Ras G: Into the Outer Reaches
An L.A. jazzhead launches FlyLo’s Brainfeeder imprint into the outer reaches.
Somewhere at the interstellar crossroads of Sun Ra, DJ Spooky, Strata East, and Lee “Scratch” Perry lies the incomparable musical mind of L.A. native Ras G (né Gregory Shorter, Jr.). Though he often affixes the group moniker “The Alkebulan (or Afrikan) Space Program” to his name, Ras G (a composite of his first initial and a testament to his belief in Rastafari) is the sole captain and crew of this spacecraft. Along with a 21st-century moxie, his collective influences make up what he describes as ghetto sci-fi—an extraterrestrial soundwave transmission of dub, white noise, glitch, off-kilter boom-bap, and sound bites. Incorporating healing tones (specific sound frequencies that are purported to have profound effects on the spirit and body), modal jazz, and ancestral inspiration, Ras G has managed to concoct a sonic brew that defies conventional musical categorization. “As opposed to riding trends and waves, I try to bring forth the music that I really feel,” he explains. “It’s my offering to the world.”
Tracing his fascination with the art of beat-making back to a relative who owned an E-mu SP-1200 drum machine/sampler, Ras G began gravitating towards other area hip-hop hopefuls for inspiration in the late 1990s. Most times, his passion was unrequited. “A lot of them weren’t into the music and the gear as tough as I wanted to be,” he remembers. “Or they were producing music on quality gear and the music wasn’t sounding as good as I thought it could sound. I felt like I could do something better with that stuff.” And with his influences in tow, his present-day cosmic creations can be interpreted as drum & bass being sucked into a black hole (“In Coming”) or celestial binary code (“Desert Fairy”).
In 2005, underground L.A. music scene impresario/producer Carlos Niño helped to launch Ras G’s career as a producer by tapping one of his productions for legendary jazz vocalist Dwight Trible’s acclaimed experimental album Love is the Answer. “That was like the lift off,” Shorter recalls. “But it was all kind of weird to me, because that was like one of the fifth or sixth beats that I’d ever made.” Remarkably, Ras G had only just purchased his first beat machine, an MPC-2000XL, the year before. Capitalizing on the buzz surrounding the Trible record, Shorter increased his output and began moving in a new circle of kindred spirits at a monthly soundclash safe haven called Sketchbook at L.A.’s Little Temple Bar.
“Flying Lotus, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Dibiase, and everybody who’s doing it right now on the L.A. scene used to gather there,” he reflects. “We would play beats, b-sides, and crazy stuff. So I used to make beat CDs for the parties so we would have something to listen to when we were outside smoking.” Since then, he’s been featured in the documentary Secondhand Sureshots and has released a slew of albums and EPs for Poo-Bah Records that have garnered him a devout following from Japan to the Netherlands. And since being inducted into FlyLo’s L.A.-based artist collective/label Brainfeeder, which Ras G dubs “the X-Men of future music,” it’s apparent that he’s bound for the exosphere.
“Everybody loves Brotha From Anotha Planet, but that’s something I did last year in the summertime in my kitchen,” he reveals about the creation of his latest album. “So the vibes of that kitchen were recorded on that project.” And though Ras G has enough recorded material for two full-length releases, he’s wary of predicting what vibes his next album will transmit. “Ain’t no telling where we’re going with this music. The inspiration changes quickly—that’s the Afrikan Space Program. We just do it.”
Photo by Jyay-MO Lauren.
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