March 9, 2007

Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (October 1, 1996)

Ras Kass, born John Austin, can best be categorized in one sentence: he's the west coast Canibus. That would be performing a grave disservice, though, as he is actually much better than Canibus. Ras Kass is well reknowned for his lyrical abilities and his incredibly militant Afrocentricism, but the fact that doesn't get publicized much is that he's smarter and better read than your average rapper (the title of his debut album, Soul On Ice, is a direct reference to the Eldridge Cleaver book). Perhaps his intelligence (he graduated from high school at 15), combined with his aggressive racism, contributed to his lack of success. He has yet to release an album that has come close to selling gold (which isn't a bad thing), and his old record label, Priority, actually blocked the releases of his last two albums and continues to blackball him to this day (now this is a bad thing.) To my knowledge, he is still without a label.

I suppose he's content being your favorite rapper's favorite rapper. The famed physician Dr. Dre has repeatedly called out Ras as being in his top five dead or alive. Ras Kass has actually been a part of two different hip hop supergroups, the Golden State Warriors (Ras, Xzibit, and Saafir), and the Four Horsemen (Ras, Killah Priest, Canibus, and Kurupt); neither of them have released anything resembling a proper album.

You have to respect a rapper who presents his personal views on black versus white history, racism, homosexuality, religion, and the like, with an intelligent point of view. He even approaches the requisite rap beef in a different way. (During his brief feud with fellow West Coast-er The Game, Ras made a reference to the late Steve Irwin. Irwin's manager caught wind of this and denounced Ras Kass and hip hop in general; Ras responded with an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, criticizing Irwin's manager for focusing on just one line of a six-minute song that happened to mention his client (never by name), but choosing to ignore the violent, sexist, and homophobic content that Ras admits was in the song as well.) All qualities to be admired; however, it is hard to get your girl to shake it to a seven-minute-plus history lesson set to an ominous backdrop.

Not that I've tried or anything.

1. ON EARTH AS IT IS...
I suppose I should be happy that this album doesn't start with another self-important intro. So be it. Yay!

2. ANYTHING GOES
I think most people who have heard Ras Kass would agree that his selection of beats are his downfall. For someone who is so well loved in hip hop circles, you'd think it would be easy for him to secure a Dre beat.

3. MARINATIN'
Meh.

4. REELISHYMN
I have to admit, I never would have thought to sample Little Anthony and The Imperials's "Going Out Of My Head". That's because I'm not insane.

5. NATURE OF THE THREAT
The aforementioned seven-minute-plus history lesson. I imagine if I were stoned while listening to this, I would start acting like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. Some of his ideas have to be true, though; check out the lyrics and decide for yourself.

6. ETC.
Ras provides his multisyllabilic flow over a beat that (gasp!) actually sounds decent.

7. SONSET
Sure, the lyrics are on point, but...

8. DRAMA (FEAT COOLIO)
True story, Coolio used to be a well-respected gangsta rapper who ran with W.C. and the Maad Circle, before he hot it big/sold out with that "Fantastic Voyage" and "Gangsta's Paradise" shit. Does this mean it's a return to form here? Hell no.

9. THE EVIL THAT MEN DO
Sure, the lyrics are on point, but...actually, this isn't bad.

10. IF/THEN
From the producers of Nip/Tuck and Face/Off. This/sucks.

11. MIAMI LIFE
I like this song, but it doesn't fit anywhere in the sequencing. Priority Records actually used this song to promote the soundtrack to Tom Berenger's The Substitute (I know, I don't remember it either). This was the B-side to a Mack 10 banger. Shot a video and everything. I don't know if a Ras Kass song is ever the appropriate path to take when promoting a film, but that's why I don't work at Priority. (The soundtrack didn't sell, anyway.)

12. SOUL ON ICE
Is Ras the original punchline rapper? Not by a long shot. But he's one of the better ones.

13. ORDO ABCHADO (ORDER OUT OF CHAOS)
With a title like that, it's no wonder this was the summer jam to beat in 1996.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Soul On Ice serves as a weak debut from a very promising artist. The lyrics he spits are at times amazing, fantastic, and brilliant, but his choice in beats kills any momentum built. I suppose he didn't really have a lot of choices in his beats, this being his debut album and all, but it's hard to get into what he's saying when the instrumentals in the background distract...oh, wow! The back of the CD is shiny like a mirror! How have I never noticed this before?

BUY OR BURN? This one is tricky. Word has it that Priority Records quietly pulled the album a few years after its release due to the controversial subject matter (but they re-released Ice Cube's brilliant AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted?). As such, you probably won't find this on the shelves, unless you luck out at a garage sale. Soul On Ice is worth hearing, for the lyrics alone, and if you have the Swiss bank account to support buying this at a ridiculously inflated price, then by all means. For the rest of us, do what you have to do.

BEST TRACKS: "Nature Of The Threat"; "Soul On Ice"

-Max

22 comments:

  1. Yeah that's hot!!Just played it not too long agao and Rassy was unleashed on some of these tracks.This jarn is still live man even today!Plus Rass Kass is one of my favorite spitters.

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  2. Man, I feel like your review is way off here. Granted, I am beyond diehard about this guy (as H20Proof was the first song I ever downloaded from the internet in 1997) but there are some things in this review that either have been addressed by RK multiple times, are old news, or are just plain wrong.

    First and foremost, RK won his case against Priority Records. They agreed to pay him a massive sum (roughly $5 million) for damages incurred though he is still tied up in litigation with Capital Records. As such, he cannot officially say it, but he is most likely going to be signed to Aftermath.

    Second, RK has consitently responded to claims decrying the beats on his albums. He has never tried to make club music or hire producers for a more popular sound. RK's music is the message.

    Third, in the forums on his official site, he published responses to many of the letters he received in jail. I suggest you read some of those responses that deal with his supposed racism. It should hopefully change your mind about where he is coming from in many of his songs.

    Soul On Ice is an unquestionable classic. I won't bother to say it is 'Top 10' or any of that nonsense, but if anyone is interested in what hip-hop can be -social commentary, funny, poignant, etc.- this album is the place to start. With all the fake garbage selling millions these days, it is hard to believe that this album is 10 years old and still as relevant as ever.

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  3. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate any readers that I get. I stand by my initial review, especially since I was listening to the album at the time I was writing. I don't decry Ras Kass for his supposed racism, since everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs. I do decry the beats, because even though I appreciate that he has never been one to make the requisite club banger, the beats (in my opinion) did not match the quality of the rhymes, of which I believe are fantastic.
    That's why I wrote that his rhymes are worth hearing. Ras isn't in my top five dead or alive or anything, but I believe him to be one of the best spitters out there today. And I hope the Aftermath rumor is true, even though that would probably lead to more Ras/G-Unit collabos down the road...
    Anyway, thanks for reading, I always appreciate a well-informed opinion that's not of the "your review is fucking weak" variety.

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  4. I may be alone in thinking that every single beat on this album is a work of genius. every time I see this album dissed re:the beats, I scratch my head in confusion. they're excellent. nice review overall though, I lol'ed in a couple of places.

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  5. ChristianJuly 10, 2007

    Hmm I feel like the poster above me. So you're not the only one in the world who likes the beats. Actually I don't just like the beats, I love them. Why? Because they sound so outlandish and not like anything in that era of rap or anything else for that matter. ON EARTH AS IT IS... is one of my favourite tracks ever. The production really makes it sound like some old testament wrath of god like revelation and Anything Goes is equally dope.
    The biggest deal with the beats though, is how they compliment Ras' flow. They are tailormade for him to spit off beat on. Man fuck a Dre beat. Leave that for all the Interscope MTV single complilation that they call albums. Dre is a fantastic producer but i really like that the album dosen't have that whole westcoast g-funk sound...it really makes it unique. The poster above wouldn't call it a top 10 album. Well I will and I'm not grown up with Ras Kass or anything. Heard it first time 2 yeats back and I'm white...

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  6. ChristianJuly 10, 2007

    Oh I missed something in my little rant:)
    Ras tried the hit Dre formula on his next album and it just didn't work. It sounded real generic and it didn´t help that he also pursued the gangsta persona. On another note calling The Evil That Men Do not bad is just insulting. At least be fair when reviewing. The track is one of the deepest tracks you will ever hear and in my world the beats is perfect but even if it was acapella (ok maybe not) it would be an undisputed classic.
    But don't mind me....I'm also one of the people who thinks that Street Disciple allmost had dope production all the way through. Keep up the good work though. I love what you are doing on your site. Props from Denmark...

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  7. any chance you have the url for that open letter? I can't seem to find it.

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  8. ok, that review was old, but you don;t make any sense. how are you going to complain about the beats??
    you seem like you wanna just hear the same albums over and over. this album is classic

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  9. AnonymousJuly 31, 2008

    Nothing Ras has made since then has sounded this decent. The music itself made it rap music, not just the jay dee hiphop. Most instrumentals in this genre aren't good enough to listen to alone. If it complements a rap, and it certainly does that with this album, the instrumentals are appropriate.

    RK's history lesson was contradictory in the first three bars, though. Any racial sentiments were said better in Ordo Abchao, which was based on opinion and emotion rather than an attempt to pass fiction as fact.

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  10. I know I'm late here, but this album is a west coast classic... Julio G spun this album all the time... that's quite the achievement for Ras.
    And like everyone who also commented I loved the instrumentals on this album... thought they were top-notch.

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  11. your if/then comments made me laugh....good review overall though

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  12. 'Soul on Ice' is an amazing album; both lyrically and instrumentally. Bird's production is always unfairly blamed. How often do you hear a song on which the beat compliments the lyrics? never!

    The production on 'Soul on Ice' was amazing, and i do believe the beats can stand on thier own. whoever criticizes this album's production is either DEAF or completely IGNORANT.

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  13. Max,

    True story...A couple months after reading your review on this album I walked into a Pawn America to do my normal check of the used CD rack (I'm a serious collector, I'd love to compare are collections) and brand spankin new still in the plastic sat this CD starring at me. AND IT WAS ONLY 99 CENTS!!! I thought I was on Candid Camera or somethin! It gets better. A couple weeks later I was at a different pawn shop that I frequent and found "Rassination" for 3 bucks! Thought I share because that kind od stuff doesn't happen everyday. Peace.

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  14. another reviewer who is still asleep to conspiracy theories, dude is all true, i knowim being off point here but u got to wake up, why do you think every hip hop artist talk about it, u gotta remember that

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  15. the beats are good but not as good as other underground artist beats, but even if the beats still sounds a little boring, ras still kills every track with his sharp delivery

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  16. Why is it that amazing albums seem to often go out of print.

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  17. I think this entire album was incredible and the beats really really really aren't that bad at all

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  18. "Soul on Ice" is amazing, one of my favorites hip-hop albums of all-time...

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  19. The beats are INTENTIONALLY minimalistic in nature.. they fit the theme of the songs perfectly. Someone probably spit that "the beats are kinda ehh" shit at the reviewer before he listened, so that's whatever.

    Only track I can say was kinda iffy was Miami Life.. other than that, UNQUESTIONABLE CLASSIC MATERIAL.

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  20. You guys should review the Diamond D remix of the title track! Both the lyrics and beat are different and MUCH BETTER! Still don't get why the remix isn't on the album?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1rEAra6_B0

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  21. Awful review on an awesome blog about an awful album by an awesome rapper

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    Replies
    1. Anon is being awfully anonymous

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