Brotha From Anotha Planet: Ras G's Work Belongs To The Cosmos
The term pioneer gets banded about, especially after a musician dies, but Gregory Shorter Jr. aka Ras G, was a pioneer.
He was a key member of the L.A. Beats scene and was a source of artistic inspiration to Steve Ellison, y'know Flying Lotus, being fundamental both to his career and the formation of the Brainfeeder label.
Ras G's ability to combine soul, hip-hop, spiritual jazz, library music and film scores gave his music another worldly quality, but there was also a feeling of déjà vu. You knew it from somewhere, but could never quite put your finger on it.
From his early albums ‘Ghetto Sci-Fi’ and ‘I Of The Cosmos*’ to his final releases ‘Down 2 Earth: Volume 4’ and ‘Dance Of The Cosmos’ this producer pushed the envelope of what hip-hop could, and should be.
Instead of being satisfied with a 4/4 beat and bassline, Ras developed a raw wall of sound that was reminiscent of Public Enemy’s early work. It was just as aggressive and in your face, but more esoteric.
Here are a selection of cuts that sum up the man and his music. Of course, there are omissions - due to songs just not being online, or not being able to find the physical releases - but each of these songs captures the bounce and guile that made his music so infectious and captivating.
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'Ras G Theme' (2006)
Taken from the ‘Beats of Mind EP’ the ‘Ras G Theme’ feels like a fitting place to start. It features motifs and ideas that would appear, and reappear, throughout his work.
The beat is flawless, simple but tight and underpinning all the scratches, sci-fi sounds and gleeful wonkiness.
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'Secondhand Sureshots (Alternate Song)' (2008)
In 2008 dublab made a documentary about the LA beat scene. Instead of standard interviews interspersed with live footage, Daedelus, J-Rocc, Nobody and Ras were given to task of making music, in a short time frame, from records purchased at thrift stores.
They were filmed making their track and talking about their creative process. The four songs were then pressed on a super limited edition vinyl and hidden in the records racks where they bought the records.
The tracks were astonishing, but in true Ras fashion he made two tracks. This is that second track. It’s gritty, dirty, and incredibly playable.
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'Ghetto Sci-Fi' (2010)
Ras G once described his music as ghetto sci-fi, so it was fitting that was the name of his debut long-player.
‘Ghetto Sci-Fi’ announced Ras to an unsuspecting world. The album was filled with afro-futuristic ideas, ridiculous beats and samples, but there was a sense of fun and optimism that was hard to ignore.
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'Star Messengers' (2011)
Sun Ra was a huge influence on Ras and his 2011 album ‘Space Base Is The Place’ you can feel Ra permeating everything, from the title, a reference to Ra’s ‘Space Is The Place’ album, to the densely layered productions and wonky samples.
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'One 4 Kutmah' (2013)
Producer Kutmah was an influence on Ras, so on his breakthrough 2013 album ‘Back On The Planet’ he wrote a song for him. This is just as filthy, dirty, and raw and bass-y as Ras gets. Play loud. Play often.
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'Black Daffi’s Revenge' (feat. Jeremiah Jae) (2015)
It wouldn’t feel right not to include something from the Raw Fruit series. Over four cassettes Ras showed what he was really capable of.
The final volume opens with ‘Black Daffi’s Revenge’ and a sample about a love of tapes - “Tapes is fresh” - before an exquisite soul loop kicks in. Then just at the right moment Jeremiah Jae appears and almost steals the show, but Ras’ brilliant production matches it laconic flow perfectly.
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'Auset vs. Mary or Lilith' (2016)
When he wasn’t making beats, Ras worked in a record store. Rumour has it after a week of listening, and digging through, the gospel section, he made ‘The Gospel of the God Spell’.
It is a more laidback and fervent selections of productions, but shows that Ras wasn’t just capable of making visceral bangers, are was capable of making something expressive and emotional.
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'Track 3' (2017)
Tapes made up a huge part of Ras’ back catalogue, so it seems fitting he made contributed a release to Cassette Store Day 2017.
‘My Kind of Blues’ is another laidback and sombre affair. ‘Track 3’ features a delicate, almost cascading, loop that is underpinned by a graceful drum loop.
Let ‘Track 3’ carry you to space base and beyond.
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'Great Black Music' (2019)
On ‘Dance Of The Cosmos’ Ras experimented with dance music. The tempo is faster and at times it is one of the more simplistic releases in Ras’ back catalogue, but you can feel he was having fun creating something different. Not just keep himself on his toes, but is audience too.
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Before his death Ras G’s legacy was cemented as one of the most innovative and exciting beatmakers and producers around, but now he his music has transcended into the ether, like Ras himself.
On a personal note Ras was very supportive and responsive when I first started writing. He was always re-tweet what I had written and responded with a message of thanks, advice to keep at it as he liked what I did.
I had always wanted to visit Spacebase and interview him, but I never made that trip to Los Angeles. His music spoke to me like little else did, and does, as it tapped into something bigger and great. He wasn’t just sampling bits of records he liked; he was trying to sum up how it felt to be him.
Sadly there will never be another Ras G. He was one off, like J Dilla and Sun Ra before him, but his message of unity, peace and interstellar beat music will never die.
*Seriously if anyone has a copy of ‘I Of The Cosmos’ hit me up
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Words: Nick Roseblade
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