Masta Ace has been making music for the last 30 years. A legendary artist with a catalogue that is timeless and stayed away from the gimmicks by focusing on the craft. Masta Ace is currently working on a follow up album to Breukelen Story with Marco Polo and is also working on a hip-hop musical for the stage. I caught up with him recently during the coronavirus pandemic and discussed a range of topics from his career to his thoughts on the pandemic.
You started off on the legendary Cold Chillin Records and you’re on the song “The Symphony” what was it like being around Marley, Kool G Rap, and Kane in those early days?
It was a great time. It was definitely an inspiring time being around so many talented emcees, artists. It definitely made me realize that I needed to make sure my pen game was on point being around these guys because they were rapping at such a high level and putting out great songs. So if anything it helped me sharpen my sword in terms of going forward as an artist after I left Cold Chillin.
This year is the 25th anniversary of Sittin On Chrome your third album which had a lot of commercial success with song such as “Born to Roll” which is a West Coast anthem. Do you feel that created a conflict in your branding at the time with you being viewed as an East Coast Artist?
The conflict was really with the New York audience because they didn’t really understand what I was doing [at the time]. At the time there was very much this East Coast versus West Coast sentiment around the industry. It sort of became a pick a side kind of scenario. I was not picking a side. I was just making music for New Yorkers and people out in LA. So I started putting out records that were appealing more to audiences in Los Angeles and New York was kind of like you with them now, you’re not with us no more, you’re with them. It was a lot of talk and different terms being used to describe what I was doing and what I had done. It turned some people off on the East Coast but at the same time it actually expanded my career. I got a lot more fans that didn’t know who I was that started to follow my music. I picked up more fans along the way as far I’m concerned.
One of my favorite albums is Disposable Arts and you have this incredible diss record named “Acknowledge” aimed at High and Mighty and the Boogieman and I always wondered what led up to you recording that song?
So there was a few things that were happening while I was making that album. I was hearing little digs. Different rappers were saying little stuff on the radio and in interviews. I can’t remember the rapper but he was freestyling on one of the underground stations off the head but his punchline was something like “you gon’ fall off like Masta Ace” and at that moment I realized that if I didn’t do something I could become a punchline in this whole thing and I refused to be a punchline.
The follow up to Disposable Arts was the Long Hot Summer album you have this song “Beautiful” where you rap “I see a black man aiming his gun, but I’d rather see a black man claiming his son…” How do communities help young men in our most neglected and vulnerable places find the people and activities that will nurture their natural talent and abilities?
I just think we need more mentors. One of the things that I did back in 2002 after Disposable came out is that I started working at a high school in Brooklyn and I became a football coach. The sport was really not the main thing that I did while I was there. What I did is I mentored and shaped the minds of young men that were coming in front of me by speaking to them and trying to make them better people. So when they got further in life and they became adults they would have a sense of what it meant to be a man and what was cool and what wasn’t cool. What was acceptable and what wasn’t. I was at that school for nine years mentoring young men. Nine generations of young men that I was able to be around, talk to. One of my big things was them using the “N” word and thats part of their common speech. When they talk to each other it just rolls off the tongue like regular conversation. I had a rule just with the guys when they were around me they needed to watch their mouths. What I was trying to do was to teach them how to edit themselves and be accountable and be accountable for their words.
Your most recent album Breukelen Story was critically received and has sparked a lot of arguments online about who is the best emcee from Brooklyn and I was wondering who are some of your favorite emcees from Brooklyn?
I got a bunch. Big Daddy Kane, Notorious Big, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, and Sean Price. Honorable mentions to Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Jeru the Damaja.
Eminem has previously cited you as an inspiration with a lot of fans seeing the similarities between your delivery. You’ve always been pretty humble about that in the past. Some people would even say that it’s a similar style between you and Royce Da 5’9. Are there any current emcees that you kind of listen to and maybe wonder if they kind of like your sons so to speak and do you feel in a way that’s like homage or do you think thats disrespectful in a way?
I don’t feel it’s disrespectful because I feel like we all influence each other. As much as Eminem says I influenced him he influenced me as well. When he came out with the type of wordplay he was messing with and the stuff that he was saying. The type of outrageous stuff he was saying. The way he was putting the words together, he raised the bar and made emcees go, I gotta write real intricate. We started to believe that fans couldn’t follow real intricate raps and started to water our stuff down.
The coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately effecting minority communities and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the coronavirus crisis?
I have a lot of thoughts. It’s unfortunate that its disproportionately effecting the black and brown community. We all know thats because we have disproportionately less access to medical care to healthy food options. Most of us live in food deserts. So for that reason a lot of us are suffering from diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Many other auto immune diseases that put us at greater risk to be sick if we catch this disease.
*this interview has been edited for brevity. Check out the full interview on my youtube channel and don’t forget to subscribe!!
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