Masta Ace (Duval Clear)
b. Brooklyn, New York, 1966.
1988: Take A Look Around. 1993: SlaughtaHouse (w/Masta Ace Incorporated). 1995: Sittin' On Chrome (w/Masta Ace Incorporated). 2001: Disposable Arts. 2004: A Long Hot Summer. 2007: The Show (w/ eMc).
If the Juice Crew were the Wu-Tang Clan, then Marley Marl would be The RZA, Big Daddy Kane would be Method Man, Kool G. Rap would be Raekwon, MC Shan would be GZA, and Biz Markie, of course, would be Ol' Dirty Bastard. Masta Ace was never the most prominent member of the crew in their hey day but over his nineteen year career, he's become the most prominent alumni of the crew still working so I guess that would make him Ghostface. He never achieved the stardom of Big Daddy Kane nor the respect and devotion of Kool G. Rap but by re-inventing himself in the 2000s as your favorite indie rapper's favorite indie rapper, Masta Ace, has continued to have a successful career almost 20 years after his first appearance on the classic posse cut, "The Symphony."
Despite never achieving great success, Ace's high energy "off beat/on beat" delivery and complex wordplay has been extremely influential on many emcees who have emulated his style including and most notably, Eminem, who credits Ace as being extremely influential on his Em's signature flow. (It's even been accused that Em was biting Ace's rap style straight up on The Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LP and if you listen to those records and Slaughtahouse Era Ace you can definitely see the similarities.)
Ace is kind of anomaly in rap. He was one of the first East Coast rappers to make openly West Coast influenced rap music in the midst of a violent East Coast/West Coast rap beef as '93's SlaughtaHouse can attest. He is also one of the rare rappers that can claim that they have improved with age as arguably his two greatest albums, Disposable Arts, and A Long Hot Summer were released almost fifteen years after his career. I "discovered" Ace in the summer of '05 while traveling in Ecuador as I had bought a copy of A Long Hot Summer after reading a good review of it online and downloading a couple of songs onto my iPod. I was blown away by how amazingly well crafted the record was. A Long Hot Summer is a prequel of sorts to its equally great predecessor, Disposable Arts. It tells the story of how Ace ended up in jail over the course of a summer. Ultimately, the record is a record about friendship as Ace's misguided devotion to his shady, Italian wannabe gangster friend, Fats, gets him involved in a money laundering scheme while on tour over a summer that eventually ends up in jail. The record is one of the rare concept albums that really work. The records fit the story and at same time stand alone as great records on their own. Ace truly makes albums. He doesn't make collections of songs. I played the hell out of that record that summer as it followed me everywhere I went in South America becoming the de-facto soundtrack to that period in my life. After coming back home to Cleveland that summer, the first thing I did was cop Disposable Arts and Slaughtahouse which only increased my love and respect for him as an artist.
Ace's music discusses the realities of modern urban life with an every man charm and wamth that makes him unique compared with many of his contemporaries. He's able to be critical of the gangsta lifestyle and the rap music that exploits without coming across like a pretentious douche like the Commons or Talib's can occasionally veer into. '93's Slaughtahouse remains the greatest critique of gangsta rap music ever recorded. It's basically "Hip Hop Is Dead" a full 13 years before Nas made the record. He's able to avoid the traps that befall many conscious rappers go into by instead of simply wagging his finger at his target, he shows why he thinks that gangsta rap is bullshit over beats that truly knock. On the title track to Slaughtahouse, the record starts out with two ignorant rappers calling themselves , MC Negro and The Ignorant MC, making an extremely simplistic and generic gangsta rap song fully of cheesy over the top death threats and a chorus that is literally "Murder, Murder, Murder, Kill, Kill, Kill" over a bombastic G-Funk inspired beat. Th e beat then drops out and switches up and we hear Masta Ace's voice chanting '"Death To The Wack MC" over and over and it's like a fucking war cry against the fake gangsterisms of the day. He goes into a blistering verse shredding the hell out of the whole concept of gangster rap. It's vicious, it's angry, and it's powerful. This is the record that proves that conscious rap doesn't have to be pussified and pretentious. It's harder than hell. If you ever thought to yourself, "Man, rap today is so ignorant and exploitative but at least it's fun! Socially conscious rap is so boring and wishy-washy. I just wish it had more balls." than this is the record for you.
Masta Ace has carved out a nice little niche for himself over the course of the year. He's consistently released great albums over the course of his career. He's been a part of numerous classics songs like "The Symphony", "Me & The Biz", "Crooklyn Dodgers", and "Jeep Ass Niguh." He's enjoyed some small unlikely crossover success with "Born 2 Roll" and "Sittin' On Chrome" and he's part of one of the most legendary crews of all-time, The Juice Crew. Ace may never be on your top ten emcee's list but he's had a full and interesting career . If you ask me, he's the single most underrated emcee of all-time. There's a great song at the end of Disposable Arts called "No Regrets" where Ace expresses no bitterness that he never reached super-stardom or had the career he thought he deserved and is thankful for getting the chance to do what he loved as a boy as an adult. It's a beautiful sentiment. That's what Ace is about: No Regrets.
Songs You Should Have On Your iPod:
The Symphony (w/Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap & Craig G.)
Music Man (Off Take A Look Around)
Me & The Biz (Off Take A Look Around)
Slaughtahouse (Off Slaughthouse)
Jeep Ass Niguh (Off Slaughtahouse)
Saturday Night Live (Off Slaughtahouse)
Crooklyn Dodgers (w/Special Ed & Buckshot)
Born 2 Roll (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
Sittin' On Chrome (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
The I.N.C. Ride (Off Sittin' On Chrome)
Take A Walk (Off Disposable Arts)
Acknowledge (Off Disposable Arts)
I Like Dat (w/ Punch & Wordsworth) (Off Disposable Arts)
Dear Diary (Off Disposable Arts)
No Regrets (Off Disposable Arts)
Big City (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Good Ol' Love (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Da Grind (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Bklyn Masala (Off A Long Hot Summer)
Beautiful (Off A Long Hot Summer)