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August 12, 2001

Masta Ace

Masta AceI like hip-hop. Masta Ace likes hip-hop. I write for Underground Sound. Masta Ace writes rhymes. I don’t have an album coming out soon. Masta Ace has a new album coming out soon, “Disposable Arts”. Acknowledge Masta Ace, hip-hop legend.

l-ementary: First off, for all the younger cats who might not know or remember the Juice Crew or Cold Chillin, why don’t you briefly tell us how you initially got into hip-hop.

Masta Ace: I got involved in hip-hop way before there was ever a Juice Crew or Cold Chillin records. I was a shorty growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in a DJ crew in the late 70’s, poppin’ and electric boogie dancing, and writing graf in the early through mid 80’s…I started writing my first rhymes probably in 1978 or 79. I didn’t officially meet Marley Marl until the summer of 1987 after winning an MC contest and being awarded studio time at his crib. After recording a few demos with him he decided I had what it took to bet down with his first compilation, “Marley Marl in Control Vol. 1”.

Looking back now, did any of you realize at the time that the Juice Crew would go down as one of, if not the, most important crews in rap history?

I know I didn’t have any idea of the importance of what I was involved in and how influential we were to so many people and artists today…if I had known I would’ve taken more pictures. I’m often told by artists in the game now that back then they would listen to our records and that was what made them wanna rap.

When an artist tells you that, how does it make you feel? That may be a broad question, but like, when an artist tells you that, is that something that at the end of the day makes all the bullshit and hassle you must go through worthwhile?

At the end of the day it’s good to know cats were listening and that you’ve in some way helped shape the next generation of mc’s…it’s rewarding…don’t know if it makes up for all the industry crap, though…it can be overwhelming at times.

Again looking back, how the Cold Chillin roster able to stay together and keep ego’s in check, when now it seems every single emcee wants to be C.E.O. of his/her own label?

To be honest, if we had better leadership at the C.E.O. level we could’ve all been more successful for a longer period of time. It’s not a bad thing that artists want their own labels…sometimes it’s better to be controller of your own destiny and have total creative control. If you look at it we didn’t stay together…it was very much the fault of the label and it’s leadership which caused many of the artists to want to get out of their deals…Cold Chillin could have easily been Def Jam with the right cats running things.

Tell me about the recording of “The Symphony”…what was the vibe like during recording?

The only reason I was even on “The Symphony” was because MC Shan backed out at the last minute not wanting to “play himself” by being on a song with a bunch of new cats. I was only there at the session to observe…there was a dispute about who would set the song off…nobody wanted to go first, so Marley asked me on the spot if I had a rhyme ready, could I set the song off and “show these cats what’s up”. It’s funny because I could have easily not been there that day…it was pure luck…or fate.

So do you agree with The Source’s recent article labeling it “the greatest posse cut of all time”?

That’s good to know…I don’t know if it was the best or not because I’m too close to the action to be objective…I like to leave it to others to rate stuff that I do…It was definitely the blueprint for posse cuts.

Coming back to the present, you have the new album being released, but also just recently “The Best of Masta Ace” was released…how involved were you in picking tracks to go on the album, or was it out of your hands?

I had absolutely nothing to do with that “Best of” project…it’s a joke to me. All it is really is my first album…they have no rights to “Slaughta House” or “Sitting on Chrome” albums so how can it really be a best of without “Jeep Ass Niguh”, “Saturday Nigh Live”, “Born to Roll”, “INC Ride”…they also have not paid any of us one dime to put these “Best of” projects in stores…they’re eating off our names without giving us anything.

OK, so even though this is your first album since “Sitting on Chrome”, I think, you’ve still been dropping singles or contributing to singles on a regular basis…”Brooklyn Blocks”, “N.Y. Confidential”, “N.F.L.”, “Ghetto Like…”…why the wait to release the album?

I had not intention of putting out another album…I began to hate the industry and the politics…I had a whole album, 2 years worth of work, get shelved by Big Beat and I was not interested in recording for another label ever again…my goal became to focus on production and get behind the scenes so I could make things better for the next artist coming along…it wasn’t until a couple of years had gone by before I started getting the recording bug again…I felt there was more to do behind the mic…so I went for it.

“Disposable Arts”…why that title?

The nature of this industry is such that artists and their music becomes disposable. Fans are quick to move on to the next new thing as are labels…they use it up and throw it away…I look at rock groups and see them performing and recording for years and years, the fans and labels don’t abandon them…we in hip-hop are quick to dis our heroes of yesterday for the “new next”…it (the title) also refers to this era of fast food hip-hop we live in where albums are recorded in 2 weeks, verses are written in the studio under strict deadlines, features are conjured up in some A&R’s office and 14 songs are selected from a pool of 30-40 which were all recorded at a record place…I am more down for home cooking, not fast food.

Who do you got there are far as producers and guest appearances?

Greg Nice, Rah Digga, King T, J-Ro, Young Zee, Leschea, Punch and Words, Strick, Jane Doe, Jean Grae and talented newcomer Apocalypse. Producers…Domingo, Ayatollah, Paul Nice, Gerrard Baker and Xplicit to name a few.

I’m guessing that you knew a lot of the emcees and producers on the album beforehand, but for any of them, was it just like you were a fan of their work and got a hold of them through their label or whatever?

Young Zee I always liked since The Fugees album…he stood out to me…love his voice and grimey, humorous rhymes…I first heard Strick on a mixtape and seeked him out…he was that impressive…always loved King T and considered him the best in the west coming up…basically everybody on the album as far as guest appearances were hand picked by me because I felt they could add something to a song in their special way…

A lot of “veteran” emcees have been coming back into the spotlight lately; you, Kool G. Rap, Biz Markie’s doing a new album…do you think that younger heads are gonna embrace these albums seeing as they may not have been exposed to the artists before?

My album title answers that question, but hopefully we can be embraced by the younger heads who may want to learn a little about where they’ve been. I think as long as it sounds good, kids don’t care who made it… some kids that is…

Now, there’s been some controversy surrounding the new single, “Acknowledge”, on which you dis the High and Mighty and Boogieman. Now Mighty Mi is saying that it was just a misunderstanding and that you guys are gonna do a track together, but as far as Boogieman goes, where does the beef stand right now?

The beef is squashed. It was a misunderstanding and I will never dis anybody again without hearing it with my own ears…

Who has been your favorite artist, or artists, that you have collaborated with? Which artist or producer do you want to collaborate with that you haven’t?

DJ Premier and I have known each other for a very long time now and are friends beyond this industry…we have never really collaborated other than him doing the cuts on “Saturday Night Live”…we both acknowledge that it’s time we link and do a joint…my favorite artist that I collaborated with probably hasn’t happened yet.

Any tour plans underway?

September 2001…touring Europe, England, Scotland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Amsterdam, Croatia, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Africa…

What are the changes in hip-hop, for better or worse, that you’ve seen in your time in the game?

For better, artists being smarter with money and being able to make a better living at this…for worse, clickism…the rule that says if your not down with this cat or that label then you will not be accepted in that other level on the industry.

And finally, do you have anything else to say to the fans?

Yeah, support the album…I guarantee you will not be disappointed! It’s an entertaining record…hope you like lyrics…