Ahhh… we're still here. A new year, a new chance to start fresh… I'm sure that's what's on one John Austin's mind. That's right--the one and only Ras Kass finished serving his state-mandated hiatus at Corcoran State Prison. Perhaps you remember the "WaterProof MC" getting knocked for a DUI a couple years ago--all while his label, Priority, in a classic example of Industry Rule #4080, shelved his much-anticipated albums Van Gogh and Goldyn Chyld. Instead of turning himself in, Kazzy famously pulled a Richard Kimble and got in the wind, doing his damndest to break out of Priority's headlock on his livelihood. Flash forward to today, and the man hailed by some as the West's greatest lyricist is still disentangling himself from the red tape, having now served his time. But with an alleged 100 songs written during his stint in the beast, not to mention the Catch Me if You Can album he recorded on the run, expect to be hearing a lot from Kass soon enough.

One cat who will be making some serious noise this year is Saigon. If you're not hip to the dude, get your late late pass (AKA Warning Shots) and sit tight. Looks like Sai will be dropping on Atlantic, via Just Blaze's imprint. While Shots shows that Sai is unquestionably one of the very best at grimy-ass NYC street-hop, songs like "Shok TV" or the leaked "Color Purple" display that he's equally adept at tackling real issues. Openly critical of "entertainers" that sell hyper-materialist, damn near pro-GOP values to the kids, in interviews Sai has even called out cats like Snoop and Game (whose screwface is screwed on a mite too tight) for promoting gangbanging in their rhymes. Someone who won't hold their fucking tongue? Exactly what the game needs more of.

What it doesn't need more of? Beef. Shit, even Eminem is sick of it--but is his mans, the carnivore that is 50, gonna let go of his bad blood with the beleaguered The Inc. ? Probably not--if there's any truth to the widespread rumors that Queens drug lord Kenneth "Supreme" Griffith (who allegedly bankrolled Ja Rule's label, most recently leading to their accountant being arrested) not only put the hit out on Curtis back in the day, but on his mother when he was still a kid! We're still in reality, right? Just checking.

OK, and if it's not too much to ask, a moment of silence… and no, not for "the real hiphop," or some fake nostalgia bullshit like that. For the 150,000 people (at current count) who perished in Southeast Asia. Look away from those bootleg DVDs and rare Airs that your boo got you, and send some energy out to those families. Such a staggering loss of life is simply inconceivable; one could hope that it might give some blessed perspective to the rest of us. Perspective that's sure to come in mighty handy in 2005. Maybe, just maybe, celebrating death isn't working for us anymore.

hiphop@thestranger.com

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