It’s been nearly a quarter century since Soul of Ice and they still can’t handle the truth. In fact, the intervening decades since Ras Kass dropped his classic debut have only validated the poisonous and panoramic vision of the waterproof MC, who was immediately hailed as the West Coast’s answer to Nas. And with the nature of the threat growing more real by the minute, there couldn’t be a more necessary time for Soul on Ice 2.
In nearly half a century of rap, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone as venomous, cerebral and creatively fearless as Ras Kass. His lyrics are like a form of alcohol that ruthlessly kills all toxic germs. Real hip-hop that aims for the jugular. The best music takes risks and Soul on Ice 2 is so determined to expose uncomfortable truths that in another era it would’ve ended up on a banned albums list. It finds the Watts and Carson-raised seer determined to apply disinfectant and pressure to the ever-expanding list of American atrocities; this time accompanied by a hall of fame lineup of rappers and producers including Diamond D, Pete Rock, Snoop Dogg, Immortal Technique, Justice League, Cee-Lo Green, DJ Green Lantern, Everlast, Styles P and M.O.P.
From the first track, Ras Kass lays his mission statement in visceral and unyielding terms. The nature of the threat remains more relevant than ever. Hate crimes are multiplying. There are Christians in red hats preaching zero tolerance. In a sly aside, Ras cracks the irony: “Jesus never said that.” The beat, courtesy of Twiz the Beat Pro operates in communion with Ras’ semi-automatic-wrapped-in-sandpaper voice, flipping a sample of the phrase “it’s been such a long long time.”
What’s stark is how little has changed. The ghosts of America’s original sins continue to haunt, but they’re now twinned with a variety of new indignities from minor to major. They range from trust fund kids pretending to be broke and plasticine women to weed being legal but the police will still kill you. Then Ras punctuates his flurry of bars by adding that he’ll probably be underrated for life. It’s a claim that underscores exactly why his music has continued to matter: it’s unvarnished and intelligent, devoid of gimmicks or overwrought plays for radio. These are anthems for seekers and the curious, those who refuse to adhere to the easy answers and dim lies disseminated by the sinister and the simple minded.
There is “Grammy Speech,” where Ras imagines what he’d say if he was ever called up the Staples Center podium. Over a stomp-your-life out beat that recalls Diamond D’s late 90s collaborations with Pharoahe Monch, Rass spits a life story in a matter of minutes. He unloads about being feared and snubbed, corrects popular misconceptions, attacks the slithering nature of the music industry and accepts the award for all the real MCs.
Consider “Midnight Sun,” where Cee-Lo adds red clay soul to a fulmination about the false construction of race. The thundering “White Power,” where Immortal Technique and Ras eviscerate the tenets of white supremacy and chronicle the grotesque litany of evils committed by this demonic colonizer mentality. Yet for all the rage, it finishes with a message of unity — the notion that all races are really one — and the only hope for the future is to overthrow the yoke of antiquated thinking.
“Guns and Roses” finds Ras wrecking a dusty psychedelic flip with M.O.P and Styles P. It’s a classic four alarm, bring-the-big-guns assault. A tunnel banger for the second decade of the 21st Century. “LL Cool” brings Snoop Dogg to Carson so the duo of West Coast legends can conjure a pimped-out low-riding cruise in silk shirts and open collars. The finale is the harrowing “Opoid Crisis,” where Ras threatens to murder Republicans before connecting the threads between the CIA flooding inner-cities with crack and evil corporations getting the entire populace addicted with the tacit support of the U.S. government.
None of this is for the faint hearted, but Ras Kass never made music for the soft-handed and headed. On his latest opus, you realize exactly what a dramatic influence he’s has had on everyone from Kenrick Lamar and Ab-Soul to Dead Prez and Jay Electronica. Another gem burnishing the indelible legacy of the one of the greatest rappers to ever incinerate a microphone. This is eternal soul, ice-cold but somehow never less than searing.