Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ras Kass (Ear Hustlin') Summer Grind Issue 2012

Royalty Magazine: What's good? How has the first half of 2012 been treating you? What are some of your goals or plans for the 2nd half of the year? Any upcoming shows or music we should be checking for?

Ras Kass: What's good? Everything is good. The first half of 2012 has treated me, you know, really good. We dropped a free project on djbooth.net. It's called Spin No Evil, me and a production company called Doc Hollywood. And we also got some traction on a record, a David Banner single. It's called Californication featuring Snoop Dogg, Nipsey Hussle, Kree, and myself. So, that's actually getting some rotation on MTV2 so I'm happy about that. So 2012 is treating me good, so far the first half of it.

And my goals and plans for the second half of the year are really just to continue working hard. What I really want to do is drop my solo project. It's called F.I.L.A. (Fuck It, Lose it All). And then I have a group with a dope producer, (multi-platinum producer) named "Jack Splash" so trying to get that done and get that done and out this year too. It's a lot of features on both of those projects.

As far as shows, (upcoming shows you should be checking for) I'm always out and about. Maybe coming to a town near you so looking forward to catching y'all. I did Paid Dues and I did, what we have out here in California called "Krush Groove", which are both very big venues. Hopefully I'll be able to, in some capacity, be on "Rock The Bells" and any other opportunities I get so just, you know, check for me. I'm somewhere around the way.

Royalty Magazine: That's wassup! Sounds like you got a lot going and it's always important to stay busy in this type of business.  So tell us about Ras Kass. How did you come up with the name? Also, what pushed you to take that first step with music and what kept you motivated to keep going? If you can...take us back to the moment you fell in love with hiphop...

Ras Kass: Ras Kass is really, he was actually an historical figure. He was an Ethiopian king and he fought with Menelek II over a certain part of Ethiopia called Shewa, the kingdom of Shewa. So he was a historical figure. His name was John IV and I'm John IV. So that's why I became Ras Kass. And really, it was really a metaphor for my higher self. Instead of accepting my government, or slave name, for me to still take the foundation of who I am and make it better. I haven't always done that. I've definitely acted a little more niggerish than the royalty part. But it happens how it happens.

My first step and what pushed me and kept me motivated to keep going towards music was a few of my friends. When I was younger they didn't even know I rapped until I played my demo for them. We were sitting there playing dominos. My homeboy Curtis Daniel (he owns Patchwerk Studios in Atlanta now), but we were playing and he was always like a real hip-hop critic. We were playing music and I played my demo, never saying it was me. He was like, "Who is this? This the hardest rappper I ever heard in my life." I told him it was me and he was like "Bullshit". Then he was like, "Damn! My homeboy is the best rapper on Earth. I never would have called it." So it's been people like that, that have kept me motivated. That one person that might write me a letter or see me in the street, (be they White, Black, prisoner, college kid, teacher) just saying that your music inspires me.... that keeps me going. And I want that check too, you know!

The moment I fell in love with hip-hop? There's no particular one, to be perfectly honest. I was aware hip-hop existed. I think what resonated for me was hearing KRS-ONE and Rakim. Those people just took me somewhere else. They just challenged my thinking process. There's been many people since then and then me, going back and learning the history of hip-hop, was a major influence without me even realizing it. Shouts out to Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Caz and everybody. Kid Capri, he embraced me. There's so much of hip-hop I've fallen in love with, some I can do without. But it is what it is.

Royalty Magazine: I can dig it! I love to hear about when an artist falls in love with hiphop and/or what inspires them to do music.  What came first for you...the rhymes or the beat? Do you prefer one over the other? If so, please explain.

Ras Kass: This was actually a good question. What came for me, honestly...most people were beat driven and I was always rhyme driven. Me and my homeboy Bird, we used to battle. He had a little mixer with an eight second sampler on it and we would always battle. We were probaly, like maybe in the sixth grade. And we'd make these tapes like albums. We'd go in the garage and one person would have to leave. There were mad records so we'd put all our records together and once we'd make our albums, we would battle each other. It always seemed that his loops were better (Bird). All the records were down there, but he would always find the better loops. I had the better freestyles because we wouldn't really write the things. I always resonated on rhymes. I don't really have a preference. I think the greatest albums are the blend of both.  Nobody wants to buy an acappella album or an album with the dopest beats but the wackest rapper. I don't like either one of those. I think both are important but people's expertise is different.

Royalty Magazine: I can dig it! You are a former member of the hiphop supergroup the HRSMN....Tell us what was it like working with Canibus, Killah Priest & Kurupt? How did yall hook up and why did you end up leaving the crew?

Ras Kass: Working with the HRSMN was a great experience. We started initially trying to do the project in 2000. At the time I was working on what would have been my third albm. I was also working on the Golden State album and I was working on the HRSMN album. Literally it was like a job. I would go in and do my sessions from noon to six. Then from six to twelve I was doing Golden State and then from midnight to four I was doing the HRSMN.

And the best thing about the HRSMN, the rule was that you wrote on the spot (once we agreed on the beat) and you couldn't change your stuff. So if you got smoked on a record it was up to you to give 110% with all these incredibly talented people. And I really enjoyed that. We reenergized it and tried to do it again, but it just didn't work out. What we all decided was not to air dirty laundry, not to make anybody look bad or anything like that. We hooked up in the beginning because of Wendy Day (Rap Coalition) and she had an MC battle. Redman was supposed to have a team. I remember Eminem had a team. All these different MCs were supposed to have teams. My team, (I already knew Canibus) and Kurrupt had a team and he wanted Canibus on his team. Canibus wanted Priest because they knew each other well. Canibus wanted Priest and I was acquainted with Priest too so we became a team and Kurrupt said, "I'm on y'all team too..." And that's really how the HRSMN started because of Wendy Day and the Rap Coalition. They were supposed to battle, but all the signed artists decided not to battle. But that was our team. We were gonna battle Redman's team and whoever's team. It ran its course but always a lot of great people and I loved that experience.

Royalty Magazine: That's a dope way to connect with other artists and I love the story about how yall ended up hooking up.  Simple, but sweet! Speaking of connecting with artists, you've also worked with Xzibit, Bad Azz, Jayo Felony, Wu Tang, Crooked I, Royce Da 5'9, Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Glasses Malone and a boatload of other artists. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? In your opinion, what would you say is your dopest collaboration to date and why?

Ras Kass: I've been blessed to work with a lot of different artists from all across East, West, North, South. I always am humbled by that. Producers, MCs, DJs, people I've always been big fans of. It's always dope to be a fan of somebody and actually work with them and they're really cool dudes.

There's lots of people I'd like to work with if it happens naturally because everybody brings a different element out of you. It's just the nature of the beast! I don't necessary have a dopest collaboration to date, but one of my favorite collaborations was with Premier mainly because of the day. The day that I flew into New York was the day Nas dropped "Ether". We were at D & D the day he dropped it so he walked into my session with Premo. And that night I ended up seeing Jay-Z. So it's one of those hip-hop moments that's bigger than me working on that song, but that song helped me be at the right place at the right time. It's just one of those classic hip-hop moments that won't be duplicated. Then I also did a one take on my first verse for the song "Golden Child" that Premier did for me. He said that there's only been one or two, and it was Nas on "NY State of Mind", to take a one take Willie on a Premo record. I felt blessed on that, that I was actually with one of the greatest hip-hop producers and I did something that made me stand out as one of the greats. So it was one of my greatest moments period all the way down the line.

Royalty Magazine: Great story! I feel you on how working on that song put you at the right place, at the right time.  Things happen for a reason and if we just let nature take its course, it can be amazing how things can pan out in our life.  If you could pick a team of artists to spit with in the next BET Cypha, who would you choose & why? What beat would you want to rock to?

Ras Kass: If I could pick a team of artists to spit on the next BET Cypher I would pick a very (I would say), a motley crew. I think I would pick Twista because he's an incredible lyricist, aside from his style being very much a Midwestern style. I would pick Andre 3000 because he's very much his own person and still a beast and a lyricist. Jay-Z, Eminem, Mos Def, and Nas. I think that would be a cypher because everybody is so distinct and incredible. You would see them bring out the best in each other. I'd love to make that a song if I could with production by DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and Dr. Dre all together. What beat I would want to rock to would be some new beat that was created by Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, and DJ Premier.

Royalty Magazine: Is there a difference between hiphop & rap? If so, do you consider yourself a hiphop artist or a rapper? Please elaborate.

Ras Kass: There is definitely a difference between hip-hop and rap. I consider myself a hip-hop artist, but I also rap. Anybody can rap. Being a hip-hop artist is more of a lifestyle. Rapping is just something that is done nowadays period. Like there's a rap verse in a pop record or whatever. It's just like tap dancing. Some people lived it with the soft shoe and whatever. I don't know how to tap dance, but there are some people who would have a totally different take on somebody that went to school to learn something, whereas somebody who lived it and grew up doing it. You grow up being a hip-hop person. There are doctors who are hip-hoppers, lawyers who are hip-hoppers. It's a different state of mind. It's a hip-hop state of mind.
Royalty Magazine: True! Speaking of music, how do you feel about the current state of hiphop/rap music? Which era (past or present) has had the most affect or impact on you as an artist and why?

Ras Kass: My feelings about the current state of hip-hop/rap is, because of the Internet and things like XM Sirius Radio..."you get what you want". It's not like you're relegated, stuck listening to your local radio station. Even if you don't like what's playing on BET or MTV you can go find it. You can go support it. And that's one of the best things about the technology we have today is that you can go out, find and support what you want.

I'm OK with the current state of hip-hop. There's some forms, some artists, some songs that may not specifically attract my attention, but I don't have to listen to it and that's the way I feel about it. Like... I don't have to hate on it, I can just not indulge it. So it's all good. I think everybody has the right to self express. Even if I don't aestetically like it, they have the right to exist.

The era that most impacted me would definitely be the 90s. I'm from what they call the Golden Era. Apperantly even my music came out in what we considered the Golden Era. I just think it was a time when rap, when hip-hop hadn't really defined itself. We kinda have determined what we are, like 'you're a lyrical, I'm a gangster'. Back in that era you had De La Soul existing with Run DMC, Nas existing with Biz Markie, Ice Cube existing with Ice-T and LL Cool J. It was a great era in music. It was still evolving.

Royalty Magazine: From your first studio album Soul on Ice to your upcoming project F.I.L.A., what are some things that you have learned throughout your career as an artist? Is there anything that you would change or do differently if you had the opportunity? What can we expect to hear from Ras Kass in 2012?

Ras Kass: Some of the things I learned through my career as an artist, honestly, is pretty simple: nobody's gonna care about you like you do. You have to learn the artistic side and you have to learn the business. What I didn't do initially on purpose was that I didn't want to be jaded by the business was ignore it. You still come up taking L's. I can't live in the past. Obviously I would change lots of things if I had the opportunity to do so. But I can't so there's no point in talking about it.

What you can expect to hear from me in 2012 is we stay working. There's gonna be F.I.L.A. coming, which is Fuck It, Lose it All. The Oxymorons album. The Stupid Americans project, which is hip-hop mixed with electro mixed with dubstep. We have members that go in and out the group. It's a pretty interesting concept. I'm just gonna continue to be creative, make the music I wanna make and try to make sure the business side is done as best we can to maximize the awareness, so that it's promoted as best we can with what we have to work with.

Royalty Magazine: That's wassup!  Overall, what do you want to accomplish as an artist? How do you want to leave your mark on the industry and/or what do you want the world to remember about you?

Ras Kass: Overall what I want to accomplish as an artist is to be successful. And when I say successful, I mean in the terms of what the business world thinks...which is making units, being able to be on the radio. I definitely want to do all that, but I want it on my terms. I don't wanna have to kiss no ass or make a record I don't like. I don't wanna have to be corny or contrived to be successful.

The mark that I wanna leave on this industry and the world to remmeber is that I was one of the greatest. There are people who would argue I am a top five living MC and some that would argue I am top ten, dead or alive. I wrote a seven minute history of racism when I was eighteen called "Nature Of The Threat", with no hook. I'm not just rapping and tapping. I make things with substance. It may not sell the most records but I have written some valuable information for the world and for the hip-hop community. I think I have a lot more to say and get off my chest.

Royalty Magazine: There is nothing wrong with that.  The beauty of being underground and/or independent is having that freedom to make the type of music you want to.  What's also important is making music with substance.  Do you have any advice for upcoming artists that may not have a support group or label backing? What are some Do's & Dont's you have learned throughout your career?

Ras Kass: My advice for upcoming artists that don't have a support group or label backing, is that you don't really need a label backing at this point. You gotta put your money where your mouth is. I watch a lot of people think that they deserve to be in this industry because they can "rap good". And it's not about only that but some people aren't as good as they think they are. I came from the cyphers where you had to prove it. You had to become legendary locally before you even got a chance to be heard nationally. And the rest of it really is just creating a movement.

My do's and dont's in my career: do work hard, have a good work ethic. Don't expect things to fall in your lap and don't believe everything that people say, whether it's really good things or really bad things. You gotta have a level head, be focused, and try to pick real people to be around you. Q-Tip called it, he said 'Rule number 4,080/Record industry people are shady'. That's pretty much what it is.

Royalty Magazine: Lol, true.  Good advice and I appreciate you sharing some do's & dont's through your learning experiences.  How can people keep up with you and/or check out your music?

Ras Kass: You can always keep up with me and check out my music at raskass.bandcamp.com or you can catch me on Twitter @RasKass.
Royalty Magazine: Any misconceptions that you would like to clear up? Any last words/comments or anything you want to touch basis on that we haven't already?

Ras Kass: There's not too many misconceptions that I'd like to clear up. I would just say don't believe everything you read on the internet about people. There's things that I've seen with my own eyes that by the time they get reported, it's like 70% true. You can look me up and Google me and some of it's gonna be true and some won't be true. But I don't have the time to keep trying to explain to people what isn't and what is.

And my last comments that I wanted to say...just thanks to Royalty Magazine, thanks to PB, and thanks to everybody who supports what I'm doing. And I'm gonna continue to keep working hard. Check for F.I.L.A. (Fuck It, Lose it All). @RasKass. 100
Royalty Magazine: Good looking out! Much love & respect.

Interview courtesy of @TazDatMC for @RoyaltyMagazine
Interview translated by Lucius Black for Royalty Magazine

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