better inference about who I am now.
Tell me where someone could find what you would want them to hear first if they hadn’t yet started fucking with you.
I would say the one thing that tends to resonate is Nature of the Threat. For one reason or another, it continues debate, opinion. Some people hate me for it, some people love me for it. But I’ve met so many more people that love me for it, white people, that say, “Man, you’ve helped me learn, and challenge what the system tried to tell me”. …and these are facts. Then in college you learn that I just said facts. So I would say Nature of the Threat is a basic thread. Everything else is more opinion. Even that was a thesis, but it’s still based on fact. It’s not ego. Like, rap is based on ego, gravitas, machismo, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. I would say Nature of the Threat is – it’s not the best song I ever wrote, but it is the most historically – I’m just doing history. So if you take history classes in college, then it challenges you to relegate that, and put that in the perception of what is not true.
Cause I know history teachers that said, “You’re right, but you shouldn’t know that.” It’s accurate. I would say, to the best of my knowledge, I tried to do it one hundred percent. I think I messed up on about one percent of it. Literally, it’s accurate, ninety nine percent. So I would say, start from there – but that’s not who I am. I’m a human being. That’s just one aspect of who I am as a person.
How do you define yourself?
How do I define myself? I’m a very conflicted person. I’ve always been of two minds. Descartes, the duality of man. I’ve a higher self, a lower self. Maybe that’s the Satan and the God thing. I don’t know, I’m very conflicted. I’m a totally conflicted as a human being. I don’t even know if human beings should be able to hold these things (tape recorder) and have these conversations if you really want the truth. No, to be honest with you. I think there is something good in being good. I don’t know if good wins, but I have to believe that good wins because I don’t think evil should win. I don’t think the negative side of nature should win.
What are your biggest frustrations around being an artist, being a rapper?
The rapper shit, I understand it. My confliction would probably be about being an artist, because I don’t think American Blacks get the opportunity to be artistic. I think we have to get put in boxes, and we become what is successful. So, I would like to be an artist. I’ve always just been an artist.
What has been your evolutionary process as an artist?
Success. …that’s all it was.
Just learning from each point?
Failure and success. That’s all it’s ever been.
Do you feel like, in comparison to your peers, that you are where you should be? …or where you think you should be?
Of course not. You know that.
Talk to me about that.
No, I’m not going to talk about it. Simple answer. No, of course not.
Yeah, really. Why do you not feel like you’re not in a place of someone else?
I don’t make the same money as my peers.
But why do you feel like you don’t?
I got purposely fucked over. It’s fine, but I’m a man, so I’m not going to cry about it.
I get that. But the reason I ask is because I feel like there are a lot of exceptionally talented people who are not in the same place as people who are not as talented.
Okay. Well, that’s life.
It’s not for me to cry about it.
Okay. I’ll cry for you…
No. I’m a real nigga. I’m a man. I win. I shall achieve. So, everybody, for the most part, that are successful, they got a nigga on their team that says, “Rassy that nigga.” My reputation precedes me. I was taught by great people, how to be a strong nigga. I may not be great. I may be good. I may be talented. I have to learn how to evolve, adapt, and to conquer, but there are certain things that I won’t do to have success. …and I’m not interested in it. If that’s what makes them successful, for whatever it is – I don’t kiss ass.
I don’t make beef and hug. I don’t. I don’t. Because I don’t make beef. If I got beef, then I live with beef. I’m not a pussy. I’m just going to be the best version of me that I can be, learning from some of the greatest MCs and greatest real niggas that didn’t rap, hoodsters, gang bangers, bloods, Latinos, whatever, from New York, to motherfucking LA, to the Bay, to even Detroit. Niggas taught me how to be a real – no, we mirrored each other. I was taught from Louisiana and Arkansas and LA how to be a real nigga, but I saw mirrors. New York, Detroit, Miami, Oakland, Frisco – just the whole Bay period. There’s real niggas everywhere. I done met real niggas – Texas, whatever. I just want to mirror and try to be a real nigga. A real nigga knows how to carry power. I don’t know about the rest of these – I don’t know about niggas that ain’t built like where I’m from, but I ain’t got no hate for them. I just ain’t got no love for them. That’s all.
What does 2014 hold for you?
This DICK! …keep that one.
Can we add something else though?
So, we don’t get to talk about any of the stuff that you have on deck then?
Oh, you can ask me about it.
So what do I have for 2014? 2014, our goal is – we did a couple of projects. What I would hope to see first is the Apollo Brown album. So me and Apollo Brown have an album that is called “HTKG.” So we’re working on that, really blessed. It’s coming out amazing. What I would think would come after that is going to be Oxymorons. Unless we change the name, but me and Jack Splash – shout out Jack Splash, incredible producer, Grammy winning, incredible producer. Shout out Miami. So me and Jack Splash group – and then what I’d really like to do is drop my Ras Kass album, but we’ll see what happens. So I would hope to have three albums this year. Two groups that are very creative, there’s also me and Mr. Long from Black Sheep, we’re doing something and that might come out, at least some concept of it – I think I might do like a group thing, or at least like a creative embodiment of what I’ve been working on. I’m kind of creating this new persona that’s called “The Now.” So I just want to be “The Now,” because everybody just keeps talking about ‘hot’. ‘Hot’ was the wackest thing that ever made it into rap.
‘Hot’ don’t mean it’s good, it just means everybody likes it.
Right. I don’t need to be relevant. I just want to be now. I’ve always been here. I’m here now, so I’m “The Now”. So I’m probably going to term whatever I do and create this thing called “The Now.” I’m “The Now”. Which gives me an ability to be a little more creative, so it’s not Ras Kass, and I get to be “The Now”. So I can do straight electro record, everything I like doing, all the things we do. I guess it’s always a branding concept, but I want to just fucking be who I am. So, maybe, I think what we’re going to do right now, the songs that you heard, it’s going to be called “The Now.” I mean, some thing’s called “The Game”, and the so and so, whatever. Fuck it. I’m “The Now”. That means I never go out of style, it’s always “The Now”.
Who is your fan base as you see it, now?
Who is my fan base? The same people. My fan base is pretty consistent. Really smart kids that went to college, and really smart kids that went to prison. I have a very simplistic fan base. Very extreme. Always been.
Do you want to expand?
Are you really asking me that?
Some people don’t.
Of course I want to.
Some people do not. Trust me. I’ve gotten that answer before.
Of course I do. I think I want to be myself, which means that I would like for those extremities to meet each other. They wouldn’t even realize how much they have in common. That those very educated people don’t know what they have, with a person that never had an opportunity except for making a mistake and getting subjected to shit, that they could fucking end up meeting and being the best of friends. And all the people in the middle are the assholes. No, that’s the truth. They’re pieces of shit. They’re opinionated. They’re racist. They’re classist. They’re whatever. I run that gamut because for whatever reason I was born under my ingredients. This is what it is. Of course, because I want all of the middle, because the middle makes the money. The middle is ridiculous. They’re stupider than that one or that one. …and that’s my opinion.
The overly educated, fucking rich leftists, and the horribly mean, fucking prison kid are closer to the same people. There’s no equilibrium in between it. There’s no balance and those people need to meet because then you could have a meeting of the minds and it would probably make a better world. The right – you can’t fix certain people that hate you because of your skin. That no matter how – you can be mixed with this, they just hate you because they want the world to be within their own image. Can’t fix them. The rest of us, we still have a divide. Totally.
It seems like everyone considers themselves to be a rapper. How does that make you feel?
It’s okay. I have no problem with it.
Do you want to expand on that?
I need to you to expand on that question.
You don’t have a problem with the people who have not put the work in labeling themselves something that they may or may not actually be?
Okay. To expand on that, a long time ago before me there was rap and then it evolved into hip hop. …and then during my process, as I was born on this planet, it evolved into lyricists and spitters. So, I understand that my grandmother can rap. That doesn’t make her a lyricists or a spitter. Everybody can rap. Anybody can rap. I think KRS-One was the best one to kind of explain that. At the same time, people are becoming CEO’s and moguls, whatever. People will always use terminology to define what they’re trying to be, in a box that maybe they are not qualified to be in, because maybe you have to let them do that because that’s a noun. I’m an adjective. …and that’s the difference.
What are your thoughts on mainstream versus underground?
I don’t believe that really exists, except for the fact that when black people – no, not black people. Hip hop, because hip hop was not solely made by black people. When hip hop as a community defines itself, we change the boxes. I grew up when Q-Tip said, “rap is not pop, if you call it that, then stop”. I can actually define when that definition changed, Jay-Z said it. Loving what Jay-Z said, loving what Q-Tip said, A Tribe Called Quest was successful. They were gold artists, but gold was respectable. You didn’t have to be MC Hammer. You didn’t have to sell five million, or diamond, just be good and be successful because at that time you could get rewarded by being honest. Things have changed. We can’t live by the same rules. Things always evolve. Jay sold five and kind of made fucked up rules. I’d say it to his face. Jay changed the rules and then said the same things, and then – but he said dope shit. Hard Knock Life. I’m punishing the label for what they did to the Cold Crush, or whatever. Just because you sell a lot of records, doesn’t qualify you as being dope. Jay was dope. A Tribe Called Quest was dope. Now you got wack niggas being qualified by a rule that should have never been set up.
So, hip hop has not learned how to police itself. It has no respect for itself. It destroys, like, literally, generations of hip hop, in my philosophy, they literally – generations are 20 years. Gen – the term. Hip hop? Seven years. The motherfuckers are all grown and they act like they never knew you. Because there is these new kids, and we’re changing and evolving. We’re in a digital age. The only thing is we made these – talking slick is one thing as a MC, but creating a belief system, hip hop has a responsibility, not only to little black kids, or little Asian kids, but to little white kids and everybody. Not only to little American kids, but little Jamaican kids and little Australian kids, to teach them that this is a human journey – music. What we can do is make it the best it can be, or, we can create, what I thought rock ‘n’ roll was as a kid. Something where I think, “Oh, it’s the devil”, and they just bite heads off things. For real. We can destroy it or we can elevate it. I hope for the elevation. It changed my life, and I have to say that.
Some of it, I’m not that impressed by. I’m not a hater. Of course, it’s going to evolve. There’s going to be some truth and some negativity in anything. That’s in a family, that’s in brother’s and sister’s, that’s in a human being. With hip hop, there’s an opportunity – it’s a thing that changed my life personally, so that’s why I find it so valid. It changed my family’s life, just from me making a decision. My hope is that I can be a part of the success part, and a positive change. Yeah, I want all the success and all that, but I’ve been a part of it. I’ve helped some of the greatest MCs, and some of the greatest MCs have stole my lyrics. I’m not going to sit here and lie. I would hope that I get the win.
It’s a journey of incredible people, and now it’s not just New York, or not just New York and LA, or not just New York and Atlanta. Not just New York, Atlanta, and Detroit. This is the world, and there’s so many talented kids. We have yet to see the best MC. We have yet. Some kid might be from motherfucking Yugoslavia man. Kid that’s a student of the game, and he’d burn me. …and that’s the truth. I can’t wait cause hip hop changed his life, because hip hop changed my life. It’s actually changed politics. At its best, hip hop is the evolution of culture. At its worst, it’s just another way for people to promote how to be a fucking moron.
What’s popular, meaning, what’s a trend in hip hop right now that you can’t subscribe to? Or that you don’t subscribe to?
Really? What kind of question is that?
What do you mean, what kind of question is that?
I don’t know. As we’re recording this, I spilled water on my…
You are such a weirdo. Like people can see what you’re doing.
I’m making sure it’s recorded.
Making sure it’s accurate.
I don’t subscribe to being anything that you’re not. I subscribe to being who you are. I’ve always subscribed to honesty. So most of what I’m hearing in rap is not honesty. You’re just saying what people want to hear, but you’re not being who you are. People have to start being accountable. I like being a 90’s baby, in the sense that, there was accountability in rap, and you had to be who you said you were. That’s what I don’t like about rap. I don’t like people that try to fucking act like it’s 1988 and they say they underground hip hop, and they’re just a fucking stereotype of an era that maybe they didn’t really live, or give a fuck about rap, but that’s the part they like. Just be who you are. I don’t like hipsters. I don’t like old school people that wear fucking break dance suits and break dance – I don’t like none of that shit. I think it’s all corny.
Truth be told, I would just rather people to just be yourself. Be who you are. You can be a corporate person. Hip hop changed all of our lives. I know lawyers who can be a lawyer and still be like, “I love Rakim”, and be like, “Rakim’s my favorite”. An Armenian Kid or Jewish girl. You don’t have to dress a certain way to be what we love. I just hate the fact that hip hop lost it’s fluidity. Maybe that’s the word. Hip hop was fluid. It was indefinable. You just knew hip hop when you met hip hop. It didn’t dress like hip hop. It didn’t dress like rap. It didn’t dress like southern rap. It was just hip hop. Now we’re in these boxes and I don’t want to be in a box. I just want to be myself. So that’s my biggest fear, and that’s my biggest unlove of what’s happened.
How did you and Alchemist work things out?
I wrote him a long letter…
What did it say? Did you draw hearts over your “i’s”? “Dear Alchemist…”
I was like, “XXOO…Alan.”
Did you sign it, “With Love, Rassy”?
Al’s always been my nigga, so – it was very real at the time. He owned up eventually, and we made peace, and we moved passed it. He owned up. Trust me, between us, it would be great to have everybody there, like Jada, and Al, and me. I don’t want to talk or negate nobody. He owned up. I know what my math says, but it’s so fucking distant. He owned up to it. We don’t care about that shit no more.
Inquiring minds, you know. …you have anything you want to say about Game?
Okay. That’s why I asked.
Yeah. Not really.
There was a built in, no answer there.
Not really. I don’t promote – he was a stripper.
You know what.
I mean, no – a male stripper. That’s it. I’m going to keep it going. At least I’m not lying.
Okay. So, I’m done with that. I’m not afraid of telling the truth.
I know you’re not.
Okay. That’s it.
Is there a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked during an interview that you haven’t yet been?
A question I’ve never been asked? What makes you think how you think? That is the best question of Ras Kass. Why are you Ras Kass? Not why is your name your name. I am the process of the journey of everything I’ve ever been through, and that’s why I react how I react, and that’s why I write what I write. I’m the process of every Detroit, LA, Filipino, Black, White, Mexican, Jewish, Gentile – I am the process of the journey. All I do is spit out what I fucking process. …and that’s why I act like myself. That’s the best question ever made. That’s what we all are. People are morons, and I wait for people to fucking figure out how to be better people. That’s the real Ras Kass shit. This is what my friends tell me. I’m an arrogant asshole, and I think highly of myself, and I think I’m smarter than you. …and I am totally smarter than you.
You, meaning me?
I was going to say. …cause we can go.
No I’m talking about the listeners. I was not talking about you.
We could have beef. We can do that.
I’m not trying to beef with you.
That’s the thing, I write from an arrogant standpoint, is the point. I’m willing to go out here and engage the world and not close myself off and do the things that are comfortable for me. I try to be a man of the people, whether I’m up or down, I will go engage, because my grandmother taught me to be that kind of human being. Like, whether you got a dollar, or a million dollars, be who you are. So I will go engage, and that’s why I write. So, Ras Kass is really my writer, and then John Richard Austin is my researcher, and is my government – a white mans’ name. My father’s name. That’s how he was created. He was designed a certain way, cause John just goes to jail and does whatever he does. Then Ras Kass tries to process the information.
Tell me a secret.
I just told you one.
I don’t really have too many secrets. I have no idea. I really don’t.
(Note: A secret was revealed, but cannot be disclosed here. Sorry!)
That was the most random thing. If I really thought about some shit, then yeah, there’s probably something. I have no idea.
Thank you, move on.
What do you want people to know about you, like end of the day, bottom line, what do you want to be their impression?
I‘m the God of rap. So I have to prove that. So my journey, I have to prove, from 15 years old to the 37 year old man, that before it’s all said and done, I win. I’m better and they will bow. That’s what I want people to know. That people’s negativity can’t stop you, it can only slow you down and you can always accomplish your dreams, no matter what it is. I want to prove that – believe in yourself, believe in the people that love you. Some people will try to negate you. It’s not racism, it’s just some people are not here for you, they are here cause they hate you and they want to hurt you for no good reason, but you can win and you can change the world and you can do your part. My part is not to be so and so. My part is to be me.
I’m from the city of Lost Angels. That’s what Los Angeles is. There’s a reason for all this stuff too. We’re here for a reason. I’m a first generation Lost Angel. That doesn’t mean I have to create more Lost Angels. So John’s doing his part. Do your part – be amazing. Change the world. We can change the world. The devil ain’t got to win. Negative ain’t got to win. Not that I really subscribe to the devil, but negative doesn’t have to win. Good can win and I’m here for the fight. I’m fighting for the good people. That’s my story.