Rap Pugilistby Rob Cockcroft, image by Jason Wessels / 13.04.2011
On the mic Ras Kass is nothing to mess with. His words strike like a pummeling of heavy black fists. Steady right hooks thrown at Republicans and Neo-Colonialist America, uppercuts to the music industry and sucker punches like the Mel Gibson diss track after his racist tirade was exposed, are what he’s known for. Let’s not forget the ’96 release of Nature of the Threat when he said, “Albinism apparently was a sin to the original man, Africans / So the mutants traveled North of the equator / Called Europeans later, the first race haters.” You see his ice-grill on album covers and stain your drawers. The dude administers physical jabs too. On New Year’s Day he claimed to have beaten the shit out of rapper, The Game, posting on Twitter, “2011 starts out right!!! Me and Gayme had a rumble Dude waaay pussy. Dont punch & run. We got pic faggot!! Happy New”. The Game’s response: “Gave Ras Kass a 2-piece nugget meal in da club da otha night. He went down n da 1st round like last time. Same soft chin. Different clothes.” Aah the rap life!
On Saturday Ras Kass put in his second performance of the South African tour promoting his latest album, A.D.I.D.A.S (All Day I Dream About Spitting) at Zula. The show was organised by Kool Out Entertainment, party organisers that somehow manage to throw mainly free parties and still bring in quality international acts such as Blu and Exile, John Robinson, People Under the Stairs and Akil from Jurassic 5.
My evening began with the pre-show meet and greet at the Waiting Room. I swig a few beers before I get there, wondering what to expect and already feeling a little intimidated. When I arrive, though, it’s almost funny how my gargantuan image of the rapper is shattered. Physically he’s a contradiction. The dude is almost as short and skinny as Mahala’s own smack talker, Montle Moorosi. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not like I would try go ten rounds with Razzy or nothing. (I’m a writer not a fighter).
I take my seat among the many local MCs, DJs and others involved in the business. Just like us, Ras Kass has had a lot of obstacles to overcome. From two jail stints to being bound to a shitty contract with Capitol Records that saw two albums shelved, the Waterproof MC speaks about the innovative ways he’s used to stay in the game for close on two decades. His latest marketing campaign through Kickstarter saw him plegdge the A.D.I.D.A.S album. Fans helped with the manufacturing of 1000 CDs and 500 Vinyls through donations and pre-orders. Alongside this he launched a viral marketing campaign called “Save The Ras Kass”, featuring a series of satirical videos depicting his “fall from grace”. Putting business aside, cats wanted to get to know his opinion of the state of hip hop and where he’s going with his own style.
“I think a lot of concious rappers only show one side, I can only do what I do. Fuckit I even listen to Young Jeezy and it makes me wanna sell rock and rob niggas.” He jokes. The Ras Kass bottom, line don’t take the rap game too seriously, listen to some intellectual shit and wild out to some jiggy shit, if you want.
I arrive at Zula around 10, adrenaline and gin and tonic coursing through my veins. DJ Raiko is up and his set is a devilish mix of old and new skool bangers. I’m covering this event solo tonight, our photographer didn’t make it through the door because of some old school beef. Hip hop! I take a seat, sticking close to my good ol’ friend Charles Glass. A few down and I can’t help but start jamming and rapping along to the songs. Dudes from Gugs are basically moshing to Heltah Skeltah and Wu-Tang Clan. The set was long but maintained its intensity throughout.
Mingus grabs the mic, hyping up the crowd for the start of the live performances. He takes the opportunity to clear the air about why Ras Kass hasn’t done shows in the townships.
“KOL is not some big sellout company, it’s three dudes. Me, Akio and Raiko. We brought this dude down here out of our own pockets.”
With that said he proceeds with the set. His style is easily palatable, non-pretentious and melodic. Uno July jumps on to a track and by now the crowd is filling up the dancefloor turning it into an inferno.
Archetypes jump on next, spitting their brand of quasi-intellectual raps.
“Hiphop is a fashion but I’m never rocking skinnies,” is their jab at rappers following the trend. The flows are tight but I can’t help but think rhyming over beats used by Ghostface Killah and MF Doom is a bit of a cop out for a show of this nature, especially considering Archetypes have been doing this for close to ten years.
Next, League of Shadows step up with an ominous stage presence. Like, you know some shit’s going down. They attack the mic hard with incantantions from the vault. Garlic Brown takes the lead with his exhibitionism. His eyes are closed, one hand raised in the air darting through the sky, disseminating poisonous vapours. His cadenced voice cuts straight through the crowd, even though the mic sounds muffled. Sammy Sparks (aka Fungus Mutated Lung) brings that tempered well-constructed rhyme flow pattern to the table .
By the time Ras Kass comes on stage, the temperature gauge is in the red. Each sip of beer quickly seeps through my pores. My shirt is unbuttoned and being used as a face rag. The heat is unbearable but I force myself to watch the set. The feeling was going to be hard to maintain after the intensity of LOS, even for a rapper whose earned his stripes. What we see though, is a level of professionalism like no other performance of the night. There’s a symbiosis between Ras Kass and DJ Salam Wreck. The beat and the rhyme drop simultaneously. Quarts are raised in the air at each punchline. Near the end I can’t take it anymore and I tap out.
In the car on the way home, we discuss the gig and the opinions get aired. “For me it was average.” Says my bro from deep in his hoodie. “He was basically riding on respect from Nature of the Threat, and performing after local gods LOS made it even more difficult to relate to his bitches and hoes banter. He’s a good performer and anyone who knows his music kinda gets quite comfortable. Bottom line is he has a thing or two to learn from Cape Town. All his underground fans will forever be chasing the high that came from Nature of the Threat.”
“What!? You tripping dude. Ras Kass came off as a true rap pro – his voice, his delivery, his flow came off exactly like it was on record, even in spite of the shoddy mic.” Adds a another. “Archetypes killed it, especially with their opener about rap cats rocking skinny jeans. And LOS! For those who caught their epic warm-up freestyle at the back saw some true swordsman at work, and I think they gained some converts with their set, especially with their closer “Kharma”. It’s only April, but it’ll be hard to top this one. I’m saying it now: Best rap show of the year.”
*Image © Jason Wessels.