'Back to the Lab' entries can be inspired by damn near anything, but this one in particular goes out to the brother who sat next to me during "Star Wars Episode II." My chatty fiancee struck up a conversation with our seatmates to kill time and after she mentioned my websites for the third time he said to me, "So what's it all about?" By way of explanation I said, "I run a rap reviews site and a rap lyrics site." His girlfriend looked at me and said, "So you can go to the site and just look up ANYTHING?" I shrugged and said, "Yeah, it's all there: everything from Rakim to Redman and Ras Kass." Her man smiled at me, and looked back at her and said, "See? He said Ras Kass. Now that's a REAL rap head, somebody who says Ras Kass when you ask him about lyrics."
That got me thinking - after being a fan of one of the West coast's dopest rappers for six years plus, why have I never reviewed his inaugural album "Soul On Ice" on RapReviews.com? So here it is, the Ras Kass review I've been meaning to write for a long time and never did. If you're still wondering who I'm talking about, telling you to get a late pass would be meaningless. He is quintessentially a rapper's rapper, the kind of MC who lives for the opportunity to effortlessly spit flows both simple and complex, with layers of meaning both subtle and profound. Very few MC's in hip-hop could be said to be on his level, but if you had to name a few who could hang Pharoahe Monch and Aceyalone easily come to mind.
Ras Kass gets tremendous love from the "REAL rap heads" my fellow Mace Windu fan was talking about, but for some reason that has never translated into stellar record sales. Like many underground rappers before him, Kass gets caught in that eternal catch-22 of hip-hop: deliver fat rhymes over inferior beats and no one supports, but do a song with a fat beat and even SLIGHTLY commercial rhymes and be instantly labelled a crossover sellout. The critical rub for years then has been that "Soul On Ice" (yes, the album title was inspired by Eldridge Cleaver) flopped because the beats weren't all that.
Since I've been known to go out on a limb with my opinions though, I'm going to do it again and say THESE AREN'T WEAK BEATS. Ras Kass co-produced a lot of the album's best tracks, including the lead single "Anything Goes," with able assistance of producers like Lamont 'Bird' Holdby and Michael 'Flip' Barber. Additional dopeness is supplied by the West coast's finest beatsmiths, such as Vooodu on the hip-hop classics "Nature of the Threat" and "The Evil That Men Do" or Battlecat on the playalistic anthem "Marinatin'." That's not saying there aren't a few duds on this thirteen track album, but how many albums with ten plus songs don't have at least ONE? Tracks like "If/Then" that don't stand up musically still have something lesser rappers don't -- killer lyrics:
"Murderous verses; motherfuckers won't even make it to the chorus
They'll find you AND your bitch buried in the Angeles National Forest
Anything you can do, I heard it done before, better;
but I can do you in thirty-six positions
Enter you like the Wu-Tang debut, now who remain true to the game?
Damn shame it wasn't you
Fools lay claim to fly rhymes, but I terrorize airlines
My mind's a porcelain glock seven, slippin through the metal detectors
Ready to wet'cha like baptism, it's rap pugilism
Let's play a friendly game of who can ruin whose career
I'm a Killafornia b-boy, you like one of Heavy D 'Boyz'
Got niggaz fallin off the stage like they was Trouble T-Roy"
Obviously, Ras Kass could teach even Eminem a few things about nasty and/or drop-dead funny punchlines; and "If/Then" has them all ranging from Eazy-E to Chris Webber to the Mary Jane Girls - and that's just the second verse. Of course, Ras Kass wouldn't be nearly as legendary as he is today if it were just for his funny punchlines. Songs like "Etc." are the proof of the "Soul On Ice" pudding, when a lethal tongue splits apart syllables with sharp style and showcases a superb selection of similies and massive metaphors:
"Niggaz know it's about that time without a Schoolly D 'Gucci'
I pop that pussy ass rap and leave it up to Luke to 'Pop the Coochie'
Truly a wretched steelo -- kept you 'Under Siege' like Seagal
Cause I housed more niggaz than that faggot named RuPaul
Y'all all suffer the consequences
I dispense dope sentences without a prescription
prefixes asphyxiate bitches who flips linguistics
Representin the West, relevant to relentless sentences
If renegade rebels resent this wicked syntax (then jack)
Revert to revolution Ras reverses, reverberates
Revolvin with written retaliation, rate repetitious
Reflex flex, regret niggaz regress to less than recoup
When recording, I wreck, records
Reflect stupid, it's so much more than just another rap and sample
Cause I model more styles than Naomi Campbell
See we been burning idiots with lyrical syphillis
Since E.S.T. was 'Ackniculous'.."
Sadly even seeing the alliteration in the middle of this selection and reading his historical hip-hop references throughout doesn't do this track justice compared to hearing him FLOW it. One line from the second verse sums up Ras Kass perfectly though: "If your lyrics suck, then fuck your record label's juice!" Unfortunately many fickle rap heads have been more than happy to hold Ras Kass to that higher standard, while much more mediocre rappers get second, third, fourth and FIFTH chances to represent wackness as long as a good producer is in the mix. The truth though is that the music on this album has always gotten a bad rap, and even after this review, they probably still will. The interesting thing is that a lot of albums don't even try to match the sound of a song to themes or moods, but "Soul On Ice" does and succeeds quite nicely. "Sonset" and "On Earth as it Is..." are both musically as ominous as the confrontational Kass lyrics, while songs like "Drama" featuring Coolio and "Miami Life" are laid back to match tales of macking and the street hustle respectively. Put "Reelishymn" in anybody's mix and dare them not to headnod to the rim shots and chuckle at lines like "momma always told me opinions are like assholes, cause everybody got one."
Could "Soul On Ice" have been a greater debut album for a man who was in 1996 already perceived as one of the nation's best rappers? Of course. In a fantasy world, every track on this album would be produced by the likes of Battlecat and Vooodu for smooth West coast shit, and by DJ Premier and Pete Rock for some lyrically mind-blowing shit with hardcore beats. It's hard to argue the lyrics or the flows could be better though, because the only thing better than the rhymes on "Soul On Ice" are the rhymes on the UNRELEASED version of "Soul On Ice." Heads know, and some of still have the dope shit like "Won't Catch Me Runnin"/"Remain Anonymous" single that came out before this CD. Sadly both tracks were brilliant and NEITHER was included on this CD for unknown reasons - and if it could be said anything about this album was a mistake THAT was it. Be that as it may "Soul On Ice" still stands as a testament to what an MC with unlimited potential and the free reign to say it can truly do. Even if you believe and downgrade the beats herein to far below the props they deserve, you just can't fade the lyrics. Some day people will know what me and the bro at "Star Wars" ALREADY know.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 21, 2002