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Rass Kass and Apollo Brown The Emcee and the Producer [Interview]

Rass KassAny one that knows me as a fan of Hip Hop and as a journalist knows that I always seek out the best of the best within this art form for interviews. On this interview I got the best of both worlds. One of the most sonic producers in the game is Apollo Brown and one of the most prolific Emcee’s that a lot of cats find it hard to follow in and scenario concerning bars is Rass Kass. The two have conjured up what some will say is a classic body of work and I concur. I recently got the chance to catch up with both gentlemen about their new album, Blasphemy. The title may seem shocking but if you know anything about the intricate works of these men then you know you have to listen to the product before passing judgment. Hip Hop has always been a controversial genre of music, from the days of Public Enemy to X-Clan Hip Hop has always been the voice the speaks to the youth worldwide.

As we all know, religion is a topic that can be debated non-stop when asked why Rass Kass and Apollo brown would make an album with so many religious undertones, Rass Kass stated, “The original title was How To Kill God. We had some last minute issues with placements so we change the title but it’s just a metaphor because I don’t think I said anything Blasphemous on the album. If you look at the artwork it’s the American Flag. So it’s like land of the free home of the brave but it’s also land of the thief home of the slave. So we are kind of making that juxtaposition and it has a lot of religious undertones. So when we found out we couldn’t use the original title Apollo said Blasphemy will work too.”

The process of the production on the Blasphemy project came from Apollo Brown who is known for using rich textures of different sounds and airy loops in his production. With Apollo knowing that he is the conduit that allows Rass to flush out incredible bars, over seamless tracks, he describes what his recording process is like. “It all depends on how I feel when I wake up in the morning. As you can tell I make a lot of hard stuff but I also make a lot pf heartfelt music so it kinda goes up and down like a rollercoaster. When we started making Blasphemy I had a few joints in mind that I wanted to start with but I didn’t really have the sound yet as to where we were going to go with the album but I sent him over a batch of beats and we started there. According to the ones he chose, I sent over another batch and after 5 or 6 joints we knew what direction the sound was going in. I can’t make anything without feeling, so if I’m not feeling it I can’t make it. I need the music to take you to another place and I think we accomplished that.”

These gentlemen knew that this project would raise a lot of eyebrows, so why put out a body of work that would probably make some individuals not want to listen to the project, just based on the title and the artwork bearing the American flag? To this Rass responds, “Ok I say Holocaust, Crusades, Zionism, Jihad, This is how to kill God. Now as humans we are all made in the image and likeness of God. If God is love and God is creation and I start a beef with a man or take some ones money or try to treat another man foul it is hurting God, it’s killing God. It’s just a metaphor. I’m not saying I want to kill Jesus, that’s not what I’m saying. I purposely chose that title because when people hear it, it freaks people out. Also I think that the irony of it is that if had called it How To Kill A Nigga, They would’ve let me do it. It’s the reaction I wanted and Apollo agreed with me that it was going to freak people out. But when you listen to it then you’ll say this is about love. It’s about caring and being a better human being. It’s not a Black, White, Jewish, or French thing. Show some compassion and some decency and let’s not fuck the whole planet up because as far as I know this is the only one we can access.

I was actually playing the album on the way to the interview my camera man Rel Tha Don said, “This is what I want to do I want to change Hip Hop.” So I posed the question to Rass and Apollo. Can you guys be that spark that changes the face of Hip Hop? Apollo chimes, “You can be a part of the change and you can continue the change but I think just doing what you do and making the music you make and not conforming to what’s on the radio or TV, or doing what everybody is doing that’s hot at the moment gets you’re the point across, that change is right here.” Rass adds, “I feel very blessed. You can have a great idea but if you don’t execute well it can fall apart. So I’m thankful to Apollo and Mello Music Group because it’s sonic and it’s well produced and it’s a great canvas to work on. My homeboy just said I’ll buy that instrumental and I’d buy that A Capella, which means we both did a good job.

It is well known and documented that most producers won’t work with artists if it compromises their craft. Apollo said that he has to have a connection to work with an artist so how did the connection with Rass and others like Pharoahe Monch that are featured on the project come about? Apollo gladly answers, “The actual vibe started about 20 years ago because I’m a fan of Rass’ work just like everybody else. We run in different circles so we don’t cross paths often but we knew each other and we are fans of each other’s work, so out of the blue I called him and said “I’m a fan and we need to work.” I said, “Let’s do something weather it’s a song or an album or a commercial for St. Ides. [Laughing] I have to be a fan of you because I’m not going to give just anybody my production. I have to get to know you because my beats are like my kids and he’s babysitting them so I have to interview you. I have to know that you’re worthy of watching my kids. Rass is a good dude and I love the bond that we’ve formed and the music we’ve made off of that. It’s natural. When it’s organic it’s not work.”

When you love what you do as Apollo stated, it’s not work. I originally interviewed Rass Kass back in 1998 so for the opportunity to come full circle and interview him again, especially about such a dynamic project, I was more than willing to travel to do so. When I came through the door I showed him a copy of a magazine that I had interviewed him in and in that interview he said that when he released his first LP Soul on Ice all he wanted to get was the praise and accolades from artists like Rakim. He has also garnered those accolades from Jay Z, Nas and more, so what does he want to receive from his lyrics 16 years later?

Like a true humble Hip Hop head Rass says, “I’ve worked with some of the greats and got lots of love from Big Pun, Common, Jay Z, Nas, Rza, Gza and others. I’ve been able to break bread and be seen as a peer. The stakes are higher for me now because I don’t make beats and I had A1 production from day one with Apollo, so half the battle was already won. Illmatic is a classic album and there are other classic albums so that’s something that I was thinking I wanted to do also, release a classic and I think we might’ve turned in a classic with this Blasphemy.

Interview By KB Tindall

Image courtesy of DougFlickr License

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