Young Creators Project spotlight: Ras
Each day this week, we’re spotlighting the homegrown budding talent sourced via KCRW’s Young Creators Project, a community arts mentorship platform celebrating the creative work of SoCal residents under 21.
Leimert Park’s Ras has been honing his rap and hip-hop craft since 2015, evolving his surrealist production, effortless flow, and studied visual palette alongside his crew to create undeniable outputs like “Blessed.” Now 20, Ras — born Paul Ras Levin — got into making music through a high school music production class, which led to his DAW of choice, Ableton. In addition to collaborating with his younger brother Colin, a.k.a. Aman, he helms both the production and recording for his tracks, whose raw, asynchronous cadence punches effortlessly over lo-fi, chillwave beats and melodies.
“Music is how I express and communicate certain moods and feelings,” says Ras. “It's everything for me.”
Ras and Aman join Morning Becomes Eclectic’s Anthony Valadez to talk lyrical inspiration, their multimedia approach, and their collaborative process.
The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
KCRW: When you create a beat, are you already thinking about your cadence and how you're going to rap over it?
Ras: I feel like I've already proven, at least to myself, that I could do both just as well. I'll usually make a beat, and then I'll start to feel or hear a flow in my head. And then from that cadence or flow, I'll start to write. It really depends on the beat, because sometimes I'll make beats just to make beats. But most of the time, I'm making beats to properly write on.
Who inspires you right now, lyrically?
That's always a hard question. A friend of mine asked me literally like two days ago, “Top three rappers right now?” And I would have to say, Vince Staples right now, I'm listening to him a lot. MF DOOM right now. And Kendrick Lamar.
Your first instruments were the sax, the drums, and the piano, correct?
Yeah. I think I was maybe in third grade and I was taking saxophone. I wasn't the best, but that was my introduction to music. And then I took piano and drums. My piano teacher is the one who actually introduced me to software and DAWs and stuff. And that's why I had that little [seed] planted, and then I learned about Ableton, and then boom, I'm here.
Your videos are amazing. Are you guys visually inspired in terms of creating your music and content? How important is that to you?
That's, I think, the most important part. It's so crucial to get the visuals down. [For] a lot of stuff, we sit down with our director Redamo Rosa — he's shot and directed all our videos — we’ll sit down maybe two, three weeks before we actually shoot the video and storyboard. We'll come up with a treatment, all the ideas, the setups. Especially for “Blessed,” we sat down and just brainstormed ideas, setups, and stuff.
And as far as what we’re inspired by, a lot of Kendrick videos. Every frame is a painting. So we try to follow that. A lot of good videos, they never go back to a setup. So we try to do that. Especially with this video, we never went back.
More: Today’s Top Tune: Ras – “Blessed”
Is there ever friction between the two of you when you're creatively cooking up some stew in the studio? How do you deal with that when there is?
Honestly, I don't think there's really any friction between us. If one of us has a beat that we want to both hop on, we both hop. If he has a beat that I like and I only want to be on it, he'll just give it to me. And vice versa. I feel like we're pretty in sync when it comes to stuff like that.
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