Decades in a timeless trade: In-depth with Masta Ace [Interview]
Ottawa, ON – NYC emcee Masta Ace made his second Ottawa appearance in less than a year on March 28 at Ritual Nightclub, courtesy of Kapacity Entertainment.
In commemoration of the 2012 studio album of the same name, The Son of Yvonne Tour took a cross-Canada trek which started in the West Coast before making its way to the nations capital and closing out it’s dates in the East. The Brooklyn-native was supported by fellow eMC members Wordsworth and Stricklin.
I sat down with Masta Ace and his crew in Ritual Nightclub’s greenroom before his performance to discuss the Son of Yvonne, an atmosphere of Canadian touring, international work and an the 46-year-old hip-hop veteran’s life beyond the booth and stage. Check the exclusive feature after the jump.
Before ‘Golden Era’ even became a commending term for a generation of hip-hop that spanned the 90’s, Masta Ace had produced two studio records, peaked on the Billboard Top 100 chart twice and with an ensemble of mural-worthy NYC hip-hop legends, helped redefine the commercial state of the genre; revolutionizing the prominence of Gangsta’ Rap in a time “when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre,” as Rolling Stone masterfully defines it.
Before ‘Golden Era’ even became a commending term for a generation of hip-hop that spanned the 90’s, Masta Ace had produced two studio records, peaked on the Billboard Top 100 chart twice and among an ensemble of mural-worthy NYC hip-hop legends, helped redefine the commercial state of the genre; revolutionizing the prominence of Gangsta’ Rap in a time “when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre,” as Rolling Stone masterfully defines it.
As I stepped in to the the Ritual Nightclub greenroom I saw before me a humble, well-studied looking Masta Ace in a Champion hoodie, sweatpants and reading glasses; my comfort zone eased. I took a seat next to him on the vintagesque-looking couches which surrounded several 12-packs of bottled water, no up-tier bottles on ice. I welcomed him back to Ottawa and he introduced me to his fellow eMC members.
To his left was Wordsworth, a Brooklyn artists who had arguably the most consistent freestyle showings I’ve ever seen live. The kid could render any person, place or thing surrounding his on-stage aura in to rhyme form. And he did.
Lounging on the love seat was Stricklin who’s name I was no stranger to. The Milwaukee artist made an early appearance on Ace’s A Long Hot Summer studio release back in 2004.
As the bars to Ei8ght is Enough shuffled through my head, I contemplated to ask Ace about his relationship with Edo G since 2009 and the bare-bones style clip they put together. I wanted to know more about his lyrical anti-theses to all things flashy and the over-produced, mindless garbage that idiots love. However, I knew my time was limited. I needed to hear something contemporary.
Masta Ace: Q&A
HipHopCanada: First I would like to start by asking you, how is Edo G doing?
Masta Ace: Edo G is cool. I haven’t spoke to him in a bit, but he’s putting out his own solo projects now. I see him doing his thing, I pay attention from afar; he’s touring, he’s got videos popping out everywhere. He’s doing good.
HipHopCanada: You are no stranger to Canada. This is your second time in Ottawa in less than a year. What’s your favorite thing to do around here? I mean, you’ve spent countless days on a tour bus with Stricklin and Wordsworth coming in from the West coast, and you’ve still got a long way to go before the tour wraps up. What keeps the atmosphere interesting for you in Canada?
Masta Ace: Nothing specific to Ottawa, but all over Canada I always enjoy meeting different crowds when I come. Canada in general always reminds me of the crowds in Europe, especially in the big cities. It’s always enthusiastic people who love hip-hop, having fun and making noise. That’s what I like. I find it very similar to touring Europe.
HipHopCanada: Speaking of the European scene, you’ve done a lot of international collaborations with artists there; tracks with a Swedish rapper name Chords, collaborations with Karpe Diem from Norway to name a few. You have toured the continent extensively as well. What differences and similarities have you discovered between working not just in different industries, but cultural scenes as well?
Masta Ace: I kind of feel like the work effort is very much the same; people want to get stuff done as much as we do here. What’s different… People overseas are a little more meticulous about how an album sounds, making sure they got the right vocals on a track, stuff like that. But I think generally speaking the creative part is pretty much the same. They just want to make sure they put out a great product.
HipHopCanada: Do you find the work ethic to be somewhat the same in Europe – do they follow the same process of making a record as many North American artists?
Masta Ace: Actually, I think cats in the States take longer to push out a record after you collaborate with them. A lot of the time when you do a record with a local artist, there’s chances it won’t come out for three years, maybe four years sometimes. That gets annoying. European artists seem to be a lot more on schedule then here. I respect that.
HipHopCanada: Son of Yvonne carries a lot of emotional energy behind it, through it’s production stage as you stated in your confrontations with press and through it’s performance on the road. Do you see that same energy – positive energy I should say, keeping you in the [recording] booth for many more years to come?
Masta Ace: That kind of energy that you mentioned has always driven me, from the start of my career. The next record really on slate is the next eMC record. We’re going to put our brains together to come up with an incredible, cohesive follow-up record to The Show and tour the world again. That’s the plan. It’s amazing how many things in life that have so little to do with music can affect you, or influence you so profoundly. It’s definitely positive.
HipHopCanada: That’s a very good way of approaching things. I, as much as any hip-hop fan, can honestly say I would love to see you on tour for many years to come. Lets talk about what you said on allowing all aspects of life to influence your work in music… You’re an avid supporter of youth football. You’re a coach as well. How long have you been doing that for?
Masta Ace: When I was coaching football I coached for eleven years at the high school level, but I did coach some youth football with kids who were eight and nine years old also.
HipHopCanada: Did you ever see any connections between the discipline and determination your preached towards your players, and dealing with the hardships you’ve encountered throughout your career as an artist?
Masta Ace: Teaching the values of being a young man, getting prepared for whatever life has in front of you, figuring out right from wrong, having character and learning how to be a responsible individual. I think you hear many of those messages in my music. Because my [musical] audience isn’t necessarily high school aged kids, you can say my message is more geared towards adults and kids who have already reached adulthood. The way that I approach teaching [football] may be similar.
HipHopCanada: What keeps you at good terms with coaching? Balancing both lifestyles must take a serious amount of time. How do to tell yourself you’re going to focus on football instead of making music, or vice versa. Both endeavors seem like a full-time commitment and you’ve been coaching for ten years now if I’m correct. In those ten years, you’ve released numerous records and projects as well.
Masta Ace: This past Fall was my eleventh year coaching high school football. I’ve decided that I’m going to take a year off from [coaching] this fall, just to see if I miss it. I’ve been doing it for a long time… If I don’t miss it, I may not coach for a while. If I do end up missing it, then I’ll go back in 2014… For now I’m going to take some time off. Coaching takes up a a big block of time, your committed from the first week of August to the last week of November. That’s a huge time period for touring North America and overseas. For eleven years straight now, I’ve pretty much missed that window for touring. Because it’s in me to commit to something 100 per cent, I don’t want to be that guy to up and leave half-way through a football season and say “alright guys, I’m going to go do this tour.. Good luck with the rest of the season.” Once I’m in, I’m in I don’t want kids looking up to me and counting on me when I know I won’t be at the last five games for example. That’s not me.
HipHopCanada: Do the players call you Masta?
Masta Ace: They call me Coach Ace.
HipHopCanada: The shelf-life of today’s artists is commonly a hot topic in the hip-hop community. This isn’t the 90’s where every new sound reinvented the genre. Which of today’s artists can you honestly say people will be listening to in five years, even ten years from now – Which of the new cats do you think have potential? I’m sure fans would love to hear it from Masta Ace himself…
Masta Ace: We’ll definitely be hearing more from Jay Electronica for more years to come. I mean I believe so. I feel like Drake is going to be a guy who will stick around. He’s got lyrical talent. If I could throw a group in there, I’d say Pac Div. I’ve actually been mentioning them in interviews for the past two or three years. I like what they’re doing musically. To me they are a good representation of what the West Coast can bring to the table in the near future.
Written by Zack Noureddine for HipHopCanada