December 8th, 2011 | Interviews

theo jemison

Ras_G isn’t from this world—he’s just passing through, making music that connects to the cosmic righteousness of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sun Ra and Dilla. His newest album—the double 10” Spacebase is the Place, named after the part of the world where you’ll most often find him—contains the crushing bass-is-actually-the-place songs any Ras_G fan has been seeking on vinyl for years, and July’s Down 2 Earth is a beat tape built on the rhythm of a city bus, with gentle starts and stops breaking up the (dirty / beautiful / same thing anyway) scenery. L.A. RECORD welcomes this true citizen of the universe as he settles in for another day at his Spacebase. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Did you see a UFO in Leimert Park last night?
Mmmhmm. I was walking down the street headed to Low End Theory. A big big big blue light went over everything that I saw. I’ll tell you exactly—I was walking by the park, and some cat passed me and said, ‘What up’ and I said, ‘What up,’ and then instantly … a big blue flash! Huge! Like … woooosh! I turned and looked back and the cat just kept walking. I didn’t see nobody, no cars, no helicopters, nothing—like it never happened.
Is that just another night in L.A. for you?
I’m in the world, man—everything is happening in the world. I’m just watching.
What is the Spacebase? Besides the cradle of all things Ras_G?
It’s the base of everything that I do. It’s where I live at—it’s the root of my creations. We moved it twice. If I had to move it all in one thing now, it’d be like … one U-Haul full.
Do you ever emerge from the Spacebase and forget what year it is? What planet you are on?
All the time. It’s bright and I put on my shades. I look at people and I just … I’m usually quiet in the world, unless it’s somebody I know. I’m pretty much just a camera recording the world. I don’t know if you check my tweets, but I always put ‘in the world’ because I’m in the world. I don’t drive—I don’t know how to drive—so I’m with the people. I’m walking, I’m on the bus, the train … I hear all kinda things and I see all kinda things. Wild stuff.
What kind of connections can you make without being in a car?
Conversation—cats see you on the bus with records or books or certain things, and certain energies just attract. Beyond all this earthly matter and so forth. It builds conversation. I see all kinds of people on the bus—I just saw Self Jupiter from Freestyle Fellowship on the bus! The one I frequent the most is the 40 bus. Goes through L.A. all the way to the South Bay and all the way uptown, to Union Station. All the way down Broadway, and makes the right on to Martin Luther King Boulevard and a left on Crenshaw and all the way down Crenshaw to Inglewood, South Bay, Torrance.
What’s the best record to listen to when you ride the entire 40 route?
Usually the best record to listen to is not a record—it’s the people! I listen to all my music at Spacebase. Spacebase is nothing but music. I’m always listening to records and I’m always making music. Constantly music. So when I go out into the world, I wanna hear the music of the world. I listen to the people. I listen to the sounds. I listen to what’s what, you know? There’s so much going on. People’s iPods, people’s phones—I listen to the people, man! That’s what I listen to. I listen to my iPod certain times, but I don’t even turn that shit on very much because I listen to the streets and to the people.
What do the people want? What do you hear them say?
They need creativity. That’s what they need to see. I’m just embodying taking all that and recreating everything I feel. I don’t know what they wanna hear. As someone who’s going out on the planet, I’m just recreating what I feel when I go out on the planet. When I step outside these doors, it’s just like … whoa. I’ll give you a perfect analogy. You ever seen the movie Altered States? Crazy 80s movie. This crazy-ass doctor Dr. Jessup is shooting up crazy drugs and being in this crazy-ass tank and shit, and this fool is doing these drugs and he has this flashback where he goes into the bathroom … he comes out and opens the door and it’s like … oh shit. All he sees is fire and all kinda shit going on. That’s how it is for me when I step outside Spacebase! I see certain people and I know ’em and it’s good, but it’s like … wow. I’m in the world.
So when you look at the world, it’s in flames?
Not particular in flames—but wow. Oh shit! It’s extreme. It’s not bad. It’s a lot of good things, a lot of bad things—it’s everything. That’s why I embrace it. There’s a lot of worlds within this world. More worlds than you could even hardly grasp. We small on this planet. We’re like fleas to people light years away. Like Sun Ra say—‘We’re in another world.’
What do you mean by other worlds?
It’s different minds. Every mind is a planet. Another way of thinking, another way of being. Certain things are parallel, but everyone has their own world and way of being on this planet.
When you and Sacred interviewed each other, he was talking about how Dilla would rework songs that were already all around us and change them so they were right in front of people—basically using music to alter the way we look at the world around us. Is that something you try to do?
Yeah—recreate it. Using records and samples and so forth. It really stems from Bambaataa. Afrika Bambaataa. We pay a lot of homage to that cat. Basically like Secondhand Sureshots—it’s being able to pull up any record. Any record—any sound on this planet!—and hearing that frequency within that record, you can recreate that record for certain people. For that certain frequency because you can hear it within that. The record or the song could be total trash, you know? But you hearing certain parts—what they call ‘breaks’ in things? There’s breaks in every music. All sounds, all frequencies. That’s the connection—that re-creation of that music is a re-connection with the people, with all music and all things they never knew existed.
What is that frequency?
Different cultures are brought up on different melodies. Certain things catch over to certain people. As long as you’re utilizing all these different frequencies—which can be limited. You gotta be unlimited dealing with all these different frequencies and different worlds, but you still gotta maintain your own self within going to all these other planets and other worlds and dealing with all these frequencies. But like I say—if you touch on it and recreate it and make it all one thing, that’s the proper equation … for me!
What do you want to do to people with those waves of bass?
I’m trying to move you. It’s the heartbeat. The bass is the movement—that’s your life. It’s the life sound. I’m bringing life to music.
Am I right when I recognize songs from Spacebase from the set you did at dublab on 4/20 this year when Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma came out?
Yeah—a lot of them tunes have been done a long time. I been wanting to get it out for maybe two years, but dealing with earthly matters and earthly people … I actually had to save my project. I didn’t want it to get bootlegged, so I never linked anybody to it or gave ’em the tracks, even though I play them all out live.
Didn’t you get bootlegged once already?
Yeah—I was gonna do an EP, and the artist who was supposed to do the cover … I gave him like a rough copy one-track mix, and he bootlegged it! I still have them, but they ain’t came out. I always say—digital music is cool, but you don’t have the record till you have the record. You know—you think you have it, but you don’t have nothing. It hasn’t made a physical state yet, but the project also hasn’t been aborted. I like digital music, but it gets to a point where it’s just another thing in my iTunes with a million other things.
You started out with just a drum machine but flipped records and sold incense to get an MPC sampler. Why did you know you needed more than just a drum machine?
The whole Bambaataa thing. Records and loops and listening to all these different sounds. I just wanna hear ’em on loop! When you hear ’em on loop, it’s kinda hypnotic. You start hearing more than you think you actually heard previously. It kinda draws deeper. It’s kind of a spiritual thing, some might say. Not a supernatural thing but a spiritual thing. You lose touch with your physical being. You return to your higher self—your higher sense of being—through these things. That frequency can be found in different records, different worlds. The first time I really got an understanding of it … I was with my mom in the car and this DJ on this old soul station was playing a lot of soul—Slave, Parliament, Funkadelic—but he was playing joints that everybody was sampling. N.W.A., Ice Cube, E.P.M.D., X-Clan—all these things. So I’m like, ‘Yo … what’s that?’ It made me think about that. Then I went to this club in L.A. called Brown Rice and BBQ, thrown by the Soul Children. DJ Sacred was part of that crew—that collective. They’d throw these parties in the hood at these random spots and they’d just play like … breaks. So-called breaks. And I’d never been to a place like that or heard shit like that, and I’d seen them playing all these records so it made me wanna go look at my people’s records. ‘What’s in these records?’ I’d just start listening to these records at my grandma’s house and I heard some shit. ‘I know that, I know that …’ It just clicked.
Chuck D has talked about how Public Enemy would sample not always for music, but for history, too—like making sure the voice and energy of Rufus Thomas was connected to theirs.
All that goes into that. That’s what I’m saying. When you’re looking at these records and checking their histories, certain things just draw you to it. If that’s what you about and that’s your energy, that’s what you gonna pick up. I’m the same way. I see … I’m looking at my randoms now. MUSIC FROM THE WESTERN CONGO. A Folkways Joint. I see it … I can’t hear it, but still—I bought it, and it’s one of the craziest records. It’s like ’60.
Like when they’d drive around in the sound truck taping people?
Yeah, you know—stealing music. That’s pretty much what they were doing. Not giving these people any money. Talk about sampling—you’re recreating for them cats. I’m just in Spacebase. This is like me making a mark. This is my pyramid. My hallowed place. These are my marks, my pieces. My piece of life. This is what I bring to it.
When Ghetto Sci Fi came out, you said people couldn’t believe you made the music you did with the tools you had.
You can do all kinda things with nothing. That’s the whole thing. I come from a hip-hop background—that music comes from nothingness. It’s an idea. Ideas come from nothing. The birth of a thought—thoughts are nothing till they become something you can see and share. Thoughts don’t matter till people see something they can believe in. That’s why I say hip-hop comes from nothing. Kids who don’t play instruments and only had records made music and a culture that changed the world. Even today. You turn nothingness into something. With the tools of now—as opposed to buying every new tool, you can just master one tool and create whole new worlds with that tool.
What will you do when you master something like that?
I don’t wanna be like master of none of these things. They’re just canvases. I just put thought and feeling into them. How I hear things in my mind. That’s all that I do.
On the song ‘Silly Earthlings,’ you have that sample: ‘Everything I do is always brand new—I walk a real road, I’m a real person inside. I don’t put on no airs. I say what I think.’ Is that the Ras_G philosophy?
Ah man—that’s Charles Manson. As crazy as he is, he has his points. He’s a nut—but it makes a lot of sense, certain things he talks about. I’m not a Manson dude. But everybody got something to say.
On Spacebase, you have songs for Flying Lotus and Dilla. You also have a song for your friend General Black—you even have early songs for Dwight Trible. What makes you want to give a song to someone?
Most of these people I pick when I do these kinda things, they kinda make a mark. Not in terms of the world—well, in the world, but sometimes personal. Like my friend General Black. I didn’t know General Black that long in my life. But when he came through, he made a mark. As an artist—where I make music, he’d make a piece. Like—man, he just sat there and did that right there? A mindblowing thing. Or Steve from ‘Sketchbook’ days, when we were all just making beats. I wasn’t thinking about making live shit. I didn’t think anybody was really listening to shit that was going on. But he kinda broke out and showed that motherfuckers was really listening to the shit that was going on. … You salute these people. I think it’s an African thing. We salute our ancestors. You congratulate your brother. You don’t hate your brother. You big up your sister. There ain’t none of that hate shit. I’m all about that. It’s all connected—it’s all a oneness. You don’t know your roots, you don’t know where you’re going!
Where are you going?
I don’t know. That’s like asking a tree, ‘How long you gonna grow?’ He can’t even tell you. He can only be. He’s a life force. He’s a being. Giving off fruits, giving off oxygen. He’s just being. He’s busting through concrete—like a nothing-can-stop-it kind of thing.
Sun Ra said that even though we get certificates for being born and dying, we don’t get anything to prove that we’re just being.
Ra said a lot, man. He’s still flying. He’s still putting out books! He droppin new books, new poetry—it’s endlessness! That’s why he’s my favorite. Of everything. As far as music and art and all these different things. He’s done it all. He’s an old man but playing with young dudes and killing it!
How did you find out Sun Ra existed?
I kinda didn’t know who he was, but reading certain books and seeing certain things … it’s like a call. Like I see ankhs, I see wings—this looks familiar. It don’t look foreign to me. I got The Wind Speaks and that shit blew my brain. I’m still buying $200 Saturn records right now. It’s like getting ancient scrolls! Direct from the man himself. Direct from his label. He’s touching these records, the band—their hands were on ’em. That’s personal, man.
So certain things in the Spacebase were touched by Sun Ra himself.
When I got Disco 3000, I bought it in Japan. Homie went in back of the store and came out with Disco 3000—the OG! I was like, ‘AUUUUuuuuuugh!’ What’s killer is that’s my favorite one. He’s playing with a drum machine on that one. That’s my favorite one and I had to have it so I dropped $300. Willy [Gaslamp Killer] couldn’t believe it. And that was it! Playing with a drum machine? That’s before anybody was doing that shit. Arkestra playing with a drum machine. That’s what I try to recreate. That’s my biggest one—I recreate Disco 3000 with all my shit. That’s why I like that dude so much—he kinda reminds me of myself. I’m not trying to be Sun Ra! I’m not trying to be nobody. We kinda got a lot in common, that’s what it is. We got the same source of humor, thought and being. I don’t know many people like that. I mean, a lot of people think like that … I got a lot of like-minded fellow beings on this planet. But this is just my particular … it’s my elder, I always say.
Are you the source of that sample of Gaslamp Killer saying, ‘Los Angeles is in the motherfucking building?!’
Yes I am! I will take that quote! I did sample that, and you know, I always tell Willy—he has a real effective voice. Whatever he says, people listen. Instantly! They do exactly what he says, so I always thought that was an effective drop—I use it quite often. I know where it’s from, but guess what—I ain’t tellin’ you all! That’s what I said—you gotta find your own world!