Ras Kass, Van Gogh

Ras Kass, Van Gogh (2001)

The title of Ras Kass’ third album, Van Gogh, is a metaphor for the West Coast MC’s seeming inability to attain mainstream popularity. Like Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch impressionist painter who died in obscurity in 1890, only to achieve posthumous immortality, Ras Kass believes that his prodigious rhyming talents have gone unrewarded. It’s pretty arrogant to say you’re as good as one of the most notorious artists of the past 200 years, especially since Ras Kass specializes in crafting venomous punchlines rather than sunny, psychedelic paintings. On “Goldyn Child,” he vocally attacks fake gangstas who “Crip walk and not a Crip/Get your fuckin’ ass kicked.” He even licks off at his record company on the title track: “Fuck Priority Records/Like Prince I’m writing ‘slave’ on my cheek.” Like a latter-day Iceberg Slim, Ras Kass’ vivid imagery is so overwhelmingly pessimistic that his raps burn themselves into the memory while leaving parched ears in their wake. Nevertheless, Van Gogh finds him occasionally teaming up with guests like Xzibit and Saafir (“N.B.A.”) and Bad Azz, Tash, and Nate Dogg (“4 Much) in an attempt to lighten the proceedings. Missing from this roster, however, is hit-making producer the Alchemist, whom Ras Kass has loudly accused of selling the same beat to himself and Jadakiss. While Jadakiss used it on the underground smash “We Gonna Make It,” Ras’ teases his listeners with the opening strains of “Home Sweet Home,” only to cut it off abruptly and introduce a new rising star, DJ Khalil from Self-Scientific who drops two burners in “Kiss U” and the title track. “(Alchemist) know he a bitch,” sums up Ras Kass on the former. Van Gogh presents a familiar quandary to his fans, many that regard Soul on Ice as a lyrical, not musical, classic and Rasassination as an uneven compromise between underground tastes and mass appeal. Like the latter, Van Gogh is saddled by sub-par cuts (“TV Guide,” “Ah-Ha”) that bog down the album with unnecessary filler, dulling its tight focus on heady rhymes and hydraulic-rattling beats. Ras is unquestionably a great lyricist, one of the most idiosyncratic in modern rap. Van Gogh brings him closer to proving that he can assemble a musical platform sturdy enough to showcase his talents without quite pulling it off. In 2002, Van Gogh was re-titled Golden Chyld. Like the former, promos were sent out to press. However, Ras Kass never released a third album with Priority, and he eventually left the label.

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