In Conversation with…Masta Ace
by Ron Worthy
Like many lifelong hip-hop fans, I first heard Brooklyn born and bred Masta Ace‘s unmistakable flow and bars on 1988’s classic Marley Marl produced posse cut “The Symphony.” That track, which leveraged Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”, also featured other prominent Juice Crew members Kool G. Rap, Craig G. and Big Daddy Kane. According to Ace in an interview, he made his recorded music debut almost by accident. As it turns out, none of the other rappers wanted to do the first verse so, at the urging of Marley, Ace jumped in the booth and blessed the mic with the inaugural verse. Ace went on the mention that he thought his verse would get left off the final, but it stayed and the rest is history.
I actually met Masta Ace almost 30 years ago. At the time, I had a radio show on the mighty KZSU 90.1 FM at my beloved alma mater, Stanford University. It was during the Gavin Seminar, I believe. Somehow, I landed myself on an evening boat ride on the San Francisco Bay. It was amazing to say the least. There was food, an open bar and amazing views of the skyline. The invitation was even fly. It was a re-imagined American Express Card but with “Atlantic Records” (the boat ride sponsor) replacing AMEX and the event information replacing the other info. Dope.
Masta Ace was on the boat along with several other industry professionals and rappers including Mystic and, then freestyle phenom, Supernatural. At one point, a circle of onlookers surrounded Supernat and he began fielding seemingly random words from people in the crowd and he would do several off-the-dome bars. It was pretty incredible. Later, I would chat with Ace on the deck of the boat. He had on an Electronic Arts jacket and explained that he was a product tester and was going to compete in a Madden Football tournament. I was super impressed!
Not too long after that, Masta Ace blew up! He released back to back dope LP’s on L.A. based independent record label, Delicious Vinyl, with his newly formed crew, The I.N.C. The first, Slaughterhouse, featured one of my all time favorite tracks of that era, “Jeep A– N-guh.” As I later learned in our discussion (see below), he was really defining Brooklyn Bass Music during that era and wanted to explore the depths of the 808s and 909s which were popular Roland drum machines at the time. He followed that up with Sittin’ on Chrome featuring the West Coast remix of “Jeep A– Niguh” called “Born To Roll,” which charted in the top 10 on Billboard‘s rap singles chart Around the same time, he collaborated with two other Brooklyn MC’s as the Crooklyn Dodgers for the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s movie “Crooklyn.” Talk about “Born to Roll.” This cat was rolling hard!
Through the rest of the 90s and early 00’s, Ace stayed on the grind and put out some really really quality music. What many people don’t know is that he has an incredibly impressive number of international features with a wide array of artists from Europe. He has remained true to his convictions and has navigated the treacherous music business and he did it, mostly, his way.
Honestly, he is one of the most underrated MCs of all time. His mid-career albums Disposable Arts and Long Hot Summer are truly unsung classics but may have been missed by many amidst the flurry of more commercial releases at the time. Each was extremely well conceived, produced and performed but didn’t get the publicity or exposure they deserved.
Fast forward to our recent conversation about his latest project, “Home In America,” a track he recorded with Analog Players Society, and he is still doing his thing. The track was the culmination of several spliced studio sessions by APS, a group of New York based studio musicians. The song includes some social commentary by Masta Ace and asks the listener to question their concept of “home.” When I spoke with Ace, he confirmed that he really wanted listeners to think and have something to talk about relating to current events.
As we were speaking, I was really struck by Masta Ace’s openness. We covered a wide array of topics from the pandemic, growing up in Brooklyn, The Juice Crew, car culture, the music business and so much more. He was extremely candid and shared a lot of stories that I didn’t know. In particular, the real story behind “Me and the Biz” as well as his interactions with Spike Lee while recording the original version of “Crooklyn.”
After our conversation, I admired Masta Ace even more not just as an artist but as a man. He is a very humble brother who has continued to evolve his career as the industry has changed. His obvious talent for storytelling and music is now manifesting itself in a hip-hop musical that is in the works. He has also developed scripts for television and can see a feature film in the future once he gets his feet wet with his latest project. If this new direction is anything like that first verse he steeped up to kick from “The Symphony”, we are all in for a treat.
Check out their new track “Home in America” featuring Masta Ace
Watch the full length interview with Masta Ace
Ron Worthy is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of soulhead.com. A passionate audiophile who has been a DJ for over 25 years, Ron studied classical music and plays 4 instruments. He loves discussing all things Prince, Hip-Hop, and Funk. When he is able, he shoots a mean game of pool, digs comedy, loves eating fried fish sandwiches, making crab cakes and drinking micro-brews from all over the World. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and cat. Check out some of his work for soulhead.