Masta Ace - The Masta Speaks
Friday, 9 November 2007
There’s only a few who still got it. Most of them are either over the hill, sold out and lampin’ in their Hummer cruisers or making ballads with folk singers. It’s a tough game, hip hop, but if I had to put Masta Ace on the list, he would be sitting near the top, around the likes of Pete Rock, KRS One, Redman and Eric Sermon. His music is forward-thinking and pioneering, his lyrics genius and his style über-cool. That said there hasn’t been a lot of action from his corner for a little while so this was a great opportunity to catch up on some lost time.
So what’s he been up to all this time- “Well, after Long Hot Summer came out, I did quite a lot of touring – about two years in fact. Following that, I went back into the studio and started working on the eMC project which took up most of my time during ’05 and ’06. That’s a collaboration with my boys – Wordsworth, Strickland and Punchline. Those guys have all been touring with me since 2001 – they would open up at my shows. We would be punching words out and songs and routines and freestyles – that’s where the chemistry started building from.
“I did a lot of shows between the albums and at least one of those artists would come out and I’d bring them out on stage and people got used to seeing us together. Then the fans started talking about the group idea on my website and MySpace and what started off as a rumour turned into one song which we experimented with. We threw it out there on the Internet and we had a good reaction to it and that encouraged us to move forward.” Look out for an album in the near future.
Indeed, for a young buck whose life started off on the streets of Brooklyn and Bronx – rhymin’, battlin’ and listening to Afrika Islam – he has come a long way. “Man, I remember I would get up at like two in the morning and set my alarm clock to tape shows that were on the radio. In my neighborhood we were doing like beats and cats were rhymin’ – all this started in the early 1980s. It was then that I got into the hip hop culture and being an MC; I was always poppin’ electro boogie dances and graffiti and stuff like that; I was a product of the environment I guess.”
But his music has never strayed from what meant most – keepin’ it real. “Hip hop was definitely diverse in those days. You had Public Enemy and you had Schooly D; then you have Heavy D making RnB and Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane and Rakim were doing the harder stuff; Rakim and LL were more smoothed out and then gangster rap became popular too; Easy E was coming up at about that time. Even Ice T was an important hip hop voice. There were many different fronts and it wasn’t uncommon for you to see a tour with different types of artists at one show. You might have had Queen Latifah on tour with Heavy D and they might throw LL in there. It was the golden age when no one was copying anybody. Even Salt-N-Pepa was different – it’s only today that everyone is trying to do what is hot right now.”
He give props to the crews that came later too – the second wave if you will. Artists like Wu Tang Clan and Mobb Deep built on the foundations that were laid and they expanded on it. “The same time Wu Tang came out, Dre did The Chronic. It was all very diverse and the joints that were coming out then were going in all different directions. There was no one to compare these groups to and that was another golden era. Then we fell back and I think now we’re back on the way to some diversity.”
And what was the turning point – where did it all sour- “I think everything kind of started with Bad Boy Records signing Notorious B.I.G – that’s when hip hop became the hot new industry and it didn’t matter what sort of music was coming out. They were selling so many records that were RnB driven, it didn’t matter. They were commercial records sure, but they were forced out by the labels. Everybody became a hit chaser, and all the labels actually forced artists’ hands to try to cater to this new sound. Whether you had to throw an RnB singer in there and flip it, as long as it became a hook no one cared. In that way, the labels watered down the real stuff. It was a new sound and all the females listening to the radio stations loved it – because they wanted to cater to that – but the labels just saw the money and that was the beginning of where we are now.”
Does that mean though that hip hop should never have become about bitches, blunts, cribs, cars and cash- Not really claims Masta Ace. “Man, labels promote that shit so that’s all you see. Who remembers when in Rapper’s Delight he talked about his Lincoln and his Cadillac! Then jewellery went to gold and then to platinum. Everyone started wearing gold but you would get robbed if you went to the wrong club – that’s when it became a problem.
We still have the diversity we used to and I don’t believe hip hop is dead, but the majors forced the artists. I blame the labels that were signing people without talent. They didn’t want to break an artist anymore. You had to walk in and give them a hit. Give them a first and second single and the rest don’t matter.”
Nevertheless, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. The great Masta Ace is heading to Australia for his first ever tour here. “I’m bringing Wordsworth and Strickland and DJ Slow Fader. That’s like two-thirds of the group. We probably won’t do any eMC Records at this point without Punchline, but you’ll hear material from all four of my albums. I’m looking forward to doing it all for you. We’re gonna have a lot of fun. We’ll be up there sweatin’ and kickin’ it for you guys, mixing and matching it up.”
WHO: Masta Ace and eMC
WHAT: Plays the Gaelic
WHEN: Thursday 29 November