Sunday, December 26, 2010

Album Review: "Soul On Ice" - Ras Kass (1996)


If you like Canibus, chances are, you will like Ras Kass. He is incredibly similar to 'Bis in terms of lyrical style, rapping about subject matter that you have to have a brain to understand and utilizing a distinctly advanced vocabulary in his rhymes. Also like Canibus, Ras has been criticized for having a poor ear for beats. 'Bis and Ras Kass are even part of a group together, The Four Horsemen, also including Killah Priest and Kurupt. The only difference between the two artists is that Canibus is from the east and Ras is from the west.

Anyway, Soul On Ice, Ras Kass' debut album, is widely considered to be one of the most awe-inspiring lyrical performances in hip-hop history, and one would be hard-pressed to disagree with that sentiment. However, where this outstanding project is chastised is in the area of production. Like usual, I disagree, as I find the beats on Soul On Ice to be very refreshing, but a significant sum of others would beg to differ.

Still, let's ignore the criticisms of this album for the time-being and focus on the fact that it is, quite arguably, the greatest west coast release in hip-hop history (unless you consider Chino XL to be a west coast artist, in which case Here To Save You All tops the cake for me, but I don't, so that's that) and contains one of rap's most thought-provoking and controversial tracks in "Nature Of The Threat."


1. On Earth As It Is...

Even people who knock the production on this album can't front on the lead cut, co-produced by Bird and Ras Kass himself. Booming drums abound, and horns and light piano hits support them. The track is religious in tone, as Ras Kass uses biblical references left and right, Killah Priest style, to essentially assert himself as rap's messiah. Great opening.

2. Anything Goes
Seriously, who is saying that Soul On Ice doesn't possess good beats? This is one of the most "commercial" tracks on the album, as Ras Kass talks about living the good life, but it's still raw as all hell. Bird and Rassy co-produce an upbeat, feel-good record, and Ras also drops a sick hook. I also love this line: "One for the money, two for the show, three for the ladies but all they wanted was one."

3. Marinatin'
"Marinatin'" certainly has a true west-coast feel to it, and you'll understand what I mean by that as soon as the song starts. DJ Battlecat is on the boards here, and he puts down an extremely relaxing and chill beat for Rassy, who glides over it effortlessly. This cut is very similar in tone to "Anything Goes," containing very basic subject matter about Ras Kass simply having a good time.

4. Reelishymn
"Once I enter psychosis, paranormal focus, I perplex niggas and niggettes, I play this rap shit closer than Gillettes against the neck and jugular vein." Did I mention Ras Kass can drop some sick punchlines? This is another smooth production once again done by Bird and Rassy, possessing a truly calming feel.

5. Nature Of The Threat
The aforementioned controversial track where Ras Kass attacks religion, homosexuality, and the white man. Obviously, because of that reason, "Nature Of The Threat" drew ire from many, and the fact that Rassy's lyrical barrage was nearly eight minutes long didn't help matters much. Now, about the song itself; Ras clearly demonstrates he is incredibly intelligent, but the beat by Vooodu and length of the record really make it difficult to listen to. For me, anyway. That said, Ras Kass' lyrics are certainly interesting, to say the least.

6. Etc.
Love this. Bird really is a hell of a producer. "Etc." has a similar feel to "Reelishymn," but it's a bit better, not just because of the beat, but because Ras Kass rips it: "You'll all suffer the consequences
, I dispense dope sentences without a prescription, prefixes asphyxiate bitches who flips linguistics." One of Rassy's best songs.

7. Sonset
The drums on this are identical to those on Raekwon's "Criminology," and while that's not a bad thing, it's just that I've heard it before. I usually find myself skipping this one. That doesn't mean that you should, though, because this cut isn't poor by any means.

8. Drama
"Drama" houses the only guest appearance on Soul On Ice, as Coolio stops by and drops a verse. Basically, the song is about all of the drama (yeah; no subliminal messages here) women bring to men. Side note: I really like Bird's drums on this.

9. The Evil That Men Do
This is the best song on the album. Ras Kass tells his life story here, first talking about his upbringing and then about how he went to prison because he killed someone while driving drunk. He incorporates the title of the track into both of his long verses, first saying that the white men who want to keep blacks down are evil and then concluding the cut by rapping, "I'm lookin' at myself and seein' every other nigga I knew
, it's the evil that men do," essentially calling himself evil for his actions. Unlike his work on "Nature Of The Threat," Vooodu's beat here is incredible, matching the mood of the record to a tee.

10. If/Then
Although the hook on this cut is more generic than anything in the world, this song is pretty good. Michael Barber and Ras Kass co-produce a solid beat, and Ras rips through the entire four-minute, fifty-second track with battle raps to the max. He's not as well-built for that as, say, a Chino XL or Canibus, but he still does a damn good job.

11. Miami Life
This tends to be the song most people remember from this album, and I can obviously see why, as it is easily the project's most "mainstreamish" cut. The track doesn't really make much sense, though, as Ras Kass is further away from Miami than any artist could possibly be. Whatever. It still sounds alright.

12. Soul On Ice
This beat by Bird sounds like something that would have been on Here To Save You All, and yes; that's a good thing. "'Cause I don't give a fuck about a menial existence
, and I don't give a fuck about nonviolent resistance, civil rights will not suffice, in the name of Jesus Christ, they got my soul on ice," raps Ras. There is a remix version of this cut produced by Diamond D, and the beat (which, on the remix, is actually better) isn't the only thing about the song that's different, as Rassy completely changes up his lyrics. Definitely look that up.

13. Ordo Abchao (Order Out Of Chaos)
This is a really nice way to end Soul On Ice. Vooodu's beat is very solid, containing loud shakers throughout (I'm such a sucker for that). "Ordo Abchao (Order Out Of Chaos)" parallels "Nature Of The Threat," although it's not nearly as incriminating. Still, it's controversial in its own right, as Ras Kass attacks the government and once again throws a jab at homosexuality. Agree or disagree with his views, you have to respect Ras Kass' intelligence and way of arguing his point.


As I stated earlier, Soul On Ice is simply a lyrical masterpiece that has cemented itself in the annals of hip-hop lore. Ras Kass is obviously a very educated and perceptive individual, and he displays these qualities on every one of the records on this album.

What I like most about Soul On Ice is Rassy's ability to focus on more than one topic and rap about the beefs he has with such subjects. For example, on "Nature Of The Threat" and "Ordo Abchao (Order Out Of Chaos)," he spends a significant amount of time discussing how whites oppress blacks and how the government wants complete control of society. On "Drama," he talks about the baggage that females can carry. Then, on "The Evil That Men Do," he fundamentally attacks humanity in and of itself, including himself.

While I can certainly see why many would scoff at the production on this project, I really enjoy this style. Yes; the closest thing Soul On Ice has to a "club banger" would probably be "Miami Life" or possibly "Anything Goes," but I actually prefer the more subdued beats, especially when they match the vibe of the artist, which they do here. Plus, Ras Kass, with his lyrical prowess and outstanding delivery, can carry a track no matter what the production is like.

If you haven't listened to Soul On Ice yet, you are gravely missing out on an essential piece of hip-hop history. It's not every day that rappers like Ras Kass come along and spew the type of knowledge that he does, so when you have the opportunity to listen to someone like him, you really should take advantage of it.

Unfortunately for Ras Kass, though, he fell off miserably after his debut, as his sophomore release, Rasassination, paled in comparison to Soul On Ice, and that's being kind, as he spent a good portion of that album on topics that have become much-maligned by purists in today's mainstream-dominated world. Rassy then completed two albums that were never officially released (Goldyn Chyld and Van Gogh), and neither of them were anything to write home about.

That said, Ras Kass will always be able to pull the Soul On Ice card whenever someone feels the need to criticize his recent work.


1. The Evil That Men Do
2. Anything Goes
3. Etc.
4. On Earth As It Is...
5. Reelishymn



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