Written by Atiyyah Khan on Wednesday 29 September 2010, almost one year after Ras G’s performance on the Pan African Space Station in Cape Town. Images by Atiyyah Khan.
So after two months of being here, I finally make concrete plans with Ras G. Turns out he is terrible at making plans. I’m meant to see him during the day, but it doesn’t work out. So at night I try again, and we agree that I go visit his place. Online he is a man of a few words. I’m a little anxious.
On the way driving there, I enter a part of town I’ve never been to before. I don’t want to say so, but no doubt, on the more ghetto side of L.A. His ‘house’ is a white door, flanked by stores on each side. It’s 9pm.
He greets me outside and his figure on the door is a silhouette hovering in smoke. When I met him last year, his long dreads were tied up in a turban, this time though he greets me with them down, and they reach floor-wards. His beard is also dreaded. He is wearing some kind of harem-like pants and a Rasta-coloured shirt. I enter, (we don’t do a friendly hug) and though he doesn’t say it out loud, there is a mutual understanding that he has just said, “Welcome to the SpaceBase”.
I walk into a cocoon of smoke, coughing a little into what is clearly a room infused with the scent of L.A’s finest weed. When the haze clears, I notice that I am in the middle of a small dark room lit only by a single red light.
From another room, a green light beams through. Immediately I take a liking to the SpaceBase and its dark cosmic atmosphere. A bed sits at my feet. To my right, there are thousands of records stacked from floor to ceiling, with the SUN RA albums forming a large checkerboard pattern on the wall. Most of them have plastic covers on them. He says he has been collecting since ‘96. Across from the records, is his table with tons of DJ gear complete with turntables, mixer and two giant speakers. A ground floor apartment means he can play music as loud as he wants, and doesn’t get bothered. The rest of the room is completed by a tiny kitchenette. The SpaceBase is purely for music consumption. It is commanded by a Mac that sits neatly on the table next to a SP-404 sampler. A dark room, with great sound and lots and lots of amazing music…I am here to play.
I sit down on the corner of the bed, which is placed directly on the floor. And he sits at the desk next to me. He is quiet and somewhat shy. We talk for a bit about the mad weather in L.A. He rolls the first joint with such smoothness that I am unaware that it is even happening. In one hand, tobacco leaf (in place of rizla) and in the another, a small tin to sort out the weed. He rolls long, thick joints that look like cone-shaped cigars. Puff, puff. Pass.
Soon afterwards, he starts with the music. First he asks if I want to listen to a rough version of a mix he is currently making. We sit through all ten minutes in silence, my mind leaving earth, very slowly. We talk about music. Mary Anne Hobbs, Coachella, Range Rovers and L.A. He plays sonic sounds that are like candy to my synapses. Outer-space and forward, forward, forward I go!
We’re just cooling down from a 45 degree day, the fan is on full blast. He gives me some lemonade filled with ice. It goes down like the sweetest drink I’ve ever had.
Why this sudden development of a collective of L.A beat producers I ask? He says, “Well the sound is unique, because isn’t it obvious? We’re all smoking weed in L.A man! It’s the sound of a super-chilled vibe, the kind you only go into when you’re high. And we’re all on this trip.”
“Ohhhhhhhhhh!”, I respond.
After his mix, he tells me he makes music for hours and hours, and not stuff that people can dance to. Why should he be limited by club music, or feeding bass to a crowd track after track? His last gig in Amsterdam, he says, was indoors where people sat down on the floor and listened. Perfect! A listening party. Something I’ve always longed for, but never been able to find. This, somehow being more conceptually easier than a headphone party. Headphone music, exactly…the mind stuff.
The tunes keep coming, the second joint is lit. He introduces me to some crazy rapper called Suga Free who raps about pimps and pimpin. And probably if I knew my rap music better, I’d know him. We laugh at his crazy-ass lyrics. Then he goes deeper and plays me some of his own stuff. He says that in L,A, these are the sounds that he hears when riding the bus, with his headphones on. He is in the minority of people who survive L.A without a car. I’d never be able to do it. “What does the world sound like?” he asks me.
Ohhhh shit I think….Ohhhh shiiiiiit! Totally bewildered by this question.
Time fades away, each track melts into the next. While listening, we both sit quietly, looking at the computer screen nodding our heads to the beat in succession. Along the way he imparts great musical wisdom upon me, which for the life of me, I can’t seem to remember now. I will regret this. Suddenly he puts on some iTunes visuals that get us completely engrossed. To me, they look like electric jellyfish exploding into each other with each wave of bass. Totally absorbed, we stop talking for what seems like hours.
Later, we talk about the uncanny nature of life. That exactly a year ago, at the Pan African Space Station event where he performed in Cape Town, I gave him a ride home at 4am and we spoke about L.A as though it was another world. I remember telling him a few weeks later that I was thinking of applying to study here and how he’d have to show me all the cool things if I ever got here. It was a bad joke then. The idea became an actual thing. I applied. I got in. I got here. And a year later, I am sitting in his living space in L.A listening to music together. Mannnnnn!
Soon he rolls another joint, each time- a quick, smooth process- the room is hazy, my mind a blur. As he rolls, his lighter is neatly cushioned by the SP-404. We talk a little more. Each puff is lasting. Now sitting on the floor, I think, I won’t be able to get up from down here, Gravity gets the better of me. I am all at once rooted to the ground and floating all at the same time.
In this time, he has played me tons of his own music. I only identify it by his signature ‘Oh Ras!’ airhorn samples that permeate the tracks but he also plays pieces of things he likes. Some of the L.A beat guys. Some Free the Robots. Some Kutmah. A lot of good alternative hip-hop that I should’ve been taking notes about. Some Slick Rick. It has become like being in a room, with your very own personal DJ, selecting tunes for you. Each sound blending in perfectly with the last, and exactly what you want to hear. Music that lifts you off the very edge of the last piece of earth that you were holding to. And loud. Like the inside of a club loud. Like having giant headphones wrapped-around you-loud. It goes from beats, to hip-hop to some ambient electronic, really dark heavy-bassy stuff, to light and playful funk drumbeats. I slip in and out of consciousness in the room, back to my thoughts, back to the room. It is a trip where the music is all-consuming.
At this point we barely talk, taking a puff of what I can’t remember is the fourth or fifth cigar-looking joint. Suddenly, I am self-aware, shy and paranoid all at once. I feel as though it could be 3am. Shit, how long have I been here? The responsible side of me kicks in and all of a sudden I have to leave. He says its 11:30pm, but hurriedly I get up to leave. Truth be told, I could have stayed there all night. But since I haven’t been high in months, I feel the need to go. High as a kite. But with a guy as outerworldly as Ras G, what does it mean if I stay till 3am. Is it cool? Deep down I know it is. I wonder how many people he does this with. I wonder if I’ll ever have this experience again?
In any case, I get up to leave. He gives me some CDs to listen to. I glance down just catching the name of Daedelus on one of them. I hesitate, the kind of way you do when you’re stoned and with each step you think, I’ve forgotten something. He is totally chilled out, I don’t reckon anything fazes this guy. We talk about meeting at the Eagle Rock festival this weekend, with Flying Lotus and a whole load of other Low End Theory producers playing. I leave thanking him for the night. He sees me out- we don’t exchange a hug-and I float home and up the elevator still enveloped in the Spacebase-cloud.
Once back in my room, I call up a friend. The sound of her voice makes my heart fly. I laugh, uncontrollably, as if still in a dream.