Baltimore, Maryland rapper Viktor Rasiia is always hard at work. He released two projects in 2014 and wasted no time following them up with his latest release, Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes. Available for free download, Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes is as versatile as it gets, musically and lyrically.
Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes features appearances by Gov Mag and Evon Rasiia with production from Tone Jonez, G Money Baby, Mr. Kooman, Rob Luna, and Cartier Jones.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Viktor Rasiia about his diverse musical background, being mentored by the Wu-Tang Clan, and his new album, Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, “Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes”.
Viktor Rasiia: If you think about the description of lighting and thunder it’s noisy, it’s loud, it’s emotional, it’s attention grabbing, energetic, and it’s power. It’s so many things to describe it. That was how I felt about the project. It came from a very emotional and energetic space. That’s kind of where I was. With every song I was in a different emotional space and I just tried to pour that into each track. After it was all said and done I said, “This is like lightning,” hoping that I catch it in a bottle, you dig? [Laughs] Lightning is power, it’s energy, it’s all those things. I don’t want to get all philosophical but there is an Orisha god by the name of Shango. They say he’s the god of thunder and when they describe him they describe him like he’s an entertainer. He likes to be in front of the crowds and get attention. The lightning part is just symbolic of how he would say and do certain things that would strike a nerve in the blink of an eye. When I read that I was like, “That’s dope. I like that.” I kinda put all that together and that’s where it came from.
Viktor Rasiia: Natty Bohnz was more based on where I’m born and raised, Baltimore. It’s funny ‘cause right where the Freddie Gray thing went down my mother grew up a block from there. I spent a great deal of my childhood there because my grandmother and my cousins still live around there. Pennsylvania Avenue is where it used to pop in the city. It used to be Main street way back in the day. I went to visit my grandmother and she had some newspaper clippings talking about Pennsylvania Avenue, the Chitlin’ Circuit, how Duke Ellington and other famous artists would be there performing all the time. It’s a statue of Billie Holiday on that same block. It’s a lot of beauty around there but after the Martin Luther King riots it got all fucked up. It’s sad to see the riots occur in the same area that was starting to come back a little bit, but not much. They burned it down and fucked it all up again. Even before all that occurred I delved into the history of the music of back then – the soul sound, the jazz sound. It inspired me to make Natty Bohnz. Natty Bohnz is a play on “Natty Boh” which is a beer brewed in Baltimore. It has a cult following out there. With VRS there really wasn’t no plan. I just made a bunch of songs and put ‘em all together [laughs]. It was just creating, there was no vision at all for that. I think it’s dope that people who heard it feel it. I was just getting back into music. I had walked away for a minute. That’s what that was.
TRHH: Tell me about the single, “36 Chamberz”.
Viktor Rasiia: That’s me paying homage to the Clan. The reason for that is when I first started rhyming they introduced me to the music business. Inspectah Deck’s cousin lives in Baltimore. Cap [padonna] actually lives in Baltimore now. Me and Deck’s cousin got real close. We’re like brothers. I connected with the Clan through him. We started our own group and started doing our little thing in Baltimore. Deck was giving us beats and showed us how to work the beat machine and imparted a lot of wisdom into me. That was my introduction to music as a business and as something I was going to do for a living. Before that it was rapping on the corner with my homies in a circle [laughs]. I had never been in the studio before. I owe them for that. I got a long way to go before I get where I wanna be, but I owe them for that. That was when I saw it was possible to make money at it and do it for a career. Shit got real and I got real focused. I’m gonna always have love for the W. On the Rage Against the Machine tour I traveled with them on one of the shows. I saw the business from that standpoint and it opened me up to a different point of view. I wanted to do something to capture that sound and energy that made them so powerful. I got Gov Mag and he’s nasty. The truth is the vision for the song was I wanted to get an artist from every major state on East Coast. I reached out to a lot of dudes and they wasn’t really feeling it. Gov was like, “I’m with it, let’s do it!” The result was we came out firing like the Shaolin Knights would do.
TRHH: What’s the best advice you’ve received from Inspectah Deck?
Viktor Rasiia: That’s a good question. I don’t know if it was advice. It was actually him teaching me how to work the beat machine [laughs]. It was a black ASR-X. That was the most valuable thing. Something specifically that he told me was we were all in the back smoking and he was telling me how they all came together and put the money up to buy the first piece of equipment to make Protect Ya Neck. It wasn’t a whole lot of money, it was just hunger. They didn’t go into a top flight studio to record that. It was really grimy. If you listen to the white tape with the W on it, that shit sounds grimy as fuck compared to what you listen to now. That was the first tape I ever bought. He said, “That was just a recorder and a microphone.” That’s real and that came out of his own mouth. He told me a lot of stuff about the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods & Earths. That’s probably the number one thing and it wasn’t even musical. I came from a Christian background so I was like, “What? The black man is God? What!?” They gave me that knowledge – they gave me a lot of jewels.
TRHH: Were you initially receptive to the Nation of Gods & Earths coming from a Christian background?
Viktor Rasiia: Absolutely. My Christian background is unique, because I was kinda like the nigga that got cast out the Garden of Eden. I was in there, I was a top basketball player in the school, and I was messin’ with the bunnies [laughs]. They really didn’t like me because I was a little hood. Even though I was out in the suburbs at school I’m from the hood. I got kicked out the school. That gave me the feeling that these motherfuckers is full of shit. They talk all that Christian shit but when it comes down to really helping people and doing what Jesus did, not what you say he do, y’all not ‘bout that. That made me turn a blind eye to it, so I was open to another religious teaching. They came with some shit that was empowering. It wasn’t about being low and weak, it was about being strong. I could feel that. I was very receptive to it. I study many things now. I’ve studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and all the isms. I’m a little beyond any religious teaching at this point in my life, but back then that was the first thing that got me outside that “he died on the cross for me” shit. They stuck. You try to talk to them they’re gonna get angry with you and that’s real. The first thing that broke me away from being me open-minded to something other than what I was told as a child was that. That was valuable as fuck.
TRHH: Your sound seems like it’s taken from different eras…
Viktor Rasiia: It is. Absolutely.
TRHH: Explain that and tell me who inspired you to want to be an emcee.
Viktor Rasiia: I’ll go with the second part first because that came first. It wasn’t even inspiration. I was in that same private school. I was in a mega-church. They be having satellite churches all up and down the East Coast. They had a sister church in Virginia Beach that was like a few thousand strong. Congregations from around the country that was part of this network would come together and have a talent show, a basketball tournament, or whatever. The priest came to me like, “You should write a rap,” and I had never rapped a day in my life. I’m not thinking he’s only asking me because I’m the only black kid in the fuckin’ class. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. I’m thinking about getting on stage, doing my thing, playing basketball, and all of that. It wasn’t until I got older that I looked back and saw that motherfucker was racist as shit. He just wanted me to get on stage and dance and jig and shit – motherfucker. It’s funny ‘cause it turned out to be the thing I fell in love with and means everything to me. It shows you that God does work in mysterious ways because he took something that was meant to be a slight and turned it into my destiny, my passion, and my everything. It’s what wakes me up in the morning, among other things. I got babies, I love them [laughs]. The hunger, the ambition, the drive to make me want to provide for them, Hip-Hop is all of that to me.
My sound comes from so many places. My mother is a gospel singer. She never went pro-level but she recorded in studios and performed concerts all over the place. Gospel music definitely plays a heavy part. That’s soul when it’s done right. Some of that gospel music I don’t be fuckin’ with. When you’re talking about the Winans, Mahalia Jackson, when you listen to their vocals I don’t think there is any more passionate music in the world. Growing up as a kid Hip-Hop was what my friends listened to, what I heard on the radio, and my culture. The soul music also came from my mom. She would be sitting around the house playing Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and the Motown movement. I heard that my whole life, which most black kids did, but she was a major lover of music because she sang. She had a huge collection and when I first started making beats I used to steal her records and start sampling [laughs]. After that it was just me researching. When I get into something I take it serious. I really started reading up on artists and listening to classical music and rock music. I’m not gonna say I hate country music, because I respect what they do, but that’s the only genre I can say I’m not really tuned into and checking what’s going on. Maybe something will grab me one day. I could go to Gun ‘N Roses, Metallica, even Megadeath and crazy head banging devil worshipping music and I appreciate the anger and aggression in it. All of that influences me. It just so happened it came through Hip-Hop. I love music and I love to make music, but I can’t sing and I’m real good with words so rappin’ is what it was. That’s my shit though.
TRHH: What will fans hear when they listen to Lightning Flashes, Thunder Crashes?
Viktor Rasiia: My emotions, my points of view on certain things, really talented lyrics, and really talented vocals. Really the only person to feature on the album is my little sister, who is a vocalist. She comes from a gospel background and you can hear it in her vocals. Her range is insane. There is no choir, it’s all her. All the layering, the soprano, the tenor, the alto, from top to bottom that’s her. She is extremely talented. We worked together in the past but never where we put something out and had someone ask about it. She came in the studio with me, I wrote some lyrics, and she captured them perfectly, in my opinion. They can expect to be touched – I think that’s a good way to describe it. People hear music, but they ain’t really listening to music no more. It’s not all bad. Kendrick is a monster, J. Cole is a monster. There are great artists out there that are getting buzz and doing their thing, but there is a segment of Hip-Hop, and it’s too big in my opinion that is very much about what I think is making a mockery of the genre. Not just the culture, that’s a whole ‘nother subject, but the culture. When you think about rock music you’re never gonna see white rock artists making a mockery of rock music. Even when they had the hair band phase with the colorful shit, them motherfuckers could play the guitar, and them motherfuckers could write lyrics! The imagery might have been stupid, even the content might have been stupid, but the quality of the instrumentation, the recordings, and writing was good. You ain’t gonna tell me Motley Crue didn’t make some good fuckin’ records, yes they did. Poison made some good fuckin’ records.
I’m going off on a tangent but it’s relative because Hip-Hop is unique in that. I really believe it’s racist minds behind that. I don’t know if they’re black or white, but I think it’s on purpose that they take artists with no talent, get a writer to come up with something funky and catchy, and then put millions of dollars behind it. Every year there is a new crop of ‘em, that’s how you know it ain’t real. Why Young Joc don’t have a third or fourth album? Why Trinidad Jame$ don’t have a third or fourth album? Some of them sustain it, but 90% of them are one and done. Next year there’ll be a new trap king or whatever. Future is an exception. I don’t hate that music. It’s a representation of a particular part of the country, a particular culture, I respect it, but it’s too much of it. Hip-Hop was always about lyrics. That’s what made it what it was, these niggas was poets. That’s what separates it from every other music genre – its poetry and its rhythmic poetry. When you take that away and it becomes a joke and a fad to a lot of people it’s disappointing, because I love that shit and I need it.