Like most rappers, Ras Kass is always on the go, to the point where it’s difficult to track him down. After a long Sunday, Kass found a few minutes for this interview as he was leaving Chicago and heading to Columbus, which is the hometown of co-headliner, Copywrite. (Both men will be in Durham on Wednesday night, performing at the Pinhook.)
You can hardly blame Kass (real name: John Austin IV) for being so elusive. Being the West Coast-born-and-based, independent rapper he is, the man has spent nearly two decades hustling and bustling on his own, making sure everyone knows he’s out there. And you know what? Dude wouldn’t want it any other way.
“You don’t get to depend on a record label to pay the radio station or pay street-team dudes to go out with banners and hot chicks in your T-shirt,” Kass says. “You have to do it. You have to do it alone, and that’s what being independent means. But the flip side of that is that the payoff is greater. If you can successfully, as an independent artist, get your awareness known and when you become, um, the homie – Tech N9ne! You [expletive] around and you’re grossing $9 million a year by yourself! So, yeah, it’s a lot of work, but there’s a higher return on investment.”
Of course, Kass infamously made himself known as his own man with the release of his 1996 debut “Soul on Ice,” which is acclaimed for spotlighting his skills as an inventive, intelligent and individual MC.
“For me, ‘Soul on Ice’ is a very conflicted album,” he says. “And what I always notice about people is that they tend to either get with it for one reason or get with it for another. And, literally, there are two albums on it.”
Kass says the album reflected the duality that most MCs – and most black men – face daily.
Kass has continued to be all-encompassing with his releases, which includes “Barmageddon,” the album he dropped last year. He says, “‘Barmageddon’ is just about kind of ending some of these wack-ass rappers, people who have, you know, no content and just really got a cool-ass party beat – and that’s all they got.”
“Barmageddon” has Kass spitting bars with Ice-T and Too Short as well as young guns like Kendrick Lamar. (Earlier this month, he released the album again with some new tracks and guest shots from 2 Chainz and other MCs.) Kass says he wasn’t looking for an all-star roster; just like-minded MCs who share Kass’s sense of keeping it real.
“When you’re doing self-inflection, you don’t have to do a million metaphors or similes,” he says. “Self-inflection is bars just ‘cuz you can be honest about yourself, and if you stay as honest enough or witty enough, it resonates with people and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve kind of felt that way before too.’”
Ras Kass feels he’ll always have a career as long as there are audiences out there who respond that way to his music. Considering how rare those rap fans are to spot, is it no wonder homie is constantly out and about, making sure everyone knows he’s out there for your listening pleasure?