Happy 20th Anniversary to Rasco’s debut album Time Waits For No Man, originally released July 21, 1998.
The Bay Area’s thriving underground hip-hop scene during the mid to late ’90s often goes unnoticed. Built on the DIY ethos of forefathers like Too $hort, the Hieroglyphics crew, and E-40, independent artists began to do some serious street-level music hustling. They built their fanbases through grinding tapes and vinyl records at various independent outlets, venues, and street corners throughout the area. They backed it up with a copious amount of live shows and touring when at all possible. By the late ’90s, some of the best of these Northern California-based rappers and crews began releasing their first nationally distributed albums and even creating their own labels.
One of these artists was Keida “Rasco” Brewer. The San Francisco-based rapper had started his career as a backup dancer and hype-man for the group Various Blends. While working with the crew he began to develop his own lyrics and rhyme style, and was encouraged by the members of the group to pursue his own recording career. Naming himself after an acronym that he came up with to motivate himself in high school (Rasco = Realistic, Ambitious, Serious, Cautious, and Organized), he struck out on his own, armed with a deep monotone baritone of a voice, and a hard-hitting flow.
Rasco signed with the then-nascent label of the San Jose-based DJ Chris “Peanut Butter Wolf” Manak, Stones Throw Records, and released his debut album Time Waits For No Man 20 years ago. It was also the first full-length hip-hop album released on the now legendary label.
I’ve written a good deal of tributes celebrating the albums of 1988, considered by many to be hip-hop music’s banner year. Many of the best hip-hop albums released 30 years ago possess clarity of vision and a straightforward execution. In this respect, and even though it was released a decade later, Time Waits For No Man has a lot in common with those classic LPs of ‘88. Rasco takes a no-nonsense approach to the album, mostly focusing on being a dope emcee and preserving hip-hop culture. The production roster for the album reads like a who’s who of dope West Coast beat-creators working in the late ’90s. But even though Rasco works with many different producers, the album still possesses a singular sound.
The best songs on Time Waits For No Man have a stripped-down, uncluttered approach. One of the prime examples is “Unassisted,” the album’s first single, which is reminiscent of late ’80s tracks by many of the golden age heroes, presenting hip-hop at its raw essence. Rasco introduces himself to the world over a bare bones track by Fanatik, who samples the drum breakdown and guitar stabs from Joe Farrel’s “Upon This Rock.” Rasco steps to the mic with undeniable presence and authority, rapping, “Playing me close, heads is flown at the flag-post / At half-staff you done stepped on the wrong path / You hear the whistle of the missile coming full speed / It's hip hop to the core, I'm the full breed.” D-Styles’ furious scratches at the end of the track augment its golden era feel.
Like much of the independent hip-hop released in the late ’90s, much of the album’s content is targeted towards how mainstream rap music is forsaking its roots, and rappers are being rewarded by major labels for creating fake personas and releasing easily cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers music. Throughout the album, Rasco argues that emcees need to bring the rawness of music back to the forefront. And Time Waits For No Man is at its best when Rasco keeps things simple. On “What It’s All About,” the album’s second single, Rasco delivers lyrical lessons over a shuffling, stuttering beat by DJ Design, rapping, “Please, get out of my face I spits mace / Where hip-hop is coming to rush your whole place / Face the lyrics that shut your whole case / First out of the box and still lost the whole race.”
The Peanut Butter Wolf produced “Hip Hop Essentials” features Rasco explaining hip-hop codes of conduct over a smooth vibraphone loop and drum track. He calls out funk fakers with lines like, “Some of you fools on the mic just bug me / Sipping on Boone’s, n****s talking ’bout ‘It’s bubbly.’ / Yo’ broke ass ain’t never sipped on no Cristal / Pulled no ho’s or even shot off a pistol.” Rasco’s deadpan delivery throughout the album as he expresses disdain for those rappers pandering for pop appeal is particularly effectively on songs like “Me & My Crew,” “Bits & Pieces,” and “What Y’all Wanna Do.”
Rasco isn’t completely unassisted on Time Waits For No Man, enlisting homies from throughout the Golden State to contribute to the album. The Paul Nice-produced title track features a banging verse from the South Bay’s Encore, a truly underrated emcee who later released a pair of excellent albums before finding steady work in the tech world. On “Major League,” Rasco teams up with the then up-and-coming Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) and Defari, a pair of LA-based cornerstones of their own independent scene. Over a thumping drum-track and a chopped-piano sample, all three emcees weave baseball-related rhymes and imagery, with Defari dropping clever lines like, “I’m not like Hideo don't got it Nomo / I’m more like Randy Johnson, guaranteed heat for sure.”
“Take It Back Home,” the album’s third single, was also Rasco’s first collaboration with Planet Asia, the prolific Fresno-based emcee, still young and fresh-faced at the time. Rasco first connected with Asia while the former was attending Fresno State University, and the two began to build. Here they trade rhymes and verses over an uptempo track from Kut Masta Kurt, who uses a horn-dominated loop from Billy Preston’s “Books and Basketball.” It’s apparent from this meeting of the lyrical minds that the duo’s world had definite chemistry together, the type that comes with contrasting styles, voices, and deliveries. Rasco and Asia’s partnership would be particularly fruitful, as the pair would continue to appear on each other’s projects, and they would record two acclaimed albums and an EP together as Cali Agents.
Time Waits For No Man ends with the Paul Nice-produced “Heat Seeking,” the album’s fourth and final single, another example of Rasco’s less-is-more approach to music. Over a simple piano loop and sparse drum track, Rasco stresses the importance of crafting quality lyrics, rather than attempting to ride a commercialized track to mainstream success. He concludes the song by rapping, “For real, I want the respect, don’t want fame / Still be in the game, watching the ish change.”
Rasco continued making music at a breakneck pace, recording four more solo albums, a solo EP, and the aforementioned Cali Agents material over the following 10 years. He even created his own record label, Pockets Linted, to release his own material and that of artists like Chicago’s Vakill, Ohio’s Aarophat, and various other Golden State artists. Rasco hasn’t been quite as active during the last 10 years, but still performs occasionally.
Rasco’s commitment to making superior, uncompromised music resulted in a superior, uncompromised album that both walked the walk and talked the talk. Time Waits For No Man demonstrated what Rasco had to offer as an artist, and his no frills, no gimmicks approach has stood the test of time. He learned from those respected artists that came before him, and set an example for the artists who would follow in his footsteps.