Ras G, an experimental hip-hop producer whose kaleidoscopic, throttling beats channeled a wide spectrum of black musical history and established him as a guiding light on the Los Angeles music scene, died on Monday at his home in the city. He was 40.
Bryan Shorter, his youngest brother, confirmed the death but he did not give a cause. He said Ras G had been ill in recent months and had periods of hospitalization.
Splicing together spiritual jazz, classic soul, old-school hip-hop and film soundtracks, Ras G referred to the clamorous, sample-heavy beats he made as “ghetto sci-fi.” He proudly proclaimed his debt to Sun Ra, the jazz bandleader and Afrofuturist pioneer whose message of cultural revolution found new voice in Ras G’s music.
When he began releasing music in the late 2000s, Ras G drew the attention of fellow experimental musicians and listeners, particularly in Los Angeles’s thriving beat-music scene, now considered by many critics to be part of the 21st-century musical vanguard.
Ras G called his home studio, in the Leimert Park neighborhood, Spacebase; a small, colorful space, it acquired a mythic status among Los Angeles musicians. In a video produced by Fact magazine, he described the studio as “pretty much my brain,” adding, “My work represents my culture, my being, my all.”
Steven Ellison, an influential Los Angeles producer who performs as Flying Lotus and runs the Brainfeeder label, said that Ras G had been a source of artistic inspiration and guidance from the beginning of Mr. Ellison’s career. “I always felt like Ras G was decades older than me,” he said in a phone interview. “I felt like he had already lived another life before this one.”
For all Ras G’s reverence of music history, he sought to move things forward by creating beats that felt rugged, confrontational and fresh. “As far back as I remember, his sound was just so raw,” Mr. Ellison said. “It was so thunderous and offensive — like he was purposely trying to destroy your speaker.”
In the Fact video, Ras G noted that he had never changed the needle on his first (and favorite) turntable. “It’s got the same dust that it had in it from the day I bought it,” he said, smiling.
Gregory Shorter Jr. was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 11, 1978, to Gregory and Marguerite Shorter. Though he received little formal musical education, he was obsessed with music from early on.
“He was always playing records and tapes, and he’s always been a digger,” Bryan Shorter said, referring to the practice of so-called crate digging: searching for old albums at stores and fairs. “He used to listen to my grandmother’s old records all day.”
In addition to his brother Bryan, Ras G is survived by his mother, three other brothers and a sister.
He released his first record, “Ghetto Sci-Fi,” in 2008, and over the next 11 years he put out two dozen albums and mixtapes for a variety of Los Angeles-based labels, including Leaving Records and Akashik Records.
He was part of the inner circle of musicians that had inspired Mr. Ellison to found Brainfeeder Records in 2008. It now releases cutting-edge albums along the divide of hip-hop, electronic music and jazz. Brainfeeder put out two of Ras G’s most well-received recordings: “Brotha From Anotha Planet” (2009) and “Back on the Planet” (2013).
“Part of the reason why I started the label was to put his stuff out,” Mr. Ellison said.
Even as his health declined, Ras G continued working almost every day, as he had for more than a decade, at Poobah Record Shop in Pasadena. The store specializes in rare albums and tapes. He often spent evenings at the Low End Theory, a club at the heart of Los Angeles’s beat scene.
In a separate interview with Fact magazine, Ras G was as enthusiastic about his role at the record store as he was about his music-making. He described Poobah’s policy as “open doors always,” and said there were “new kids coming all the time.”
“That’s the job of the record store,” he said. “Get people into other music and have them keep coming back and just introduce them to new and greater things.”
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