September 9, 2009

Masta Ace

Masta Ace
Illustration by Pearl Rachinsky

Masta Ace is one of my favourite rappers, so when I got to talk to him I was stoked to the highest degree. It’s refreshing to talk with a rapper who possesses a healthy dose of perspective and experience. Ace was amicable and there is no hint of animosity with “the rap game,” – a standard amongst some of the more “senior” rappers as of late (ahem…name rhymes with “car chase”). Considering that the bulk of his career runs 2 decades deep, I thought that Ace would lament the ‘good ol’ days,’ but he’s surprisingly positive of current trends; adapting to the new industry through extensive guest appearances with no-name rappers and touring extensively in Europe and the U.S. On top of coaching high school football and writing a novel loosely based on the narrative from his album Disposable Arts, he’s got a new project dropping with Boston’s Edo. G called Arts & Entertainment in September.

You have been doing lots of guest verses, what’s the story behind that?

It’s to stay in practice, the habit of writing verses and to keep the voice and the name out there…to stay fresh, current, to collaborate, to try to shine on different things; it’s easy to shine on stuff that you create, but it’s a challenge to jump on someone else’s song or idea or concept.

You’ve seen the music industry change for the past 3 decades…do guest tracks cheapen or hinder the way the music is made?

That’s really the nature of the new era of music…to be able to collaborate and not even meet the people – I’ve done that several times. In this digital era, all you need is a laptop; an M-box, a microphone and you can feature on somebody else’s record.

Were people recording tracks together in the studio during the ‘90s?

For the most part, yeah…but there were those rare cases where the other person came to the studio and maybe you weren’t there that day or you came late; but it definitely required someone be in the studio while you recorded a vocal. The way things have changed now; it actually works out better for artists like me. Right now I’m negotiating with somebody in Bosnia, they want me to be on a song…there’s no way I would be featured on this track with this Bosnian artist any other way – if this was the ‘90s, there wouldn’t be any other way, he probably wouldn’t be able to reach me ‘cause emails was not even popular then. It’s allowed an artist like me to be more accessible to more people.

And is that positive?

Yeah it’s positive for me, [I’m] able to collaborate with people on the other side of the world. To me that’s a change for the better.

Do you ever feel a little bit old in the rap game?

I know what my age is, I know what the number is, but the question was ‘feel.’ No. I feel like I’m 18, fresh in the game…I don’t feel old. I’m gonna do it until I feel old and I don’t feel old.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to release music in this age? It’s easy to make the product, but you can’t lock someone down enough to listen to it. Do you ever get frustrated?

I’d say it’s easier to make music now, but it’s harder to get it to the masses. The Internet makes you accessible, but you need to rely on people to find it. You can put it on your Myspace page and it’s available for everybody to hear, but unless somebody has a reason to go to your page, they may never find your stuff. Long gone are the days of major labels giving you quarter million dollar budgets to make your record, then $400,000 to promote and market your record. Everybody’s trying to do stuff on a budget, the math doesn’t add up, you can’t spend a million dollars on a video anymore.

With that said, did you ever have million dollar videos?

Never. My biggest video budget…probably $40,000.

Which video was that?

It was probably “Music Man.”

I was always curious about your album A Long Hot Summer. You’ve got “Brooklyn Masala” – a really dope beat, nice rhymes, good content and then the next track “Travelocity” has Punch and Words kicking a sex rap. Was that deliberate? Why did you put those two tracks together?

It’s the great contradiction that hip hop is. In terms of me trying to tell the story on that album, that’s just how it worked out…that’s the logic of the story I was telling.

“I think that what the music lacks now is that balance…because on that same chart with Chuck D, Public Enemy and NWA, you had Kwame who was on some real happy, fun stuff, rapping about dancing and partying.”

You say that hip hop is a contradiction, why is that?

Nobody is one thing. I remember back in the days when Chuck D, KRS One – they stood for positivity of the people and the type of music they made was uplifting. Even back then, when those artists were doing those great, positive records – on the same Billboard chart was NWA saying ‘fuck the police’ and all this other crazy shit they were saying. I think that what the music lacks now is that balance…because on that same chart with Chuck D, Public Enemy and NWA, you had Kwame who was on some real happy, fun stuff, rapping about dancing and partying. All these artists [could] hang out backstage, got along together, broke bread together and I feel like that’s kind of missing now.

It seems like everybody is too cool these days. Maybe these new guys coming out now will release a couple of records, get popular and then change their tune. You see that a fair amount in hip hop, I think of Busta Rhymes…

I some how knew you would say that name.

I’ll always check for Busta Rhymes, but I haven’t been a fan of anything he’s done since probably 2000…

I’m a fan too. I know where your head’s at – you’re a little bothered by the sudden inclusion of the drug dealing tales, you’re kind of wondering where all that came from after 5 albums, why now? As a fan – Busta’s a dope lyricist and a dope emcee – but I understand what you’re trying to say.

Have you ever been at a crossroads in your career where you could make a ton of loot? Or maybe you keep your integrity, make good music and have fans that will stick with you for a long time…

I was definitely there and that’s why I can exactly relate to what you referred to with Busta. I was in that situation where I was on this label and my hand was being kind of forced to stay with the status quo of hip hop and the radio [at the time]. I still have those songs…you might hear ‘em and go: ‘I can’t believe he did that record,’ but from a lyrical standpoint, I’m still saying dope stuff and I got caught up trying to please the label. Obviously I wasn’t totally comfortable in what I was doing and the album got shelved and it was probably for the best that that happened. I don’t know what would have happened if those records came out. I don’t think I went far enough in that direction that they wanted me to go. They were recommending that I get certain R&B artists to sing certain hooks on certain songs. It was that era where Bad Boy was the big, big label and [they] were selling all of the records and had all the songs. I was kind of being forced to do records in that vein…I gave it a go…I still have those records, they’re in my vault, I listen to them every now and then – I cringe a little big on some of it, but it’s all cool.

What kind of material were you talking about?

I was referring to my crew the I.N.C. as kind of being on this high level where we roll deep in the clubs, all the girls want to be around us, we have these cars parked outside…and all of that, I was going there. I had one foot in…and the other foot was on a banana peel. I might have a whole different career, I might be double, triple platinum, millionaire, living in a big house…Disposable Arts would never got heard and A Long Hot Summer would never have been made.

How do you like working with Marco Polo?

Marco’s super dope. He’s going to probably going to produce more stuff for me in the future. He’s got lots of talent, lots of ill beats – he’s always got a cigarette and a cup of coffee…

It’s sort of died down now, but for a while with this Nas and ‘hip hop is dead’ bullshit, there was a lot of talk of ‘the state of hip hop,’ but it seems that hip hop is always in a state of something. Is there anything wrong with rap these days or is it different?

I think it’s just different for the most part. There are some troubling trends that you can look at in the music, but overall it’s a new sound, a new generation of kids doing it. I try to be tolerant, I try to be understanding of it – if it’s garbage, it’s garbage and I’m not gonna like it. I don’t just paint all the music with a broad brush.

Last Words/Shout outs?

Check out,, – look for solo albums from Wordsworth and Stricklin early next year, look for the next EMC album coming out shortly too…I’ll be dropping a DVD project, a documentary about my life…and I’m writing a novel as well, which will loosely based on the story line of Disposable Arts.

22 Responses

  1. Ace……one of the few old school cats that still kills it today and has actually evolved his style. a true all time great

  2. ****
    Al aka El Negro
    September 10, 2009 at 2:46 am
    Ace’s show out here four years ago was truly an experience. Mad fun. Dope interview!
    -Agreed! Ace & Words killed it…

  3. Very Good interview! Nuff Respect Ace. I’ve been following your career off and on and I remember back in the day when we were trying to get Marley to play “Howard Park” after production. Steady Pace and I were just getting off the bus one afternoon at Howard when it came on. Those were the days!

  4. I Can’t wait for the Strickland album one of my favorite emcees right now. Great interview, a bit short but very nice.

    1. Outta curiosity, what would you have wanted to see in this one? If this who I think it is, your rap knowledge runs deep and you’d prob have some ‘senior’ insight…

  5. Yeah that was real nice Jon B, your tone/voice is very smooth and comfortable while still asking the questions that need to be asked. Good interview fo sho.

  6. Thanks for the free concert in Brada, Netherlands! It was real cool of you to come and preform. This was a very good interview.

  7. Finally found sometime to read this. A great read read as expected….will certainly his check out his novel. Agreed a little short..Thanks Jon, kinda jelous

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