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 (Mello Music Group).
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.
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.
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 one of the greatest rappers to ever incinerate a microphone. This is eternal soul, ice-cold but somehow never less than searing.