The world of Ras G is fluid and evasive. The Los Angeles-based producer has been a respected figure in the West Coast underground hip-hop scene for more than a decade, and he has released music through Flying Lotus’ tastemaking Brainfeeder label. Still, trying to get a handle on his career is like trying to lasso a constellation.
One reason for this is the erratic nature of Ras G’s releases. His work has taken several different forms (official albums, mixtapes, collaborations, cassettes) and it has come out on a number of different labels that live in the same general sonic zone, including Stones Throw, Leaving, Fat Beats and Poobah.
Another reason is Ras G’s sound, which wanders the farthest corners of the instrumental hip-hop universe. He is perfectly capable of making traditional boom bap beats, but he rarely lingers there for long, choosing instead to incorporate odd samples, ambient sounds, glitchy noise and mellow vibes into his stoney, spacey jams.
The latest installment in Ras G’s dizzying discography, Stargate Music, doesn’t stray from this formula. These are not traditional bangers. There are no club hits here, unless you know of a club where muffled thumps, squiggles, hisses and bonks fill the dance floor. Instead, Stargate Music is a 10-track (off)beat tape designed to add up to “an astral ode to woman,” according to Ras G.
More specifically, Stargate Music is a soundtrack for the human life cycle, beginning in the womb, then going out into the world before returning to the womb again. As such, opening track “Primordial Water Formations 1” feels like floating in an amniotic sac of slo-mo keyboard tones, scratchy synth noises and shimmering chimes — but no beat. The momentum picks up with “Water Broken (The Opening of the Stargate),” which takes that same sac of sounds and underpins it with accelerating rhythms to simulate birth.
Oh by the way, the “stargate” is the vagina, “from which begins emanate life on this planet,” Ras G says. Which explains why “Quest to Find Anu Stargate”—if you read “anu” as “a new”—is the funkiest, most assertive track here. It represents man on the hunt for a partner, complete with hard-knockin’ beat, dramatic synth swells and beautiful female vocals. Then comes “Intimate Reconnections 1st Invite (Ankh)” and “The Nector of Stargate (Taste).” The former’s main feature is a synth that sounds like muddy boots stomping through mud, while the latter lazily loops some pretty guitar lines. Perhaps I’m putting too much stock into the concept here, but given these two songs’ pivotal role in the story (this is the turn for home, if you will, as our protagonist has found a new stargate), it feels as though they should carry more weight.
After two more tracks (“Is It Lust or Love” and “Infinite Possibilities”) that tread water, Stargate Music ends on a strong note. “Heaven Is Between Her Legs…(Initiate the Return)” is not the best title, but the song strikes the right balance between reliable momentum and raw experimentation, with clanks, fluttering sounds and a strange vocal melody draped across an smeared groove. And on closer “The Great Return (Racing Seed) / Primordial Water Formations 2,” Ras G blends a skittering beat, a warped house track and some distorted bass into something both inspired and off-kilter.
More to the point: After sleepwalking through much of Stargate Music, Ras G finally sounds awake…just in time for the album to end.