Sonic Router 029: Why I Love Ras G
, August 21st, 2013 05:09
What sets LA producer Ras G so cosmically far ahead of the pack? Oli Marlow sinks into the psychedelic and tactile spaces of his Sun Ra-inspired new album Back On The Planet
I wanted this instalment of the semi-regular Sonic Router column to be about the hip hop producer Ras G and his new and expansive album for Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder, Back On The Planet. In fact, fuck it, I still do. Even though through no fault of our own we missed our allotted Skype time and his record already came out, I want to write about how fascinating he is to me, as a person and as a producer.
The first thing that smacks you full in the face when you listen to his new record is how thick he manages to make his music sound. But then there's also how incredibly well bugged-out his whole shtick is. There's times with a lot of artists where I fully feel like it's worth taking the tiny fucking SIM card out of my smartphone, and taking the 35 bones Mazuma deems it to be worth once you've taken the cellophane off and made your first swipe smudge, and going back to the lime green Nokia 3210 in the back of the kitchen drawer, just to avoid all the constant oversharing. But with Ras, it's different. Maybe I'm just starting to care more about the types of spiritual platitudes he's serving up alongside those lingering shots of vegetarian food and fuzzy photos of weathered jazz records, now that I'm approaching 30 and wondering where the time went. (And no, I'm not about to put up ceramic letters on my bookshelf that say DREAM, BELIEVE or DESIRE.)
When Ras talks about being locked out of reality or zoned somewhere completely different, it gives me this weird type of hope about everything. In a way it's the same thing with WANDA GROUP - the Brighton based drone artist who only speaks in all caps online and mostly talks about the things he thinks in his head - they've both created characters that are so utterly of themselves that you become invested in them. I've tried to before, but I can't ever really explain that sense of a connection with someone you 'follow' on the internet. I guess at some points you just develop a kinship with a projected persona, buying into the shared ideals, like how everybody who's ever worked in advertising always wanted you to. But forsaking all of that computer worship, across his wealth of records on labels like Ramp Recordings, Leaving Records and Brainfeeder (amongst others), Ras G's music says a lot more than you'd probably ever really expect.
If you've followed him for a while you'll start to notice how much inspiration he draws from avant-garde space jazz pioneer Sun Ra. Such a comparison might seem a bit far-fetched on paper, considering the distance between the galaxy-spanning free thinking of Ra and the hard knocking drum workouts of Ras G's music, but the link does make total and actual sense. Ras' dedicated fandom to the cosmic philosopher impacts across his music in many different ways. Sometimes his sense of space and/or reliance on sheer, contorted loops feels completely otherworldly and free of any form; and then there's the different ways he approaches those stonking drum loops, working the boom bap angles tactfully and in a different manner each time. It truly never feels like there's a fixed template for his music - it physically sounds like he's just trying new shit and eventually figuring out all the bits for himself.
Samiyam - another one of those American guys who's completely got his whole thing nailed down, in terms of having created a readily recognisable sound palette and style - focuses on making these short celebrations of his sampler, and Flying Lotus kinda went all out career jazz with a bigger, stereoscopic band and contributions from the incredibly talented bass player, Thundercat. Ras is one of those LA producers who came from the same Sketchbook/Low End Theory club scene, but seems able and willing to travel just as far within the confines his own head. And to me that's probably the best thing about Back On the Planet.
Of course you want to see progression in the people you follow, but the music has got to remain a little bit surprising to be one hundred percent vital. And something like 'Ancestral Data Bank' just blows all the LA beats scene expectations right out of the water. It's cosmic in and of itself, with its unobtrusive percussion loop just sitting there, veering in and out of focus, swirling up at different times to anchor the piece down to a time signature. It's a great song, sure, but its beauty is all in the way he sequences it. Like on 'Natural Melanin Being', the piece that precedes 'Ancestral Data Bank', he tees it up so perfectly, playing with slow lolloping drums and snatched Indian strings that fully serve to get you opened up, making you switch your head from nodding hard back and forth to doing those long, swooping ellipses that you only ever really see in festival drug casualties or middle aged men at big band shows at the South Bank.
It's gotta be super hard to really capture a person's spirituality in any kind of art, considering that such a big portion of the message has to completely transcend social surroundings and find its own level within the viewer. In essence, when an artist releases such true and personal expression, the audience itself can actually be the first stumbling block. But there are moments throughout Back On The Planet where all that kind of studious waffle doesn't really matter. Plus the unification of nature, rhythm and the sense of journey implied in the video for 'All Is Well' (above) is the perfect allegory for Ras' solo, DIY excursions in sound, even if the type of feedback it gets on YouTube is pretty much limited to people talking about peacocks.
Beats like 'G-Spot Connection' and 'One 4 Kutmah' - the latter quite overtly an ode to Ras' friend Kutmah, the person who started Sketchbook, one of the LA scene's first devoted club nights - hit hard and heavy like an unbridled celebration of thunderously brash and toxic drums. Of course there's a duality to the record. There has to be darkness and light - a day and a night – but for my money there really isn't another LA-associated producer I can think of who makes drum breaks sound like the hooves of the apocalypse one minute, then ponderous and contemplative the next, as the latter half of this album achieves with near-impossible ease.
And that's why I love Ras G.
Ras G's new album, Back On The Planet, is out now via Brainfeeder. He will be playing alongside Sweatson Klank and Kutmah at Birthdays on September 12.
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