There are a few constants if you’re part of Los Angeles’ Hip Hop scene. If you buy a CD from any so-called rapper walking around with a discman on Hollywood Boulevard or Venice Beach, you will not listen to it (You’re also a rookie). If you eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog off the street outside the Echoplex after 1AM, you’ll immediately feel your life is complete (You will regret those feelings profusely the next morning). And lastly, if you venture to Lincoln Heights on Wednesdays for Low End Theory, you will run into Brainfeeder producer Ras G (You’ll then realize he’s everywhere).
Even when he’s not rocking Low End as a performer, Ras holds it down as a mainstay of the eclectic underground Hip Hop producer culture dubbed LA’s “Beat Scene.” You can find him a few days a week at his day job, “ordering music, doing trades, you know—record store shit” at Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena. We caught up with him at work to talk about Down 2 Earth Vol. 2, his latest release on Leaving Records / Stones Throw (out December 9), and were extra excited to pick his brain on his intergalactic travels, the almighty Sun Ra, and Willow and Jaden Smith.
Ras G’s Humble Beginnings and Poo-bah Records
HipHopDX: How’d you start making music?
Ras G: As a youth, [I was] really into Hip Hop—my cousins got me into Hip Hop. And from there I got really into the music: I used to just zone out to the music. From there I got into producers and DJs and all these different things. I started deejaying, and from the school of deejaying, I got into making beats. And here I am, at work—playing beats, making beats.
DX: Can you talk a little bit about what Poo-bah Records means to you, as an establishment?
Ras G: As a store, it’s an outlet to get out of my house, ‘cause I don’t ever leave my studio. Coming here is a proper escape to a world that’s both familiar and unfamiliar compared to everything that I’m usually doing.
DX: Do you ever make music here?
Ras G: I used to—I have made music here. I made a lot of Raw Fruit beats here. I’m usually here just working: ordering music, doing trades, you know—record store shit.
DX: How’d Poo-bah Records get started as a label?
Ras G: Poo-bah Records, the label, was just a side that I had with Black Monk and Ron Stivers—we came up with it to put out our first record, which was the Day & Night EP. It just kind of developed into a very small, very quiet, very humble label.
Bap Rap Still Reigns Supreme
DX:Down 2 Earth Vol. 2 is subtitled the Standard Bap Edition. What’s that mean?
Ras G: To me, from my era of Hip Hop, it was all about the boom-bap era. All my stuff has always been bapped-out, you know? That’s the standard of everything, all music—but Hip Hop, especially. It’s just something I felt like I wanted to do, to connect with my younger self. It’s stuff that I do all the time, I just never really record any of that stuff. So I just started recording it.
DX: What makes something bap?
Ras G: It’s just the feel, you know? Bap’s the swing, break beat snares, chopping up jazz records or whatever record with really a laid-back kind of feel.
DX: What artists from that boom-bap era influenced you?
DX: Any that impacted this project in particular?
Ras G: All of them. Every one of them. Beatminerz, Large Professor. I wasn’t trying to [sound like] them, or anything—it was just a feeling I was going for. A feeling and a raw sound—that raw Hip Hop sound.
DX: I noticed you’ve got a little 90s R&B happening on this album…
Ras G: That’s one sample!
DX: Okay, yeah, the Aaliyah sample. Besides that, I guess I just mean some of the sounds are very distinctly 90s, like the sleigh bells—I thought of Nas’ “Halftime” but there are so many others. Were there any other sounds you intentionally used to give it that feel? Or did that all just come naturally to you?
Ras G: It’s just natural ‘cause I’m a 90s kid, you know? I was a kid at that time, so all those frequencies are just normal. At that point in time, the so-called R&B that you’re talking about was really being taken over by Hip Hop. You had Pete Rock remixes, and a lot of the stuff that Teddy Riley was doing at the time with the so-called new jack swing—a lot of that stuff is just early bap, you know? So I never really saw it as R&B. It was cats singing over Hip Hop beats—Mary J Blige, singing over Hip Hop beats.
DX: What’s your process for putting together a project? Do you start out with a theme or just collect songs you make based on a similar vibe?
Ras G: It’s usually just me in my Spacebase, smoking a bunch of weed, and making whatever the fuck it is that I feel at that point in time. Straight up. Ain’t no telling what it’s going to be—it might be some bap, it might be some shit like you’re hearing right now. I never know. I’m just channeling and feeling the energy.
DX: What tools do you use to produce? Are you strictly sample-based, or do you use any synths or other instruments?
Ras G: I use it all, everything. All that. I use MPC, SP1200, SP404, SP303, I use Garage Band…I use whatever tool to make it happen.
DX: What’s the one piece of equipment you’d never be able to part with?
Ras G: A sampler. [Laughs] I’ll say it like that. I don’t have a particular sampler that I have to go to, but a sampler where I can get in and do my thing—recreate and resurrect a sound in the way that I wanna hear it.
DX: One of the songs on the album, “Lacking Give a Damn,” seems to have some kind of ambient room noise that bulks it up a bit. Do you ever do field recordings or live sound gathering?
Ras G: Funny enough, I remember the title, but I don’t remember the actual beat. But yeah, I sample everything. I do field recordings. I do it all. I don’t drive, so I’m always on buses and walking around in the world, and there are always sounds and different bits to collect, so I do my collecting. They do eventually make recordings, sometimes.
DX: On this album and listening back through your previous work, I found it really dope that all your songs are structured so incredibly differently. How do you know when a song is done?
Ras G: How do you know when you have on too many clothes, and you’re like, “this outfit is too damn much?” Why do I have on a sweater, a vest, a T-shirt, a jacket, a polo shirt, a rugby, three hats, and four pair of socks—I can’t wear my Jordans and my Timbs on the same day, you know what I’m saying? You just know, it’s a really natural thing. You know when it’s done.
DX: Who’s your favorite rapper that you’ve collaborated with?
DX: [Down 2 Earth Vol. 2] is going to be released on cassette, isn’t it?
Ras G: Cassette and vinyl.
DX: How do you feel about this recent resurgence of cassettes?
Ras G: I’m excited that people are into that sound… that feel… that idea. That shows that anything is possible. Everybody thought tapes were out of the game. Now, we sell more tapes than actual CDs, how weird is that shit?
DX: That’s crazy.
Ras G: It’s crazy as fuck. And we sell more vinyl than CDs.
DX: Is your recording process different if you know you’re going to tape?
Ras G: Yeah, cause I used to dub tapes. I used to make tapes. I’m from that tape era, so I know how to put together a tape, you know? Before we had computers and all these different things, we would dub songs off the radio, record ourselves, record all kinds of shit on a tape, just trying to fill up a 60-minute tape with enough stuff. So, I know about that idea.
Los Angeles, Second Best Place Besides Outer Space
DX: You’re kind of an anomaly, tackling LA by foot and all. A lot of people don’t ever do that.
Ras G: Man, it’s easy.
DX: Does it make you feel more connected to the city, in terms of how people are moving and what people are listening to? Does it fuel any of your artistry?
Ras G: All of the above, everything. I’m in the world amidst the people, so I’m hearing everything, seeing everything, feeling out the vibe of everything in life. So yeah, it inspires the music—it’s everything, you know?
DX: Are you LA born and raised?
Ras G: Yep, South Central Los Angeles.
DX: Any plans to get out of here?
Ras G: I’ve been all over the planet. I’ve been off the planet, off the planet—there’s no place like Los Angeles in the world. It’s a free place, free creativity. That’s why I like this place. I can do what I want to.
Sun Ra, The Afrikan Space Program, Pete Rock, & Traveling The Universe
DX: What’s your favorite Sun Ra project?
Ras G:My Brother the Wind, Vol. 2—the orange one—that’s my favorite Sun Ra record. And Antique Blacks, Disco 3000, it’s a lot of them. That’s the wrong question to ask me. [Laughs]
DX: What is it that you’ve taken from him, both in your life and in your creativity?
Ras G: Discipline, precision, a never-ending work ethic, and always being different and doing what you want. Down 2 Earth was inspired by Sun Ra. Also, he does a lot of crazy weird jazz stuff, the galactic stuff that people know him for, but he also does standards and blues, and all these different things that keep him rooted in where it is that he comes from. I like to hear a Sun Ra record where he does some crazy free moog solo joint, and then he turns around and does some old blues joint on the next song. It’s kind of how that record My Brother The Wind is: spiritual/jazzy right here, in this spot it’s kind of experimental with moog, and the next song is just straight-up blues.
DX: I can definitely see how that’s influenced you, with your projects being so varied. Was the Afrikan Space Program involved in the creation of this album?
Ras G: Not this record. This record was all me. I was in the ship by myself, and my man KhaILL [Sadiq], he came through, so he’s featured on one of the tracks.
DX: Can you talk a little more about them?
Ras G: Yeah, the Afrikan Space Program—that’s my group. That’s Eagle Nebula, Protius, the grand visualizer, Ras Terms, the grand visualizer, and the main emcee is KhaILL Sadiq. That’s my group, that’s how we roll.
DX: Do the themes in your album titles—venturing from cosmic to grounded—reflect any significant events in your life?
Ras G: Nah, it reflects the balance in all things. It reflects the higher and the lower—the duality as my man Ras Terms always talks about. It represents that. I blast off the planet, then I come back to the planet. There’s two different stories to tell.
DX: Which is your favorite planet, or should I say—state of mind?
Ras G: I like both—I don’t have one. I got two. I like man and woman; I like the balance of things. I’m not one-sided. Both play their part.
DX: Would you say these songs on this album are more grounded than your previous cosmic work?
Ras G: They’re standard, you know? They’re not too cosmic. They’re not out at all—they’re down to earth, they’re level. I wanted it to be a record that myself as a youngster would have loved to have heard.
DX: What are you hoping people take from this album?
Ras G: I hope they smoke a bunch of weed and listen to this record a million times. [Laughs] For real. I hope you be at home, wanting to clean up and shit, you wanna smoke, you wanna chill with your girl, you just throw on this record. It ain’t too crazy, it’s nice—you can go take a drive, or put the headphones on and go for a walk, go to the park—I want it to be that kind of record. Not trippy at all, not off the planet at all, like my usual Afrikan Space Program stuff. I just want it to be Clark Kent status, you know what I’m saying?
DX: I used to have a CD of old Pete Rock beats that I’d just play all day while doing stuff around the house.
Ras G: Oh yeah, Pete Rock is my dude. I love Pete Rock. Pete Rock is one of the reasons I got into making music. I was that kid buying all the Pete Rock cassingles, and checking for all the remixes… How kids are about Dilla, that’s how I am about Pete Rock. I’ve yet to see Pete Rock in real life. I’ve seen him deejay twice, but I’ve never seen Pete Rock around. That’s some good mystery shit to me.
DX: Do you think that’s still important—having some air of mystery? You definitely have that. Is it just how you are?
Ras G: It’s just life, man. Producers aren’t so drama-filled like rappers are. We’re usually in the studio, labbed the hell out, so you might not ever see us unless you’re at a record store, or at a show, or at work, like me.
Willow & Jaden Smith vs. The World
DX: This might be a crazy thing to ask, but did you happen to read the [New York Times] interview with Willow and Jaden Smith?
Ras G: Yeah, I like them kids—they’re dope. They’re not dumbass kids, they’re thinkers. They’re gods and goddesses, I love them.
DX: So you read the interview?
Ras G: The latest one on quantum physics and higher knowledge? I love that—I’m all about that. Anybody who goes against that is a fool.
DX: Did you understand any of those concepts of duality and higher knowledge when you were their age?
Ras G: Yes, it’s what you know. But their intuition is being cultivated to a better level than it was for myself. People like myself had to go through certain mysteries in order to be able to find ourselves. They’re at a certain point in life where they’re free to know that and it’s not just a mystery anymore. You don’t have to be dumbed-down anymore. You can use this Internet for enlightening things, to find out greater things, you know? Instead of having to submit to someone else’s idea about things, you can really open your mind and find—every question you have, you can find it. You can find your answer, or at least a lead to your answer.
DX: Do you think it’s a good sign that we have young future entertainment industry leaders as…
Ras G: Great thinkers? Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. But then you got the other side, that’s really competing and pushing for the dumb shit. So, it’s going to be a good war, as it always has been, and as it always will continue to be.
DX: For sure.
Ras G: Willow Smith, Jaden: come by the Spacebase, I got some books for ya’ll, and some weed. [Laughs]