By Ann Marie Trietley, Music Columnist:
Gold, oil, and hip-hop: three good things to discover underground.
Despite a prolific hip-hop career which has spanned more than two decades, Masta Ace has managed to retain his untarnished and legendary underground status. His fan base may swell on April 5, however, as Ace will perform at DBGB’s, accompanied by Charlie the Butcher, LoPro, and Natural Ingredients.
Coming through on a conference call, and about to depart for a Canadian tour (DBGB’s will be his only US show date) – Ace’s voice comes through an iPhone receiver, reverberating against the concrete walls of Nickel City Records. Last week, Ace expressed his excitement over returning to the 716 (which he visited in 2010 for a performance at Soundlab).
“The times I’ve been in Buffalo, the people who were there were really into what was going on,” said Ace, aka Duval Clear, originally of Brooklyn. “I like to be in front of people who are enthusiastic about the music; I’d rather have 50 or 60 people there who are into it, rather than 300 random people [who are not].”
Ace had his first record deal in 1988 through Marley Marl, who also worked with Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane. This group of rappers became known as the Juice Crew, and when Ace made his debut in 1990, it was on two tracks within Marley Marl’s compilation album, In Control Volume One.
“It was the larger point of my career,” Ace said of his debut, The Symphony. “It was the first time people saw my name and my face on the screen, and that turned into a 20 year-plus career.”
Ace is known for an honest, storytelling approach to rap lyricism, and his songs focus on real life trials, tribulations, and the overcoming of obstacles. In the early 1990’s, when gangster rap and smooth beats infiltrated homes and apartments from the East Coast to West, making middle America dream of yachts, Bentleys, strippers and snakeskin loafers, Ace remained true to his unique style.
His 1995 album Sittin’ on Chrome is arguably his biggest mainstream success. Recently, Ace put out MA DOOM: Son of Yvonne, produced by MF Doom. His set at DBGB’s will be a combination of his new jams and older tracks from when he first emerged on the scene.
“I’ve always been anti-whatever anybody else is doing,” Ace said. “I’ve looked at hip-hop, saw what the trends were, and said I’m going to be the opposite of that. When I came out, gangster rap was going multi-platinum, and many artists tried the same formula. Everybody and their mother was trying to be a gangster and sound tough, rap about guns and 40 ounces, and it was so overdone.”
Ace describes himself as a “regular dude” and he definitely has an approachable, down to earth personality. Far from a rap megalomaniac with a mega-sized ego, Ace prefers to kick it and collaborate with younger hip-hop artists on the come up. In fact, when Ace arrives in Buffalo the day before his show, he will be recording an original track with Natural Ingredients at Nickel City Records.
“I think it’s cool for me to do collaboration projects with young up and coming dudes,” Ace said. “What it does is help me be exposed to a new audience. It’s an opportunity for each of us to expand our fan bases as we rock.”
Surely, some of the songs Ace performs April 5 will send some heavyweight fans into a nostalgic dreamland. And for the Natural Ingredients, Charlie the Butcher and Lo Pro devotees, they’ll definitely walk away with a renewed perspective on life.
“This will be good for local artists to meet with him and collaborate – it could help the local music scene,” said Charles “Charlie the Butcher” Schmidt.
DBGB’s entertainment director JJ Alfieri has brought hip-hop heavyweights like Camp Lo to his venue, and wistfully recalls hearing Ace’s hit song “Born to Roll” bumping from Jeep Wranglers throughout the 90’s.
“There’s a disconnect between innovators of hip-hop and the newer stuff,” Alfieri said. “We’re trying to bridge the gap. These guys don’t need to do it for the money or fame anymore. In a small venue like this, you’re getting that original flavor, and these guys are reconnecting with their fans – that makes it extra special.”
Ace himself is also enthusiastic about re-connecting with Buffalo and meeting local hip-hop enthusiasts. It will be an up-close-and-personal adventure with a man who has had a lifelong passion and talent for rap music.
“I’m excited to come back to Buffalo again,” Ace said. I have childhood roots in Buffalo because I have friends from Brooklyn who lived in the same building in the projects as me, and they moved to Buffalo. Every time I come, it’s an opportunity to catch up and talk about old times – it takes me back with people who I knew back in the day.”
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