1996 was a pivotal year in Hip-Hop. The Fugees released their record-breaking sophomore album, The Score. One of Hip-Hop’s all-time brightest stars, 2Pac was murdered in Las Vegas at the young age of 25. Nas released his biggest selling album to date. Dr. Dre left Death Row to start a little company called Aftermath. The Geto Boys reunited after a short hiatus. Acts like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, UGK, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, Redman, Too $hort, and Outkast added on to their legacies with critically acclaimed releases. The debut solo albums of a couple of artists named Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Heltah Skeltah, Xzibit, Ghostface Killah, and Jay-Z were also released in 1996.
Another artist that made their debut in 1996 was West Coast rhymer, Ras Kass. During a time when gangsta rap was the dominating sound coming out of California Ras Kass’ music was all about lyrics. Punch lines, similies, metaphors, historical references and storytelling permeated Ras Kass’ debut album, Soul on Ice. The highlight of the album was a near eight-minute song called “Nature of the Threat” that chronicled the origins of white supremacy and its impact on the world. Nature of the Threat cemented Ras Kass’ status as one of the best lyricists in Hip-Hop.
To commemorate the 20 year anniversary of his rap debut, in the fall of 2016 Ras Kass released the sequel to Soul on Ice, “Intellectual Property: SOI2.” In addition, Ras Kass rereleased his debut album, Soul on Ice completely re-mastered and restored, as it was originally intended. Soul on Ice: Revisited also contains 21 never before released Ras Kass tracks.
Ras Kass spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the lessons he’s learned in his twenty years in the music business, the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, Intellectual Property, and Soul on Ice: Revisited.
TRHH: How were you able to go back and release the original version of Soul on Ice 20 years after its release?
Ras Kass: That’s kind of a gray area. They didn’t have digital rights back in the days. If they don’t put it out after a certain time, and they only have it for a certain amount of time, so we kind of went into the gray area with that. I believe also the other part of it is not having the same cover. I have the original. It’s very similar but it’s not the same. We kind of did some fuckin’ TMZ shit where they’d draw something with a marker over it and it changes the picture. Some of the things are remixed. It’s a bit different. The Diamond D remix is on it, we put Jack Frost on there, that’s why it’s revisited. It’s not exactly Soul on Ice, it’s kind of looking back at it.
TRHH: Sequels usually don’t deliver in movies or in Hip-Hop, but SOI2: Intellectual Property does. Were you concerned about living up to the first album when you were making Intellectual Property?
Ras Kass: [Laughs] That’s true. First off, let me just say thank you, I appreciate it. Yeah, of course. I never thought I’d do it. Period in life people are going to pass away. The nature of life is death. We’re born to die. I don’t have the illustrious billion dollars of Jay-Z and Eminem, but this is what I do for a living and I’m blessed to be able to do this for my career. For me I was starting to look at my mortality and what I’m passing on is my intellectual property. The whole thing with Capitol Records – this is what I leave to my children. This is what they can make money from, just like The Beatles. When Michael Jackson dies or Prince dies the intellectual property is what they’re trying to sell. That’s the money!
Once I decided I would do it, it was about making it bigger than me. What have I learned from twenty years of my life that I’ve given to this culture of Hip-Hop? What legacy am I leaving if I never get all the money and fame? That’s what it was about for me and I was definitely afraid. I don’t like doing the part two’s. I feel sequels is what people do – they sell you the same thing over and over again. But people are trained monkeys and want the same thing over and over again. I didn’t want to do that. I knew I was doing Soul on Ice: Revisited and it brought up a lot of feelings and emotions. I took it from there and I was blessed to have so many awesome people help me get it done.
TRHH: What inspired the single Bishop?
Ras Kass: [Laughs] It’s kind of the defining transition in Pac’s journey. That movie changed his trajectory. I’ve never talked to Pac directly about it but I talked to Treach and he auditioned for that part. Bishop was an ode to one of my favorite movies. I was feeling some type of way, to be honest. That was no fucks given. Fuck it, Bishop from Juice. He didn’t give a fuck. He started popping his homies and everything. He was a bad guy. He became like a bully. I didn’t’ want it to be too lyrical. I wanted it to be everyday street shit, life shit, that you would encounter and have that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude about those things.
TRHH: You have a couple of tracks on the album that feature the late Sean Price. Sean was a funny guy and an amazing emcee. What’s your favorite Sean P memory?
Ras Kass: I think my favorite memory of Sean is the one that he talked about in the skit before Paypal the Feature. Me, Bleu DaVinci, Rock, Sean, we was in his project in Brooklyn. We like rap music and we’re fans first, so discussing where rap was at and looking at our record deals, I still had my deal and I didn’t even know Sean had got dropped. I guess they weren’t going to distribute Heltah Skeltah through Priority anymore. We were in the neighborhood, two dudes from L.A. and the entire projects in Brooklyn. He came up with this rap scheme in his brain and I’m laughing like it’s so stupid that it’s probably going to work. It was funny and it was him. He was funny and he was a gang leader. Watching that become Sean P, he became himself.
Twista would always say, “When I hear your records I hear a lot of you but I don’t hear how funny you are and you’re a little more street than you put on in your records.” Twista would always advise me of that and I was there to see Sean Price actually snap – Twista would call it snapping. That was dope. I feel like I finally snapped, too. It took some things in the journey to snap and convey who I am in my music. I strived to do it but people didn’t get it. I found a better way of making it audible where they can hear it. Soul on Ice is still me, but it’s almost two different records. It’s very lyrical and talking about the Illuminati, and then there’s Marinatin’, Drama and fucking with bitches and all that. I caught flack about it every other album. Nobody has ever appreciated the fact that I was dealing with my entire personality. I never had a catch phrase or one way to make it a song so you could get it – like how Eminem had “My Name Is.” People have these successful songs that communicate who they are, I never had that. Ghetto Fabulous was an attempt at that. Sean not only made one song but his projects were him.
We were having a specific conversation about rap and he did the flow, the whole, “P!” It was dope that he told that story and I was able to get it and put it on the album. Rest in peace to my brother. It’s dope to be able to be a part of something that special. To me that’s bardom to have Sean remember Ras was with me when I kind of snapped. That’s awesome to be a part of my brother’s life and his journey — Sean, his daughter, Bernadette – it’s dope. Some people get some retro love for people. People started rocking J Dilla or Phife Dawg t-shirts but didn’t have love for the person in life. I’m thankful to have been somebody who believed in him and supported him before and after. I was there loving him in real time. Even with people who aren’t passed away, I can say I believed in Eminem when nobody fucked with him when he had brown hair. I like to support people because they’re talented, not because they sell a lot of records or it’s ‘cause they die – that’s corny.
You can look at it in rap and look at who people put on their albums. They don’t put necessarily the dopest emcees, they put the popular people. That’s not what I thought this shit was about. It’s about loving the craft, but it’s still a popularity contest. If Sean Price came back from death how many of these people that are successful would have him on a record now? Or J Dilla? How many people would buy that beat now? That shit is corny. Rap is corny for that. Hip-Hop is corny for that, it’s not just rap. Hip-Hop does corny shit like that – fuck with people after they die. Hollywood with them, wouldn’t do a song with them, and when they die they wanna wear his shirt. My favorite moment is knowing I was there when my friend grew and snapped. A lot of people don’t do that. They don’t support people from the beginning; they only support them in success or in death.
TRHH: Why do you think that is?
Ras Kass: If I had the answer I’d solve it. I don’t know, man. I’m not like that. I don’t know why people dress up like furry’s and have sex. I don’t. I can’t relate. I kind of don’t wanna know ‘cause if you know you kind of went too far. I don’t know and I don’t care to know. I just know that it’s weird and I think it’s corny to fuck with Phife Dawg and follow him on Instagram after he dies, or Sean Price, or Prince, or whoever. Love ‘em while they’re here, support ‘em while they’re here. And then don’t support an artist when he blows up. It’s easy to support ‘em when a million people jump on your dick. Support ‘em when they need that help and that support. That’s what I wish Hip-Hop would get back to – core principles, loving the talent, and supporting the music and not supporting the brand.
TRHH: You laid it all out on AmeriKKKan Horror Story and explained the disaster that the country asked for with Trump. Were you surprised on election night when Trump won?
Ras Kass: I felt the apathy amongst my peers, even the quote unquote knowledgeable people. “My vote don’t count,” and I’ve been there before. I’ve been to prison, bro. Once you go to prison you realize that there are levels to this shit. Once you go to prison you have to sign something where you renounce your citizenship. You’re no longer a citizen of the United States, you are a ward of your state. Basically when you take your deal and sign those papers you’re owned by the prison. I understand that there’s level to it and I needed to step it up. There were times where I didn’t vote and I can’t expect everyone to have a growth or understanding of where I may be at. I really felt the apathy of black people. I felt the apathy of young people who were busy partying, bullshitting, trapped out, and getting money.
I’m not trying to pinpoint one person but it’s indicative of Lil’ Wayne saying, “My life matters,” instead of saying Black Lives Matter. You can’t even be frustrated and say that. You’ve made millions of dollars, brother. It’s people that work their ass off at a 9-to-5 menial job and make $40,000-$30,000 a year. Come on, man. Have some empathy. We live in a world with no empathy. That’s what Trading Places was about. Have some empathy for your fellow human being. I heard it, “If we can’t have Bernie we’re gonna fuckin’ blow up the game,” but they didn’t blow up the game. They really just let the biggest demon win. When you have somebody coming out saying the things that Donald Trump said you can see the pattern. We saw the pattern when Barack Obama got elected of an 800% increase in white power hate groups. We saw a dude walk into a church and say, “Jesus told me to kill the niggers.” That’s what Helter Skelter was about – creating this race war that they believe God – the white Jesus Christ – told them that niggers and Mexicans shouldn’t be here or they should be enslaved, and white people should have privilege.
To quit because you couldn’t get it your way is exactly what they wanted. I was very disappointed in my people as black people. I was very disappointed in the youth as a whole. When I was 24-25 we had music that was giving us brain food, not telling us how many drugs they took. At least niggas was talking about how many drugs they sold to get some money, these niggas talking about being on the drugs! I saw it coming. I was hoping it wouldn’t I was just dumbfounded so I started trying to do the research to learn the numbers. I didn’t really want to reach a conclusion. I knew it was fucked up, I just wanted to know how did it get fucked up. Looking at the percentages and statistics was interesting in itself. To really come out and find out 40% of eligible people didn’t vote, they got exactly what they wanted. Everybody said, “Fuck it, my vote don’t count.” Well now you can kind of see it does.
I kept trying to tell people that if nothing else but what our grandparents went through getting hit with water hoses just to vote, if they’re trying voter suppression then it gotta mean something. It may not mean everything, but it gotta mean something. If they don’t want you to do it, that’s probably the reason why you should do it. Everybody fell for the okie-doke and meanwhile the polarized, galvanized racist whites went and did their job. They put the man in power who spoke the language of hate that they wanted to hear – white privilege, white power. It’s people still trying to justify that. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Admit that you made a mistake and hopefully we can change thing in the next two years! Go vote! I know we don’t have the power to select, but to some small degree we have to power to elect. We didn’t. I wasn’t surprised, I was just disappointed. I was surprised at how much of a margin. We did nothing. We bent over [laughs].
TRHH: How relevant is Nature of the Threat right now?
Ras Kass: You know what was shitty? I was doing the research for AmeriKKKan Horror Story and it fucked me up because I want to live in the world as a human being and I wanted to evolve past that and not believe that every white person was a potential predator, but doing the research it kind of reinforced that. It is what it is. I wanted to be more human, like the Common shit, the peace and love shit. It drove me to reach the old conclusion and that was sad for me as a human being. It’s not me saying it. It’s the statistics. The Amish voted – they don’t normally vote. They don’t like electricity! That’s the devil, bro. But they went and voted because he was speaking their language.
Catholics, the Pope Francis said Trump is not a man of God. He also said climate change is real. Literally in the Catholic community it splintered. White Catholic’s voted for Trump. Everybody who was white, I don’t care if they are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, the majority voted for Trump. Which put me back like, fuck, white people are fuckin’ insensitive beasts! It don’t matter what they profess to believe as a religion, their white privilege kicks in. It’s not even self-preservation because self-preservation is wanting to be okay. Their superiority kicks in. That’s sad because I thought we were better than that as humans.
TRHH: I agree with you, but let me throw this out there and get your opinion. I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, “Sixty million people voted for Trump, they can’t all be racist,” and also what it was is he spoke to rural America – the Idaho’s, the Iowa’s, the places that nobody ever talks about that are losing jobs. Trump gave them hope because he said he was going to bring their jobs back.
Ras Kass: Where are these jobs going to come from? The car companies have automation. Those jobs aren’t coming back. That’s like somebody saying they’re going to bring back carrier pigeons. Dude, we got iPhone’s. I think what we’re talking about is symptoms. I don’t really deal with symptoms, I deal with disease. I want to understand what the disease is, which is why I write these songs like Nature of the Threat, AmeriKKKan Horror Story, and even Interview with a Vampire and TV Guide to a certain extent. I’m writing to understand what the underlying disease is, not the symptom. You gotta understand when they want these jobs back the other thing is, “they took your jobs” it’s Nazi Germany. They took your jobs — the niggers took it, the Mexican’s took it, China took it. It’s never self-responsibility where you have to start changing and go get an education. It’s the niggers took it.
In the good ol’ days in the 1950’s a white man could work a job and provide for his whole family. Meanwhile, blacks were busy sweeping the floor for him and had to eat in the back. That’s all just coded language. It’s coded language for a lazy fucking middle-American white man who thinks he deserves everything and any time it doesn’t go right for him, although he’s disenfranchised intentionally enslaved people, that he deserves every fucking thing really easily. It’s a fucking excuse! And fuck kowtowing to the fucking white man! And by not voting and trying to do that third party shit, this was the wrong time to do that! You just gave the same devil all the fucking keys to the car – just everything! What a fucking moron show!
TRHH: I will say this, I was intending on voting for Jill Stein but after I saw how close this motherfucker Trump was to being President I was like, “There is no way!” I voted for Hillary. A lot of people just couldn’t get over whatever it was they had against her.
Ras Kass: For those people I say, there are levels. It’s all being sick but one is worse than the other. I’d rather have the flu than have AIDS. I’d rather sprain my ankle than be paralyzed and be quadriplegic. I understood that. First of all, I don’t like Hillary Clinton. I don’t like Obama! He ain’t ever did shit for me. But come on, man. Does that mean I vote for David Duke because I don’t like dude and I’m making a protest? You think that’s a meaningful protest? That’s false equivalence and what we did was a massive false equivalence. We’re going to suffer the consequences of inaction or being apathetic or ambivalent. If you’re not part of the solution then what are you? A lot of people chose not to be part of the solution.
Like I said, I voted for Obama and I didn’t like the guy. I saw some cool black people got to go and kick it, but I’ve never been invited. I said some important things that need more of a voice, maybe he should have came and talked to me. Yeah, it’s cool for the cool blackies. I’m not a cool blackie. He didn’t spend time going to grab leaders in the hood, he talked to the cool niggas. So who gives a fuck about that? It’s the same social strata, but I voted for the nigga because it was better than voting for what the fuck Romney was talking about. I watched Chappelle on Saturday Night Live and he said some funny shit. He said, “All my wealthy black friends are talking about leaving the country, but not me.” It was a joke but jokes are rooted in honesty. He said, “These new tax cuts are going to be good for me,” because he’s rich. But they’re not going to be good for me. I’m not rich.
Whether you’re black, white, yellow, green, purple, gay, or whatever, if you’re rich it’s going to work out well for you. We have a completely shrinking middle class. We’re going back into poverty. It’s going to be a third world situation. I’m a small business. All these Obama laws have fucked my small business up. Big business is going to be good. It’s not going to affect Capitol Records who fucked with my life. My small business is going to suffer. Rich people can complain all they want. The actors and everybody that sang is disappointed, but they’re rich, we’re not! If they don’t like it they could move. Where the fuck can most of us go? His jest was funny but it’s for real. We don’t have nowhere to go.
On Instagram I posted a picture saying, “If you didn’t vote I don’t want to see you out there marching and protesting. You had a chance to exercise your vote. So shut the fuck up. You’re reacting when you had an opportunity to be proactive. I don’t wanna hear the votes don’t count because now you kind of see they do.” A sister from Detroit went into the votes don’t count thing and I said, “Well as a black woman and me as a black man, if y’all ready we can pack up and get the fuck on out of here, but where we gon’ go?” The other option is we start the revolution. What I wrote to her is, “Niggas is too scared to do either one.” Niggas don’t wanna leave their hood, let alone leave and go back to Africa. And niggas don’t wanna bust no guns, they shoot each other! They do not shoot the people that murder and kill them.” It’s cowardice. It’s an internal cowardice within our people and I hate having to have this conversation but it’s where my heart is at, it’s what I’ve been going through.
I said it in my music from the beginning, and I live this shit. I said it a long time ago, “Give me 50,000 black, angry role models/Take me to D.C. I’ll throw the first fuckin’ bottle/’Cause I don’t give a fuck about a menial existence/And I don’t give a fuck about a resistance/Civil rights will not suffice/In the name of Jesus Christ, they got my soul on ice.” That’s what I’m saying, I’m most disappointed in my own people. I bet most of my friends that legal weed is gonna be gone. They’re going to repeal so many Supreme Court decisions – Row v Wade – it’s a wrap, bro. Digging ourselves out of this hole is not going to be a four year thing. They got everything now. Pence is worse than Trump. It’s just bad. I perceive it as bad. It’s not a “cup half full” situation. This is ugly.
TRHH: It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare. Let’s get back to the music; you touched on going to prison and your issues with Capitol Records; you’ve had a lot of ups and downs in your career. What has kept you motivated to keep going in this business of rap?
Ras Kass: I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. I’m in too deep, bro [laughs]. What the fuck else am I gonna do? I can’t be an attorney at law now, I got felonies. Perfectly honest, I love the creative process. I’ve never liked the business side of music. It’s corny and snakey and skeevy. It’s broken my heart a couple times. At its best it changes lives and makes the world a better place. I’ve been blessed that sometimes it’s done that for me. It’s changed my life in a positive way. Other times people have let me know and shown me how I’ve changed their life in a positive way. I feel like the creator put me here for a reason and it may not be to be the big popular cool guy. I’m okay with that. That was never really my motivation anyway. I do want to make sure that I’m financially stable and that type of shit. I deserve a decent house and to be able to retire. I work toward that from a business standpoint, but the other part of that is the spiritual and what’s fulfilling.
I’m fulfilled and I enjoy doing this. When I’m not fulfilled I kind of don’t do it. I guess I put myself in prison [laughs]. That’s what I used to do. I’d get frustrated and say, “Fuck this shit! Damn it all to hell,” but I’m too old for that shit now. I’m motivated by the journey and feeling blessed. Once again, some people work 30-40 years for a lot less money and hate it and dread it every day. I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and see a lot of this world, and hopefully see a lot more of it being able to say what I feel. I don’t even have to go say some shit that somebody put in my mouth, I get to say what I really feel from my heart and sometimes people receive it and support me in it. That’s a plus, I can’t complain.
TRHH: Twenty years after the release of Soul on Ice, what would you say the highlight of your career has been and what do you see going forward?
Ras Kass: I don’t really have a highlight. It’s been a good journey. It’s peaks and valleys. I don’t have anything in particular. I would say this, on Bardom I allude to a few experiences that I’ve had. I forget more than I remember, but sometimes having those amazing experiences with people I looked up to, I still look up to, I’ve been that fly on the wall, and I’ve seen some amazing shit happen in a genre that I really respect. It’s priceless. I couldn’t pay to have seen and done some of the amazing things and met some of the amazing brothers. In Bardom I say, “Me and Pun shared a pint of Henny.” I’m a dude from L.A., I’m younger than Pun, I was a fan and I pulled out a pint of Hennessey. He was like, “Let me hit that,” and we were in the trailer drinking Hennessey, just me and him. That shit ain’t gon happen again. Fuck bro, that’s awesome. Me and Big Proof, rest in peace, we were on the Anger Management Tour and all the buses accidently left us. We had to figure out how to get 100 miles to the next venue on our own. That will never happen again.
There’s no particular best moment, I just call those the Bardom moments of my life. I just had so many great journeys, and sometimes not-so great. Sometimes it was really shitty, but I think the good outweighs the bad. I don’t wanna depend on being a rapper for the rest of my life, but it’s always a part of me. I do want to be able to invest and help other artists. I’m still trying to put myself in a position of power and influence so that I can bring people to the table that I think deserve a chance to be heard. In the future I’d like to be the same way everybody else in my grade is. I would say in my grade is right before me is Outkast, Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, Common, Kweli, Mos Def, around that class. They have good careers and they don’t do albums all the time. They do albums once every five years or so when they feel like there is something to say they say it. I wanna be there, obviously, and making an impact, but not necessarily as an artist.
Purchase: Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: SOI2