Features I by I 13.12.14

Sun Ra, blunts and hip hop: Ras G on creativity, rappers and the importance of record shops

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In the Amharic language Ras means head and has since become an Ethiopian title for prince or chief.

Used by countless artists in the past decades to denote a spiritual affiliation with the Rastafari movement, it’s how Los Angelino DJ and producer Gregory Shorter, Jr came to be known to the world as Ras G.

One of the most recognisable, and likeable, figures of the L.A underground, Ras G is also one of the most prolific producers attached to the city’s beat scene. Since his official arrival in the mid 2000s, Ras has released more than 15 albums in various formats.

When not at his home studio, aka Spacebase in homage to Sun Ra, Ras can most often be found behind the corner of Pasadena’s Poobah Records, an iconic record store with long ties to many of the city’s leading lights.

This month Ras G is following up his 2011 Ramp Recordings album Down To Earth with Vol.2, released via Matthewdavid’s Leaving Records. The label has been home to a grip of Ras’ many projects this year – including his ongoing Raw Fruits series.

Not one to be easily pigeonholed, the man who doesn’t drive in a city built for cars continues to keep his audience guessing while doing his thing.

I caught up with Ras earlier this week to discuss the new record and along the way we touched on his recent work with rapper Koreatown Oddity, the first time he discovered Sun Ra, why record shops are the soul of a music community and the importance of Aron’s Records to the birth of L.A’s beat scene. For more on that last point, be sure to read the extensive Kutmah interview from a few years back.

It’s been three years since the first record right?

I don’t even remember. Feels longer than that. Been a minute. It’s stuff I just work on, I work on it all the time, to get into the process of making some different shit. This time round I started recording it all.

Why is this the standard bap edition? It has a more classic feel to me.

The first Down To Earth record was supposed to be like this, but dude from the label it came out on had issues, time and everything, and it became what it was. So I wanted to… I wanted to redeem myself with vol.2 and get in the direction that I originally wanted that series to go. So it became what it became.

How did you end up working with Matthew and Leaving Records?

I’ve known Matthew since before Leaving Records, when he was an intern at dublab. Being cool ass Matthew from way back, and through progression of time and Leaving Records being open to damn near everything I’m doing, it’s just been really easy. Easy working with Matthew over the years.

Down to Earth and Raw Fruits are nothing like most other records they put out. It’s kinda representative of L.A music and the culture. All different things that go on out here, all these different elements can live out here and still breathe and not trample each other.

It reminds me of dublab’s ethos.

For sure, and that’s where we all met Matthew. It was just natural for it to be that way.

Can you remind me of the difference between Afrikan Space Program and Ras G projects?

ASP is more experimental, a bit more everywhere. Ras G is on one page. It’s like one page of all the ASP stuff. ASP is everything and nothing. It’s the whole catalogue, Ras G is an individual style within that, which I work on.

And you work on everything in parallel?

Yup, all at the same time. Everything has a direction in terms of creativity and the music. I’m always making so much stuff, everything has its right place to go to. It’s a natural way to look at it. You don’t feel the same everyday so you don’t make the same thing everyday.

It’s a nice balance to how everything has become more analytical and observed.

Well you know, a lot of people don’t have much balance in they life, nonetheless they lead creative lives and a lot of things show up in creative endeavours. If you’re a one minded person, you’ll be one minded about everything, all you intentions will be off that one mind, it’s not gonna be diverse. That’s why things are the way they are at this point in life.

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On the new album there’s a vocal track and you just did the tape with Koreatown Oddity. I wanted to touch on that. Some people might not know about your roots and your early days with the Good Life Cafe. It seems you’re coming back to MCs?

Not so much coming back. It’s just that the MCs are catching up. They’re catching up to the music, there’s less ego with MCs as there was at a certain time. They’re keen to hear what the producer has to say as opposed to you sitting down with an MC as it was some time ago and they just looking for this mystical, magical perfect beat that they have in their mind. This idea in their brain they’re looking for. And sometimes you can’t present that. You have something that contributes to their vocals a lot stronger and they don’t really believe in that. I feel like it’s been a shift in that kinda thinking with the MC, so now I can actually sit down with somebody I like, say Koreatown Oddity or Khaill Sadiq, and actually knock out some right music, some right hip hop music.

Was the process with Koreatown Oditty organic?

Oh yeah. Coming over here at 10am, maybe go get some weed, get some veggie patties, blunts, juice, come back and maybe watch a weird spacebase classic movie, or something, talking about life. The whole time the beats are rolling and he’s writing, or he’s not writing. Sometimes he did it off the brain, Biggie Smalls, Jay Z shit. So it was a fun project, we really bonded. He’s like my cousin, I don’t see him all the time but when I do it’s a blast.

There certainly seems to be a new wave in LA of MCs catching up as you’ve said.

You know what, a lot of the Good Life MCs were open stylistically to other things but like I said it was the ego mind that kept them away from listening and developing with certain producers, for me.

The Good Life documentary touches on that, how the industry descended on the scene.

One and the same. Industry ego and rap ego, explosion. Nothing’s happening (laughs). Now it’s time to get it back to how it was, how this shit began, before all this extra shit.

“Aron’s is how the L.A beat scene came together. Everybody pretty much met there.”

How’s Poobah Records?

Good, usual record store. My hang out spot where I work. Doing good.

Still doing beat showcases?

All the time. As long as there’s somebody willing to bring something new or with a release I can support. Open doors always. New kids coming all the time. Koreatown Oddity came to Poobah, bought Down To Earth, that’s how our record happened. And that’s the job of the record store, get people into other music and have them keep coming back and just introduce them to new and greater things you know. It’s easy to be the cat at the counter like “yeah, ok, so maybe, yeah.” Nah. You need someone who’s there a lot, like “yo, you heard this?” or “listen to this,” you know.

You’ve been there you know, it feels like an old record store felt. Everybody’s cool, if they ain’t like something they’ll tell you! It ain’t a sell only kinda thing, the shit we have in the shop we all love, we wouldn’t have it there if we didn’t love it.

Well seeing as how it’s the last month of Sun Ra’s hundredth anniversary, and you’re somewhat of a Sun Ra connoisseur, what’s one record you’d recommend people listen to if they’re not up on him?

Well… I gotta dumb it down and just say… there’s a lot of them I could say that’d blow your shit off but I’ll say Space Is The Place man, that shit is catchy, it’s something that you can catch on to with Sun Ra, something easy. Besides that, something like Lanquidity, it’s easier on certain taste buds if you already know his work.

You always go digging for Sun Ra records on tour, so what’s your most prized possession from over the years?

My Disco 3000, that I got on my first trip to Japan. I walk in the first record store, with Gaslamp and my man Hasheem. I ask about the Sun Ra. They had the Live in Paris joint, the gold and silver ones, so I had to buy both of them. Then Hasheem walks to the counter and speaks Japanese to my man, saying I’m looking for Sun Ra, and dude comes out the back with a 300$ original El Saturn Disco 3000, which is my favourite Sun Ra joint at that point. It’s got him playing with the drum machine and the band. Monumental shit. I had to have it, I spent the money and I’m looking at it right now (laughs). It’s looking at me actually.

How did you discover Sun Ra?

At the record store! Independent record store, one of the finest in Los Angeles called Aron’s Records.

Oh shit!

Yup! I’d go to Aron’s and see them Saturn reissues on the wall, before I knew who he was or anything, and the covers just spoke to me. Like “you know who this is, you know what this is,” but I wouldn’t know what it was. So it got me interested, like who and what is a Sun Ra? So I took that digger move and I bought it without listening to it and it turned out to be one of the best records I ever heard in my life. It blew my brain.

That’s a great story.

It was all based on a hunch. If that album cover didn’t speak to me the way it had… there were a lot of different ones. But I saw that one, and I was like “I gotta get it.” I don’t know why, it looked cool. It inspired a lot of the ASP records, in terms of direction with the music. You don’t have to do one style of music on one album, you can do whatever the fuck you want to do. That Sun Ra record had some out jazz, some blues, some experimental, some rnb sounding shit on it. I had never heard a record like that in my life. I liked it all. I was like “damn this shit is dope, why can’t we do this now?” So that’s what I do now.

I’m glad to hear it was Aron’s. I had a feeling it might have been.

I was talking to Coleman yesterday and we were saying how Aron’s is how the LA beat scene came together. Everybody pretty much met inside Aron’s. I met everybody there. People I’d have never come into contact with. Kutmah. Eric Coleman. Madlib. Shit, first time I ever seen Jay Dee in my life was at Aron’s. Pete Rock. All types of people. And the homies who worked there too. Take. Sacred. It’d just be random people in all the time. Shit. That’s how Sketchbook came together, at Aron’s.

Record shops, as we were saying.

Yup! Talking about that music. What did you find? What’s this? Oh you got this? Yo listen to this at 33 it’s supposed to be on 45! You know, shit like that. It’s how this shit started. It brought us together.

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