Masta Ace Interview: Hip-Hop’s Music Man

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by Alex Shtaerman

In just about every sense Masta Ace is a Hip-Hop legend. Rappers are rarely characterized as musicians, sometimes due to stereotypes but more often than not for good reason. A dude that comes in a studio and spits bars over beats selected by his manager while adhering to a list of predetermined topics is probably a lot closer to being a musical instrument than a musician. A true musician is in control of his or her own destiny and follows a vision as opposed to a format. A musical instrument, on the other hand, just gets played. One listen to A Long Hot Summer and whether you are a long time fan of Masta Ace or just getting into rap, you will immediately recognize why Ace has long been known as Hip-Hop’s Music Man. Fresh off his European tour with Edo. G, we got a chance to chat with Ace about the success of his new album, the new label and his cooking.

Read review for new Masta Ace LP A Long Hot Summer.
See pictures from Masta Ace show in NYC with Ed O.G, Tonedeff, Buckshot, Craig G & more.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You were just all over Europe touring in support of the new album. What was the response like? And also, why do you think Europe has become the new hotspot for authentic Hip-Hop; in your view, how are the fans over there different than in the US?

MASTA ACE: When we were over there the response was incredible. I was over there with Edo. G; we did about 25 shows and every night was jam-packed with people that just love Hip-Hop and support the music and they enjoy themselves when they’re up the spot. Europe is the new hotspot – well, it’s not the new hotspot, it always has been – since 1990 when I first went over to do a show in London and saw the reaction of the people, it’s always been that way. I think that because most of the artists live so far away and its very rare that we go over and visit – I think that when we do touch down in their country or their city, they are very enthusiastic about us being there and they want to show us their appreciation for us making that trip. They jump around, scream, make noise and they support the real stuff; they love good beats and hot rhymes.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A Long Hot Summer has been getting some great reviews; the album is being recognized by many Hip-Hop news outlets as one of the year’s best. How would you characterize the overall response, is it more or less than you expected?

MASTA ACE: Its actually more than I expected because when I did the last record Disposable Arts, there was an overwhelming positive response, a lot of critical acclaim for the album and I really didn’t feel like it was going to be possible to outdo that or to even match that with A Long Hot Summer. But I was pleasantly surprised when we released this record and got similar or even greater reviews and critical acclaim from it; it was a positive thing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: One great thing about the album is the production and how everything ties together. A lot of artists who are good lyricists often fall into the trap of not having good beats on their albums and over-focusing on just the lyrics; what is your creative process like where you are able to create great songs not just great rhymes?

MASTA ACE: I think being a producer over the years has helped me to kind of focus in on what a good track is and not just focus on the lyrics. I find that I write better to other producers’ beats than I do to my own, so I tend to gravitate towards other people’s production. It’s a process that – when I sit down and decide I’m going to do it, I try to make a record that sounds like a record that I would want to buy. When I’m making it and putting it together and piecing everything together, I’m trying to entertain people in the way that I would want to be entertained if I went out and spent fifteen dollars to buy a CD. I want people to feel like they got their money’s worth and that it was an experience and that they were taken somewhere on a little bit of a journey and that it wasn’t something that was just thrown together.

A lot of times you buy records and you get the impression that it’s just twelve or fifteen songs thrown together in sessions that took two hours apiece and it was just three sixteen bar verses, a couple of hooks, scratches at the end, fade out and that’s it. I don’t believe in shortchanging the fans and the supporters and the people that buy the music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: It seems with the advent of the Internet artists on independent labels are able to get their message out more and more; do you feel you are finally in a position where you are able to turn the tables on the music industry, at least in some ways?

MASTA ACE: I think I am past trying to turn the tables on mainstream music. I think for underground artists right now its about creating your own world rather than trying to assimilate to commercialism or commercial music; its about making the music that feels good to you and letting the chips fall where they may. If it turns out that commercial radio gravitates toward a particular record or particular album then that’s great, that’s a positive thing; but if they don’t, you still have your core audience of people that will support your records every time you drop them and come out to your shows every time you perform. I think a lot of artists get caught up in trying to get rich and that’s where they run into the creative problems, when they start trying to cater to commercial radio and make records that are radio friendly.

I believe in making records that feel good to me and if it so happens that it’s a record that works for radio then that’s great but that is not my intention, that’s not my goal and its not what I set out to do. I believe that the underground has to create its own world and in the near future you will see more moves being made in that regard – we need to corral our fans and our supporters because there is a solid fanbase of people out there. Like you said, many of them go to the Internet to get the music or information and we just need to corral those people. Easily there’s half a million people out there – probably more than that – but its about corralling those people and getting them all on the same page. We can sort of have our own parallel world to the commercial world.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Throughout your career you have never been one to worry about trends. I remember playing Sittin’ On Chrome to a friend of mine for the first time and he was like – wait a minute – those are West Coast beats. You were actually one of the first prominent artists from New York to rhyme over beats like that. Can you talk about your role in bridging the gap between East and West on a musical level while the feud was going on and what the response was like to your music at that time?

MASTA ACE: The song that kind of started all that was Born To Roll; the track that I used – many people got it twisted because they looked at that record and they said West Coast; but what they didn’t realize – which was what I did realize – is that the West Coast had adopted the old school East Coast sound and had reinvented it. So when I made Born To Roll, I went back and found an old school East Coast beat – which was Knowledge Me by Original Concept on Def Jam Records, an East Coast Label – I took that beat and I flipped it and I did my rhymes over that beat. When people heard the beat, a lot of them did not know the history of the track, they didn’t know where that beat had come from and they automatically characterized it as West Coast but they didn’t realize the history.

If you really look at music and the evolution of Hip-Hop, you’ll see that many sounds are connected together, there isn’t any one sound that you can characterize as East, West, North or South, its all connected in some way. When Luke came out with Miami Bass and started to blow with Miami Bass, people didn’t realize or at least didn’t pay attention to the fact that Miami Bass was really just Planet Rock, Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force, early 80’s Hip-Hop that he took and rhymed differently over, but in terms of the beat itself it was based off of Planet Rock – that’s what the whole Miami Bass sound was based on.

So I feel to a certain extent I have lived the entire history of this music so I kind of know the origins of the tracks and the beats, so when people categorized it as West Coast that was fine because there was that certain appeal there to the West. I shot the video out there; I was at a car show, the LA Supershow, and I painted that picture of a Brooklyn kid coming to LA to go to a car show and people bought into that whole idea. I had the dark glasses on or whatever – but at the end of the day it was all East Coast based music and I just always need to remind and correct people when they characterize it that way.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You have a track on the album called Wutuwankno where you answer a lot of questions about your past. One of the things you say is, “no I wasn’t dissin’ Ghost, before you try to spread beef you should listen close”. What situation is that line alluding to?

MASTA ACE: On the previous album Disposable Arts there was a line where I say “like Ghostface you don’t gotta front for me”. I was referring to a line that he had said on Raekwon’s album when they were talking about dudes copying Nas’ cover [on Illmatic] and this and that. So he was going at rappers a little bit and he was like “yo, you don’t gotta front for me dog”. So I was basically quoting him and people thought that I was directing it at him rather than quoting him so I was just clearing that up.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You have your new label called M3; what artists do you plan to put out through the label?

MASTA ACE: Most immediately Strickland, he’s the next one that’s on deck right now. We also may do a specialty project that I am going to be a part of that would come out probably right before his project but that’s still under wraps, I can’t really speak about it too much but there will be a couple of things that will come out. Strickland will be the next artist that is going to come out but there will be a little something special that comes out before him.

RIOTSOUND.COM: There were rumors that A Long Hot Summer would be your last album but now we are hearing that is actually not true. When can fans expect another Masta Ace album?

MASTA ACE: Well, I can say that you will hear me on some more music in 2005 but it won’t specifically be a solo album. That’s about the most I can say about it. At some point in 2005 there will be some more music that my voice will be on, so keep your ear out for that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When you first started making music did you think you would still be doing it over fifteen years later? What was your goal in doing it when you started?

MASTA ACE: Initially the goal was just to be heard. I wanted to hear my voice on the radio – that was the only real goal I had. I definitely didn’t think about it in a worldwide scope. I didn’t think I would travel to half the places that I have traveled to, that I would set foot in Paris, Italy or Germany or any of these places. It has carried me far beyond what I ever thought it could and its been an enjoyable ride, it has definitely been fun.

RIOTSOUND.COM: This past Summer I got a chance to catch you perform at the Rocksteady Crew’s 27th Anniversary Jam (see pics) in Newark; do you have any shows coming up in the States?

MASTA ACE: Definitely, I got a bunch coming up in the States. I got S.O.B.’s on January 20th in New York. Also, I wouldn’t say at the Rocksteady show that was a performance – that was just getting up and doing a couple of joints, that’s what I would call that. S.O.B.’s will be a full show. We got Chicago coming up soon, we also got Toronto, that’s not the States but it’s coming up. There is info for the fans on all the upcoming shows on the website www.MastaAce.com.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Being a huge football fan; what are you looking forward to most in this year’s playoffs?

MASTA ACE: I am looking forward to the Eagles finally making it to the Superbowl ’cause that’s my favorite team. However, I can’t predict that they will get there because as much as I am a huge fan I am also a realist and I look at our team and the way we have played the last couple of weeks, even though we have been resting people, I am just a little bit concerned. I am concerned about the fact we are not going to have Terrell Owens in the lineup, I am concerned about other guys stepping up or not stepping up and I feel like somebody might be ready to pick us off in the first round, I am a little scared about that but I’m still going to root as hard as ever.

So in the NFC I’d like for it to be Philly; in the AFC I would have to pick the team that I think we would most likely have a shot to beat; so I’d like to say the Patriots. I think we would have trouble with Indianapolis and I think we would have trouble with Pittsburgh. It sounds crazy to want to go against the defending champs but if I had to choose out of those three I would have to go with the Patriots. Philly and Patriots and hopefully Philly can figure out a way to win it all; I’ve been waiting for 20 years.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I read on www.MastaAce.com that you take great pride in your cooking, what are some of your specialties and how often do you cook these days?

MASTA ACE: Baked ziti is one of my specialties; I cook lately about once a week because my wife just had a little girl so we got a daughter now and the schedule has been crazy as far as cooking on a regular basis, we usually try to take turns. Baked ziti is definitely one of my specialties. I make baked salmon sometimes, I bake a lot of stuff, I don’t eat too much fried food. The recipe on the website is the chicken, broccoli and cheese soup, so I got a few things here and there that I like to make.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides A Long Hot Summer and all the shows coming up, what should fans be looking out for?

MASTA ACE: In late 2005 I’m dropping a double DVD that is going to chronicle my entire career from beginning to end. From the neighborhood I grew up in all the way up to the present. Every video is going to be on there and also every video I appeared in. It’s going to cover so much information – if you’re interested in it, it’s going to be fun but it’s going to be two DVDs worth of material.

For all info on Masta Ace stay tuned to www.MastaAce.com