Devised as a two-part album to mark two decades since the release of his classic début “Soul On Ice”, “Intellectual Property” is the first slice of Ras Kass’ crowd-funded vision. Since this offering is supposed to invoke Ras’ original masterpiece it’s hard not to compare it with his first album, but when you do that, you’re left feeling slightly disappointed.
This much-delayed 20th Anniversary celebration of “Soul On Ice” I assume is purposely separated into two albums; one a straight-forward new LP, and the other a continuation of the super-lyricism found in the original album. I assume that the second part of this two-album set (“Soul On Ice 2”) is the album that will contain all the complex, historical, and political lyricism that we all know and love, because this first instalment contains nothing on the level of “Nature Of The Threat”, “Interview With The Vampire”, or “How To Kill God”.
There’s a quick blip of lyricism on the song “Trade Places” in which Ras delivers an interesting verse where he reverses the societal roles of males and females, but this track is marred by Dina Rae’s uninspired chorus and production that’s so dull it almost makes you nod off. “And Then” features a quick history of Ras’ growing up, getting signed, label politics, trying to get out of a record deal etc. but again this song contains some uninspired production. “BARdom” is a song in which Ras Kass and KRS One outline how talent and originality rarely results in fame, but fame usually comes to those with no talent. With Ras rapping “stardom is… bardom is…” this is one of the few songs that contain a lyrical concept, but that being said, when Ras Kass mentions that racist interloper Eminem in his last verse, you do a double take. You don’t big-up Eminem during your trip down memory lane, especially when you’re someone who made the anti-racist song “Nature Of The Threat” whereas he made the racist song “Foolish Pride”. That to me is contradictory and on the cusp of selling out.
Speaking of contradictions, there’s also the confusing track “Kanye Moment” which sounds like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s Trap-mocking, Kanye-West-mocking, or actually approving of this type of Hip-Pop sound. If this was an intentional parody, then it’s not constructed very well (it’s no TETRAHEATHEN for example) and if Ras likes Kanye and Trap music, then surely he contradicts his line from “Downward Spiral” where he raps “Every-song-in-the-club-sound-like-this” (imitating a Trap flow) and also “I’m not hating I just don’t feel that shit” (when referring to contemporary rap music).
The beats on this album are by and large underwhelming; “Bishop” features some dull production which sounds more like Lounge music rather than Jazz music and “Beautiful Mind” includes some poor quality R’N’B by Teedra Moses along with a cheap sounding piano, the song references Prince’s “1999” but it’s not really in the same league. “Hood On Ice” is okay but the drum machine and violin sample results in some amateur sounds and “Lose It All” is a horrible R’N’B-infused track that reminds me of “Build A Wall” by the East Park Reggae Collective.
There are of course some pretty decent songs such as “In The Moment” which is a nice mellow track that features a guitar and almost no rhythm section, with Ras describing the song as “psychedelic” and “trippy” this at least bucks the trend of the same-same production.
Quite a few songs start out promising but then a certain element ruins the overall track. For instance “Reverse Engineering” featuring Torae & OC is a listenable track but the lame R’N’B chorus ruins the song – when “Time’s Up” by OC kicks in for a second you realise what better production sounds like. “Promisedland” is also one of the better tracks thanks to the production by Statik Selektah but this particular joint is let down by the singing during the chorus. The worst is probably “#WWJD”, a so-so song with some very poor-quality double-time from Ras, and “Constant Elevation” is a song that sports some forgettable noughties-sounding “underground” production, and RZA’s contribution of “Wassup, wassup, wassup” sounds to me like he’s been accosted in some hallway and forced to give a shoutout that’s then fashioned into a chorus.
I don’t know when these songs were recorded but Ras Kass’ “I kill a mic like Conrad Murray” line (from “Downward Spiral”) comes after Meechy Darko from the Flatbush Zombies used a similar lyric a while ago, and the line “Like a Wedding Photographer who only takes selfies” (from the song “Bishop”) plagiarises a joke by Anthony Jeselnik. These various elements don’t make for an original piece of work.
Incidentally, there’s multiple versions of this album out there, and the Bandcamp version is missing the songs “Goodbye”, “Sycamore Tree”, “Viral”, and “Intellectual Property”. “Sycamore Tree” is one of the better tracks on the LP and it features Da Ranjahz’ Wais and a Black Moon sample (“Slave”), it’s unfortunate that this song is missing from the standard edition.
There are numerous songs which are very enjoyable but they all contain guest spots so there’s not enough of Ras on them to be notable works. “PayPal The Feature” featuring General Steele of Smif-N-Wessun and Sean Price of Heltah Skeltah is one of the better tracks and Steele gives a decent verse as well as the late Sean Price providing a memorable chorus. “Talk Greazy” is another above average song and AFRO gives an impressive delivery, and then there’s the Demis Roussos sampling “End Of The World” featuring Killah Priest where Priest exhibits his unique and impressive brand of Hip-Hop. This song fades out too early, but besides that little criticism, there are far too many solo songs that are disappointing and far too many collaborative songs that outshine the unaccompanied tracks.
To be fair, there’s quite a few decent tracks on this album such as “BARdom”, “PayPal The Feature”, “Downward Spiral”, “Talk Greazy”, “End Of The World”, “PromisedLand”, “In The Moment”, and “Sycamore Tree”, but unfortunately nothing really stands out as a classic song. Yes, Ras Kass is one of the all-time great MC’s, but you get tired of him repeating that fact over and over, and two thirds of the album is exactly that – Ras being conceited. Showcasing your arrogance without including a stand-out song doesn’t make for a well-rounded album.
“Intellectual Property” is an album that’s a little too long and a little too unfocussed. The tracks are not really separable by topic, overall they sound like a bunch of unconnected verses placed randomly over some average production, chopped-up to form individual tracks. There’s also a few unneeded skits that add nothing to the LP and the album as a whole doesn’t really flow or blend successfully, you don’t want to come back to “Intellectual Property” and listen to it in its entirety for a second time. Hopefully “Soul On Ice 2” is more akin to Ras Kass’ début, because overall this release is a let-down.
“Intellectual Property” is not the worst album around, but this is the legendary Ras Kass we’re talking about, and you expect a little more from him than this. A Ras Kass album is supposed to be more than a long tracklist, you expect an anti-establishment viewpoint, unorthodox political stances, clever metaphors, and pure lyricism. With “Intelectual Property” what you get is a collection of songs that sound like a reject bin for “Soul On Ice 2”, there’s stuff that’s listenable but ultimately it’s forgettable.
I recall many critics back in the day saying that the problem with “Soul On Ice” was the lacklustre production, and even though I didn’t fully agree with that assessment, 20 years later “Intellectual Property” suffers from this very same problem. The fact that this album doesn’t contain the same level of lyricism as “Soul On Ice”, unlike it’s artistic predecessor, “Intellectual Property” is largely disappointing.