Chip Off The Ol’ Block: A Conversation With Ras Kass, Ras Austin & Taj Austin
Like father, like sons
Today marks the start of a new interview series we will be bringing you weekly for the next month called Chip Off the Ol’ Block. Hip hop has been around long enough for multiple generations of a family to get involved. As the title suggests, we will be talking to fathers whose sons have taken up the family business. In this case the fathers are iconic MCs and the family biz is hip hop. We’re also speaking to the sons who are making waves without riding their pops’ coattails.
For our first installment, we spark it off with one of Cali’s most cerebral lyricists ever, Ras Kass, and his twin sons Ras Austin and Taj Austin, who make up one half of the group Coast Contra. If you’re not familiar with Ras, shame on you. If you haven’t heard his sons spit yet, we will give you a pass today. Below we explore what it’s like to raise children who follow in your footsteps and what that means in a business as ruthless as the music industry.
However, before the interviews, Ras has laced us with an exclusive track to share with yall off his upcoming drop Year End Closeout. “Kill The Messenger” is a collaboration between Ras, multi-plat producer Bud’da (Aftermath), and guitarist Jesus of Lettuce. The sound here is something different for Ras with its Doors-esque hook and Dre style keys, but the eerie feel is a great lead into Halloween. Check it out as you read the Q&A.
What is like having sons that rap?
Taj always had a natural aptitude for it. His mother is a singer, Teedra Moses, and she has the voice of an angel. So, he could always sing and he naturally has patterns. Even when he wasn’t putting actual words together, he had patterns. I actually stole a couple of his patterns before when he was like six. Ras is the reverse. Ras worked hard. He put in the ten thousand hours. So, now they have a friendly competition between the two of them. Steel sharpens steel.
Their uncles, Xzibit, and my friends who would be around them would notice, especially Taj, and encourage it. I never encouraged it because this is a really hard business. My preference was to have an accountant and a judge…that’s still kinda my preference. My father wanted something different for me but eventually came and supported. So, my whole logic was to support them in whatever they do. At least I have some degree of experience in it. When I started doing music I had no-one to trust. I had no family member that could give me good advice. They just didn’t know. I was like in the deep end with nobody having my best interests [in mind]. So, between their biological aunts on both sides, their parents, and then friends who are aunts and uncles on both sides, they have people they can talk to that have different expertise within this business.
They only got into it seriously about three years ago. I knew they were confident and able, and they actually do the hard work. They don’t depend much on anybody. They have their own team and support system amongst themselves. I’m encouraged to see them making moves and actually having the talent.
What’s the best piece of advice about music you’ve given them?
I convinced them to go to school for music…to go get some expertise through higher education. I feel like that is the best thing I could have done for them. It’s something I wanted to do for myself and something I may still do. If you want to learn something, you should go study it. Doing it in real time is awesome too but you make a lot less mistakes if you can go study it with people who have already done all that…and then you are also networking with like-minded people.
Do you have a favorite song of theirs?
Honestly, I don’t. I literally listen to everything that they let me hear. They’re kinda like me, they keep their ideas to themselves until they are ready to release it. I know Taj likes trap production a little bit more and Ras likes soul…boom bap-ish soul. And there’s a happy medium they meet in. I’m always listening for the delivery and the concept. They do a lot of high concept music. So, I’m always pretty impressed by that. And then, I’ve watched them record a couple of times and their process is different than mine. So, I’m actually learning. I’m always looking at other people and what they do, and trying to take the best out of that. So, watching new schoolers sometimes, I’m like, I can kinda apply that to me. Their arrangements or the way they do drops or delays, it’s different than Premier would do it, or Pete Rock, or Just Blaze.
Was “Pyramid Scheme” the first track y’all put out together?
Nah, I did a song with them and I put it on the A.D.I.D.A.S. album but the record was old. So, when they were about nine [years-old] I put them in the booth and we did a song called “Me & My Twins.” By the time I put it out they were like twelve or thirteen. I put them in the booth and let them just freestyle. Then I went in and filled in the blanks to make a cohesive song.
What was it like raising twins?
Peeks and valleys, man. I didn’t have any brothers. So, the one thing I always felt was good for them is that they had a built-in best friend. I had a different journey. I didn’t really have anybody relate to in my family. Even though our’s wasn’t the greatest situation, I felt like they’d always have each other. I haven’t put the song’s out, but I said, I wish I had a twin, we’d rule the world… I’d always wished I had a brother. Preferably a bigger brother. At least you have one person in your corner out here in the streets.
Since we last talked your name has been popping up all over the place.
It’s probably just weird timing. Some of the stuff is older. Nothing intentional on my side. When it rains it pours.
Tell us about this release you’ve got coming up?
I’m releasing a free playlist December 5. It’s called Year End Closeout and it is 11 unreleased songs. It’ll be up on my site.
So, when or where are these unreleased songs from?
All the song come from when I get a beat that I’m really excited about but it doesn’t fit the direction of project that I’m doing. So, I’m kinda sitting there with this music. It’s really a compilation of the past two or three years of working on music. I just figured from time to time I’ll just create a playlist and let people have it and enjoy it. It does nobody any good if I sit on it. Apathy giving me a dope beat and Ras, Taj and RioLoz hopping on it, at least give it to the world. We ain’t got to charge them for it. Just let people hear it. It’s good music. So, yeah, it’s just unreleased ideas and concepts that didn’t fit projects.
Ras Kass’ Top 5 Sci-Fi Films of The Last Couple Years*
1. Ex Machina
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3. Edge of Tomorrow
5. Captain America: Civil War
*In no specific order
RAS AUSTIN & TAJ AUSTIN
You guys aren’t identical twins, are you?
Taj Austin: We’re not identical, we’re fraternal. We used to look a lot more alike when we was kids though.
How did y’all get into music? Was it through your dad?
Taj: Both my pops and my moms. Just seeing them and seeing how dope they were. When you grow up seeing music all day, you just want to do it. So, that was definitely the case, as far as why we started doing it.
When did you both start making music?
Taj: We started taking it seriously around sixteen when we moved to Miami.
How old are you now?
You have a group with two other dudes. Tell us about that.
Taj: It’s called Coast Contra. We met RioLoz in high school. We had another group prior when we was a little younger. We formed Coast Contra, just us three. Later on, when we came out here [to L.A.], my brother ran into Eric Jamal and he was real cool and did music as well. He moved in with us and we all ended up under the umbrella of Coast Contra.
How long has Coast Contra been recording?
Taj: Six years.
What have you guys dropped so far?
Taj: My brother just dropped a little project. It seven songs. It’s an EP called Long Story Short. It’s real, real dope. You can find it anywhere, iTunes, Spotify, GooglePlay, all of that. I’m about to drop something real soon called Self-Explanatory. And then we have a Coast Contra project coming out at the top of the year called Apt. 505. So, a couple things happening right now.
You did that dope ode to “Miami Life” but what is your favorite song by your pops?
Taj: I really love that song he got called “Chicken Or The Egg.” That one’s pretty crazy. Soul On Ice is pretty dope but I like Rasassination more though. That’s where I got some of my style from. When you start rapping, you do your homework. The only people I hadn’t done my homework on was my mom and my dad. But when I went back and did my homework…when I heard Rasassination, that’s when I thought, oh, that’s wild. It’s really in the blood. We sound exactly the same. Favorite song would have to be “Chicken Or The Egg.” Favorite project would probably be Rasassination.
Ras: One of my favorite songs is “Write Where I Left Off.” He does the homonyms. I go back to that one every once in a while. Definitely my favorite project would be Soul On Ice ‘cause it was cold. It’s funny because we all have a little “soul” thing we’re doing. Like my brother got a concept he wants to play with called Soul’s Equity and I have a concept I play with called Soul Searching. So, it’s like this “soul” thing that we have that kinda links us all together.
Were you guys ever in the studio when he recorded any of his classic material?
Yeah, for sure. I can’t really say which ones it was. I was too little to remember but I definitely know we were in the studio for a couple of them.
You guys ever performed with your pops?
Taj: Nah, not yet.
Ras: Not yet. We haven’t touched the stage with him yet.
What other rappers’ kids are you aware of?
Taj: I know Xzibit’s son Tre. He rap and he nice too. P. Diddy’s son got a song I like. Not Quincy, the other one. I think Erykah Badu and Andre’s son does music too but I haven’t heard it yet though.