When experimental producer Ras G passed away on July 29, 2019, hip-hop’s avant-garde lost one of its boldest torchbearers. Along with artists like Flying Lotus, TOKiMONSTA, and Teebs, Ras G was a foundational part of a movement known as the L.A. beat scene—a community of musicians who continuously redefine instrumental hip-hop, inflecting it with nearly every genre of music imaginable, from jazz to EDM to dub and beyond.
Ras produced tracks built from jazz samples, with elements of EDM, and his trademark bass tones were a direct homage to dub’s undulating low frequencies. But, more than any single genre, his beats were an exploration of all things “beyond.” Rife with lazer blips, otherworldly noise, and astral ambiance, Ras G’s music is a head-knocking melting pot in which the mysterious, the mystical, and the unknown fuse with black music from every epoch.
If there was ever a contemporary heir to jazz pioneer Sun Ra, someone to continue conducting his Afrofuturist experiments in the digital age, it was Ras G. Like Sun Ra, he never sacrificed raw creativity in favor of cohesion, never shied away from dissonance when it served his vision. Ras called this unique sound “ghetto sci-fi,” and its sometime bizarre, often groundbreaking, and always original transmissions issued from his home studio, The Spacebase. Similar to the club night Low End Theory, where Ras was a regular performer and attendee, and Pasadena’s Poo Bah Records, where he worked for 15 years, organizing their in-store show, Beat Soup, and handling A&R for their label, The Spacebase became one of the L.A. underground’s fecund nodes of creativity.
The catalog of 24 albums and mixtapes that Ras G produced there were integral to the beat scene’s formative years, and continue to exert their influence on a new generation of artists. As they integrate dubstep into the beat scene’s stylistic arsenal, ascendant producers like Jason Wool (FKA Woolymammoth) and Tsuruda often use bass tones that hearken to Ras G’s signature low end, and even pay explicit homage to Ras by using some of the same vocal samples he placed in his songs.
The following selection of albums are works Ras G left behind. Each record feels like it contains at least a bit of something Ras brought back from another dimension. Surely, that’s where the rest of him lives on still.
Down To Earth Vol. 2 is a well-rounded starting point for diving into Ras G’s catalog. All of his defining traits are present—masterful sampling, ludicrously thick bass, interstellar flourishes, bold experimentation—and arranged to strike a balance between the sometimes minimalist, sometimes maximalist approaches of his other releases. Colored by ample doses of kalimba, rattles, and bells, the Afrofuturist sonic palate of Down To Earth Vol. 2’s feels like an accurate representation of not just Ras’s sound, but of the polo-jacket-and-dashiki-clad producer’s personality as well.
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
The record that definitively cemented Ras G in the Sun Ra tradition, Back on the Planet represents a final frontier for the L.A. beat scene’s avant-garde. Balancing pure sci-fi weirdness with beats heavier than an asteroid, the Brainfeeder release is a rocket-propelled ride through the generations of revolutionary black music that comprised Ras’s artistic universe. Snatches of dancehall, jazz, roots reggae, and hip-hop hurtle past at warp speed, all abraded and mutated into something totally unique by the solar radiation of his ingenuity.
Across the Raw Fruit series of beat tapes, Ras G turns his patented “ghetto sci-fi” sound up to 11. The dub-drenched bass alone is enough to make most subwoofers quake in fear. Every track on the series’ fourth installment is stuffed almost to bursting with soul and R&B samples, chopped-up vocals, and thick drums. Warm, vibrant, and explosive, Raw Fruit Vol. 4 is Ras at his most joyful and uncompromising.
Rather than a sound system rattler or a series of interdimensional experiments, My Kinda Blues is a delicate slow-roll through the jazz crates. Ras’s trademark bone-crushing bass either takes a back seat to fleeting jazz samples or disappears entirely, making way for a simple beauty. The breathtaking interplay of sample and drums on “Track 9” or the way “Track 11” builds an entire immersive world in no more than 28 seconds, prove Ras was just as adept at subtlety as he was at blowing minds (and speakers) with sheer force.
Without knowledge of the concept behind it, Stargate Music is, on the surface, already an engrossing blend of experimental electronic music and hip-hop. But listen to the record knowing that it’s dedicated to the life-creating power of the womb—which Ras referred to as “The Stargate from which beings emanate life on this planet”—and it becomes so much more than that. Every sound feels specifically crafted to serve its life-cycle storyline, with digital gurgles evoking amniotic fluid on “Water Broken (Opening of the Stargate)” and throbs of bass that squeeze the contractions on “The Arrival.” That Ras executes Stargate Music’s heady theme so well is a testament to his artistic vision, but that he’s able to do so while at the same time delivering some of the most gorgeous tracks in his entire catalog is nothing short of genius.
5 Chuckles: In The Wrld is a blunted-out tour through Ras G’s native Los Angeles, with rapper The Koreatown Oddity acting as shroom-gobbling guide and Ras driving the L.A. underground’s answer to the tie-dye school bus of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test fame. Flowing seamlessly from track to track as it takes listeners from the Spacebase to Low End Theory to Disneyland to the beach to the local taco spot and back again, 5 Chuckles features a who’s who of local rap talent and some of the juiciest beats Ras ever produced.
At the beginning of the track “Auntie Margurite,” a sample proclaims: “When I sit down and listen to something, I’m like, man, let me hear something cool / Something that’s not gonna really just blow my mind hella.” As Baker’s Dozen’s simple, stripped-down beats play on, it’s hard not to think of those words as the controlling idea behind the entire album. Instead of seeking to dazzle with genre blending, experimentalism, or the cosmic power of bass, Ras steps back and lets the samples do the talking. Much closer to an aesthetic influenced by J Dilla than by Sun Ra, the resulting beats don’t attempt to “blow minds hella.” But, thanks to Ras’s artful arrangement of samples, they are definitively, unquestionably “something cool.”