“I’m a Music Man, I Speak Through Feelings” : Ras G’s Natural Progression From Basic Loops to Beat Mastery
Before he could afford an expensive DJ rig, LA’s Ras G wowed his high school friends by turning songs from local radio shows like The Baka Boyz’ Friday Night Flavas and Da Joint with King Emz and Mike Nardone into epic pause-tapes. “I would collect all the dope shit from them shows and I would make one tape to have on Monday morning to come to school with. It just became my thing to do,” he explains.
Ras G’s tapes were so impressive that his friends, many of whom were dancers at the time, urged him to save up for his own 1200s. “They let me know that I had an ear and I need to be DJing,” Ras says.
To satisfy his desire to create something more than pause-tapes from his favorite radio shows, Ras decided to invest in his own setup. “It was just a natural progression from there,” he says. “I got some 1200s. I started DJing, I was playing beats, and I was digging old records.”
“Some people like playing video games, I like to make a beat.”
Just as making homemade pause-tapes acted as a precursor to DJing, DJing eventually led to producing. “DJing introduces you to you production ideas in terms of edits, cues, placement and all those different things,” he says. “I didn’t have a sampler, but I’d be listening to old records and I would hear parts and I’d just be marking the records. Dubbing that, making little loops. I ain’t have no money to get no sampler.”
Though samplers often carried astronomical price tags when Ras started out, he saved up for an SP-12 and soon went to work. Over time he added an MPC 2000 to his arsenal and took his production skills to a new level. “The SP-12 enlightened me to metronomes and time signatures and different shit. I got my MPC and then it was just on from there,” he says
The setup has expanded a bit since then, but Ras is content focusing on a few key pieces of gear that he’s perfected over the years. “Only thing I use is the 303, 404, MPC 2000, and my phone nowadays. That’s it,” he says.
Utilizing Akai’s iMPC app, Ras found that the program gives him the freedom to turn the whole world into his studio. “That Baker’s Dozen record I did for Fat Beats? A lot of them beats I did on my phone,” he says. “I don’t drive man. So when I’m in the world, I’m on buses and on trains. That’s how I’ll make up my time. Make a beat.”
“That’s why it’s so raw. Or so lo-fi. Or so hi-fi. Or whatever I they want it to be as long as there’s I.”
When pressed on the strengths vs. weakness of the app version of the MPC, Ras declines to take the bait, instead opting to focus on the unique aspects of each of his samplers. “None of ’em are lacking, they all have their own special quality. None of ’em should all be the same,” he tells me. “The stuff I sample on the iMPC with my phone is random. I’m sampling stuff that I’m hearing in the world. I’m hearing sounds, I hear a snare, I hear something and I’m just collecting that shit.”
The ability to sample anything and everything is one of his favorite aspects of the iMPC, as Ras explains that his field recording style of sampling is a complete 180 degree turn from his studio work. “When I’m my house, I can get random shit form microphones, but it’s not like being out in the world,” he says. “You’re hearing all kind of things that you can sample and collect and throw it all into the little sampler on your phone and just hook ’em up. It’s a different feel, a different approach.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Ras G’s Baker’s Dozen revelation is how minimal the post production was. The sounds you hear on the album are very close to the original compositions on his phone. “I just run it through my little board, run it through the 404, and into GarageBand,” he says. “I might need to do a few little tweaks in Garageband on somethin’ and there it is. It’s pretty much as is.”
“Them beats I make on those machines are just fun. It’s like my Game Boy.
He compares the Baker’s Dozen process to his work with another piece of his favorite gear. “It’s like when I make 404 beats,” he says. “There’s no individual tracks or no shit like that. I gotta pre-EQ it as it’s all happening.”
For Ras G, that challenge of having to nail the track in real time is an important part of the final product that shouldn’t be tampered with too much. “As long as I got it right, then you just run it in as best as possible. That’s why it’s so raw. Or so lo-fi. Or so hi-fi. Or whatever I they want it to be as long as there’s I,” he says with a laugh.
And, most important of all, making beats with the 404 is really good time. “Free flowing, letting it just happen,” he says while describing the experience to me. “Them beats I make on those machines are just fun. It’s like my Game Boy. I just get into that little box and it ain’t like the MPC, it’s it’s own little monster. This machine, it’s my ace.”
“I didn’t have a sampler, but I’d be listening to old records and I would hear parts and I’d just be marking the records.”
As his career enters it’s 12 year, keeping the workflow fun and relaxed is an important part of Ras G’s prolific output. “I’m a beat geek, what can I say? I like making beats, shit is fun to me,” he says. “Some people like playing video games, I like to make a beat.”
When I ask Ras about the multitude of new projects he has underway, he declines to go too in-depth and prefers to let the music speak for itself. “I don’t speak marketing talk, I don’t speak industry talk. I don’t speak that shit,” he says with a laugh. “It’s hard to explain man, you gotta check it out. I’m a music man, I speak through feelings.”