Masta Ace has unquestionably etched his tag in the talisman of Hip Hop. Since the late 1980s, the Brownsville, Brooklyn native journeyed from Juice Crew-member to pioneering lyricist with a flow many say inspired Eminem to launching his own record label (M3), gaining worldwide respect every bar along the way. The self-described “writer beyond rhymes” recently announced the re-release of his 2001 album, Disposable Arts - in celebration of the classic album’s 10-year anniversary and is in the final throws of his anticipated MF DOOM collaborative LP, MA DOOM: Son Of Yvonne. In this interview with HipHopDX following the listening session for his M3 label’s newest group, The Bundies, during CMJ’s annual Conflict Of Interest Party in New York City’s, Rebel NYC - Masta Ace details MA DOOM, Occupy Wall Street, his feelings on Lil Wayne 10 years after name-dropping him in a diss track, and more.
HipHopDX: You’ve been consistent about furthering your style and advancing lyrically. MF DOOM has some wide ranging, very off-kilter beats.
Masta Ace: Very off-kilter. It took me a while to really hone in on the ones I felt like I could mess with. A lot of it was way too left or too right or too unusual, but I found 10 that I was really excited about and liked and made me write. Those 10 are the songs that I wrote to.
Masta Ace Talks About Reuniting With Big Daddy Kane
DX: Are you holding MA DOOM down on your own or are there collaborations?
Masta Ace: I got one collab. That’s it. One collab.
DX: It seems like more artists are going back to that [structure].
Masta Ace: It just felt right. It’s such a personal record. It deals with me as a childhood from when I was 12 years old. There really wasn’t room for a feature. There wasn’t room for features. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to put people on a record just to put them on there. The writing felt like it needed to just be me.
DX: Who’s the guest appearance?
Masta Ace: Big Daddy Kane.
DX: Nice. Word up.
Masta Ace: I’m very excited about it. I’m excited about the record. I’m excited about what people’s reaction is going to be to it. I’m just excited to get back on the road because I know once this record comes out, the shows are going to roll in and we’re going to be right back out there, hitting them again’ in Europe and in Africa and Australia and hopefully Asia.
DX: You also made a lot of noise with the announcement that you’re recording for the 10th anniversary of Disposable Arts album. You’re doing it with a live band.
Masta Ace: Not the whole album, just a few choice songs. We redid “No Regrets” and we redid “Every Other Day” with a live band. And that’s just a cool different kind of rendition of those songs and that will be in a vinyl package on seven-inch that will come with it just as a collector’s thing. It was just fun to do, something different. The album is being remastered and we’re giving people all of the instrumentals, all the acapellas. So it’s going to be a nice little 10th anniversary package for people.
DX: That album has a cult following. With leak that happened and your label, Jcor, falling apart, the album had a shorter promotional push than it should have. But it still resonates 10 years later.
Masta Ace: Amazingly, I can’t even believe its been almost 10 years.
DX: Is “Acknowledge” going to be on the re-release?
Masta Ace: Oh, absolutely. That’s part of the records, it’s gotta be on there, without a doubt.
Masta Ace Explains His Line About "A Lil Wayne and Lil Zane Duet"
DX: “Acknowledge” clearly was super scathing. You went directly at Boogie Man and High & Mighty in response to their diss track towards you, “Ghetto Like.” But you drop a line I think is interesting in retrospect. You say, “I would rather hear a Lil Wayne/Lil Zane duet.” And at the time you said that, many felt the same way about Lil Zane and Lil Wayne. Are you surprised about where Lil Wayne is today as opposed to 10 years ago? That was one of “Acknowledge’” most telling bars about Boogie Man and High & Mighty.
Masta Ace: I feel like [Lil] Wayne’s come a long way lyrically and he put the work in and he’s a much better rapper than he was. That’s a testament to him. That’s a testament to him realizing, “If I want to be taken seriously; if I want to have some sort of creative merit, I got to really put my time in. I can’t just write whatever.” And he took his time and he went in and he came out and he was better. Every year after that he’s improved as a rapper. He has his lazy moments still where he just says whatever and you’re, “Like that metaphor was ridiculously wack.” There was a period of time where he really picked it up and I give him credit for picking it up. I didn’t think he was that good then. He got better and I like a lot of his music now.
DX: You did an interview in 2004 with RapReviews.com and they asked you where Hip Hop was headed. You said: “Towards a major change. I do not know for sure what the change will be but there will be a group, song, or album that will be so different than what’s out there, that will sell millions. At that point the major labels will shift their attack to chase a new trend.” You said that right at the time when Kanye West had just come out with College Dropout. Jay-Z’s The Black Album was just released. Here we are seven years after that statement. Do you feel as if it was accurate? Do you feel Hip Hop is in a very different place from where it was in 2004?
Masta Ace: Well, when you look at the success that Kanye [West] has had and when you look at artists like B.o.B., Wale, and a couple other names I can’t think of right now. But those guys are kind of in the realm. You are seeing labels gravitate to those types of artists now based on the success of what Kanye did and the amount of records that he sold. So yeah, I do think it’s accurate to a certain extent. When I said that we were kind of in that era of bling, bling, bling and jewelry and cars and champagne and all of that and I feel like that era is behind us and we are on to something different and better.
DX: Yeah, it seems like it’s closer to being talent based again.
Masta Ace: Yeah, it’s getting there. Definitely getting there.
DX: You kinda have to be nice.
Masta Ace: Yeah, you can’t just be saying whatever.
DX: You absolutely have to be nice if you expect to have longevity.
Masta Ace: Longevity is the key thing. 'Cause there are some cats that had some instant success but then couldn’t follow it up with anything. You’ve seen that since 2004. You have seen a few artists like that.
DX: You made an interesting comment in 2006 to RapTalk.net. You said, “Overall, New York has lost it’s identity. There’s no New York sound anymore. Most artists try to mesh with whatever’s hot. The dirty south is killing it right now so a lot of New York artists feel like they need to make those kinds of songs.” In your opinion, is New York coming back around again to having it’s own sound?
Masta Ace: I don’t see it yet. You’ve got to show me a sign because I don’t see it. I still see dudes being trend-followers and trying to figure out whatever [Funk Master Flex] is playing on the radio and follow that trend. I would love for New York to make a comeback in a real way, but it’s gonna take a real artist that has conviction and is about this sound and doesn’t care about what anything else sounds like. I don’t know who that is. I would love for that person to finally come out, but it’s not here now.
DX: Is that even possible in such a consolidated industry? There’s only a few major record labels. There’s only a few companies that own all of America’s mainstream radio stations. There’s even a lot less major banks and major media conglomerates. In that environment, is it still possible to make a splash by being unique?
Masta Ace: I think so. If Lady Gaga can do what she did - selling the records that she did in this atmosphere, in this climate - it’s absolutely possible for a rap artist to come out and make a big splash.
DX: You’ve mentioned previously that some of your rhymes are inspired by politics. Occupy Wall Street is now going into it’s 29th day. What are your thoughts on the movement and this example of people collectively speaking about their frustrations?
Masta Ace: I’m [glad] that more people care about it. I’m glad that more people want stuff to change. For too long it’s just been everyone going along with, “Well these are the rules. Let’s just play by them. Let’s just deal with it.” They say this is a democracy, so to me this is the ultimate display of democracy -- telling your government that, “You need to do better. You guys have screwed up and you need to do better.”
Masta Ace Discusses Gentrification In Brooklyn, Says Brownsville Is Immune
DX: You break down the hood on “Take A Walk.” You do it from a Brooklyn perspective while shouting out other hoods all across the country. Brooklyn is a lot different than it was in the 1980s and '90s. What would that joint sound like in the era of gentrified-Brooklyn? Would there be any different angles now considering Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, parts of Bed-Stuy have undergone such drastic changes?
Masta Ace: Wow. I’ve never thought about that one. I mean, Brownsville is still Brownsville, though. Ain’t much changed in Brownsville. That’s where I grew up. Ain’t no White folks moving there. Brownsville ain’t getting gentrified no time soon. Because on a lot of that song, I really did just draw from what I saw growing up in Brownsville. Picket Avenue. Belmont Avenue. All those housing projects in that area. And that’s still how it is. Nothing has changed there. It’s still wild and violent and crazy and dangerous, so downtown Brooklyn has changed a lot, but there’s a lot of other neighborhoods that have not improved at all.
DX: For 20-plus years now, you’ve been making music and pushing boundaries. You’ve traveled the world and rocked in front of audiences of all languages. You were on “The Symphony!” You’ve accomplished things that most artists only dream about. After all of that, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Masta Ace: It still surprises me that there are cats who don’t realize yet that this is not for them; that are 30 years old and 35 years old, still trying to chase that dream with no plan B, with no jobs, with no prospects. They might have two kids with two different chicks and don’t have any money to pay child support and they’re basically struggling and living hand-to-mouth and just existing barely for the sake of Hip Hop. It surprises me that there are still cats that haven’t grown up and realized that life is still life. You still have to live life. You still have to be a responsible adult and function that way. If you want to keep pursuing your dream, that’s cool. But be able to take care of yourself. Be able to pay what you need to pay. Pay your bills. Handle your business. Don’t be a bum because you’re trying to do Hip Hop. It’s got to be a way to do both.
DX: Be a man about it.
Masta Ace: Be a man about it.