Shuffle is a wonderful thing. I hadn’t heard “On Earth As It Is” by Ras Kass in a while, so when it came on today I was forced to turn the volume way way up.
Despite an arguable classic album (his debut Soul on Ice) and numerous dope verses, Kass is consistently underrated and omitted from the discussion of “Best Rappers”. Any fan of track murdering lyrics will surely pull his name out of their hat eventually, and with good reason. Soul on Ice was one of the most simultaneously vicious and literate albums in the history of rap. “On Earth As It Is” exemplifies this fascinating balance. It’s synthesis of religious imagery, philosophy, pop culture, and Hip Hop culture is almost unparalleled in its depth. Catching everything in the lyrics is pretty difficult on one listen, so give it a few plays.
The laundry list of Biblical references littered throughout the track may be what makes it most fascinating. Ras Kass’s relationship with Christianity is a conflicted one to say the least. “On Earth” is seemingly the creation of a man whose early life was bathed in the Word of God. The lust for crime and its spoils portrayed throughout Soul on Ice–not to mention his incarceration filled life–imbues the album with an enthralling battle: social mores vs. street instincts. Though it certainly seems on songs like “Miami Life” that Kass has invested himself fully in crime, other songs–“The Evil That Men Do,” specifically–painted far more ambiguous picture. Like all great American musical forms, Hip Hop is made interesting by its contradictory figures–men and women who display their warts fully while expressing viewpoints that stand often in direct opposition to their flaws, traits, and, often, previously stated opinions (KRS-One, Nas, and Tupac all famously come to mind).
Listening to Kass reminded me of some of my favorite combinations of Hip Hop and religion. Hip Hop has always had an interesting (to say the least) relationship with religion–considering that Hip Hop was born in a community steeped in religion and very vocal, animated religion at that. There’s a book in there somewhere and I’d rather not dilute the depth and importance of this topic with platitudes about the black community in America. And I haven’t even touched on Hip Hop and Islam. And the 5 Percent Nation. And the Afrikaa Bambaataa. Yeah there’s a lot of work to be done there. For now here are a few tracks you can enjoy that shine some light on the complex marriage of Hip Hop and religion.
“Black Sunday” by Organized Konfusion
“Picket Fence” by Brother Ali
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Binary Star