Ras Kass

American rapper Ras Kass was born John Austin IV in Watts, California in 1973. A voracious reader throughout his youth, he adopted his stage name in honor of Ethiopian emperor Ras Kassa Mercha. After releasing a pair of independent singles, Ras Kass emerged as one of the most highly regarded new rappers at the time, winning particular acclaim for his skills as a lyricist (in the space of six months, he twice earned Rap Pages magazine's Rhyme of the Month award as well as The Source's Hip Hop Quotable honor). His long-awaited debut LP, Soul on Ice, arrived on Priority Records in 1996. The album included the singles "Ordo Abchao (Order Out of Chaos)" and seven-minute history lesson "Nature of the Threat," as well as a guest spot from Coolio. His sophomore effort, Rasassination (PatchWerk/Priority), followed in 1998, landing in the Top 100 on the Billboard 200 and peaking just outside the Top Ten of the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The album produced one single, "Ghetto Fabulous," with guests Dr. Dre and Mack 10, as well as the fan favorite "Interview with the Vampire." In addition, Ras was joined by Kurupt, Saafir, Jazze Pha, Xzibit, Twista, RZA, and more. The release of his follow-up, Van Gogh, was delayed by label mergers and bootlegging, and Ras was forced to shelve the project. Another project, Goldyn Chyld, also failed to materialize.

Ras shifted focus to the HRSMN, a rap supergroup formed with Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Canibus. The foursome issued their debut, The Horsemen Project, in 2003. Still embroiled in label disagreements, Ras released the mixtapes Institutionalized (2005); Revenge of the Spit and Eat or Die (2006); and Institutionalized, Vol. 2 (2008). A mixtape project titled The Quarterly was self-issued in 2009 on Ras' website and featured spots by Killah Priest, Mistah F.A.B., and producer Pete Rock. A crowdfunded project, A.D.I.D.A.S. (All Day I Dream About Spittin), was released in 2011. Barmageddon followed in 2013 and featured guests like Too $hort, Ice-T, Monie Love, Yukmouth, Kendrick Lamar, and more. Blasphemy, a collaborative album with producer Apollo Brown, was issued in 2014 and recruited Royce da 5'9", Pharoahe Monch, Xzibit, and others. That same year, Ras released Barmageddon 2.0. In 2016, a flurry of activity resulted in the release of two additional mixtapes and Intellectual Property: SO12, which featured KRS-One, RZA, Bun B, Onyx, and more on a sprawling 26 tracks. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Jason Ankeny

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