Behind The Scenes: Master Ace/Masta Ace

August 05, 2011 8 min read

In the early 90s I started my own promotions company, Rage Promotions, as a means to make an entrance into the industry side of things. I had a noble, but soon to learn, unrealistic, goal…at least by industry practices.

My mission was to keep aware of albums coming out by artists who I respected that I felt were not getting sales that complimented their skill level. I would then approach their record label with a proposal to help change that. It rarely worked out like I planned. Masta Ace is a rare example where it did.

I had long been a Master Ace/Masta Ace fan. You could even say I was a “fan” before I even heard his music, in a way. Marley Marl was promoting his upcoming “In Control Volume 1” album and had a article in one of those old Rap “Fanzines”; Rap Masters, Focus On Rap, or comparable. Marley Marl was breaking down the Juice Crew. Of course, it was common knowledge of the lyrical power possessed by Kool G Rap, MC Shan, Craig G, Tragedy and Big Daddy Kane or the charismatic approach of Biz Markie and Roxanne Shante. Marley then went on to describe a new member of the crew and referred to Master Ace as his “Secret Weapon”…

I had to pause and pull the magazine away from my face to ponder that thought. “Secret Weapon”…hmmmm. With as much lyrical firepower as he had already at his disposal, to even use that term would suggest he had to be something special. I waited impatiently.

On “In Control Volume 1”, Master Ace had two tracks, “Simon Says” and “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize, a nice balance. One dropping science and the other a pretty hardcore dance anthem, both, showcasing a strong lyrical ability. Plus he also had the lead off verse on the certified classic, “The Symphony”.

[audio:|titles=04 Keep Your Eyes on the Prize]

Not long after he followed up with his potent debut single, “Letter To The Better*” b/w “Together”. Here he displayed some of the most advanced multi-syllabic techniques we had heard to date* and further cemented his name as one to watch out for.

[audio:|titles=05 Letter To The Better (Original)]

Truthfully, when his debut album “Take A Look Around” dropped, I was a bit disappointed. There were definitely some lyrically satisfying battle rhymes (“Ace Is Wild”, “4 Minus 3”), excellent concept tracks (“Music Man”, “I Got Ta”), great socially conscious perspectives (“Take A Look Around”, “The Other Side Of Town”) and more. My issue was more that, at the time, I felt it was Marley Marl’s “worst” produced album to date. It was a little more than sprinkled with R&B flavored styles, which sometimes flirted with the “dreaded” New Jack Swing.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Before the album dropped, Master Ace did an interview where he exclaimed that his style was originally more likened to Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, with a focus on humor and stories. Which explains a song such as “Me And The Biz”. He went on to say that some life experiences, I believe at college, dealing with racism, classism, and things of that nature enhanced his mind and broadened his musical direction.

[audio:|titles=02 I Got Ta]

However, just to clarify, I still definitely enjoyed the album. That tape got plenty of play and I still reference back to it regularly. It’s just that I was expecting an album in the 8.5 to 10 range and ended up with about a 6.5/7. That’s not so bad, it just didn’t match my expectations. Also, Marley Marl still reigns as easily one of the all time best, most-influential and favorite producers of all-time, so don't get it twisted..

In Any event, Master Ace was still displaying growth as an artist with the following Remixes and B-Sides from the album. He introduced himself as a producer with co-production on the “Music Man” Remix and full producer credit for the “Movin On” Remix. He displayed new styles on “Go Where I Send Thee”, a track that better showcased the lyrical skills and production talents of his affiliated crew, Ice U Rock.

[audio:|titles=14 Go Where I Send Thee]

However, then there was a brief but significant slowing of his musical output. We would later learn it was due to contract disputes and issues with his label, Cold Chillin. For the next couple years we only got to hear Master Ace in small doses, with collaborations such as; “Give It To Me” w/Craig G, “Talkin’ What I Feel” w/Young Disciples, and, of course, “Symphony PT 2” with members of the Juice Crew, though the crew was dismantled by then, "Juice Crew, naw, but we still rock together..."

[audio:|titles=07 Give It to Me]

Plus sometime circa ‘90/’91, via my East Coast industry and artist contacts, I started hearing about Master Ace making quite the impression with a freestyle at Big Daddy Kane’s infamous B-day party with his new “Off Beat, On Beat”style**. Soon to follow was a small taste of this style on a stand out track from the Brand New Heavies “Heavy Rhyme Experience” album, titled “Wake Me When I’m Dead”, which I’ll go on record calling the undoubted best song on that album.

[audio:|titles=Masta Ace-Wake Me When I'm Dead (radio version)]

All of this was building up to a new label deal with Delicious Vinyl and ultimately me catching the debut of his new music video, “Jeep A** Niguh”. It was definitely different from “Take A Look Around”. It was less technical rhyme wise, but what it compromised in rhyme schemes, it compensated with delivery and approach. The production was gritty, but musical. Basically, Master Ace had updated his style to the now preferred 90s “rugged” approach, but without all the corniness that often was included with that, an approach that continued and was perfected on the album "Slaughtahouse".

[audio:|titles=07 Boom Bashin']

I wasted no time in calling up Delicious Vinyl to pitch my promotions services for this project. I felt it was perfect for the approach I was taking. The label let me know, something to the effect, that Master Ace and his team was taking a more hands on approach to this record, so they would be the one hiring any promotions team and things of that nature. That was something I had never heard before, but it sounded promising.

I know that “manager” feels like the right word, but I swear they gave me a contact for his “lawyer” to send my proposal. Soon I got a call back from his “manager/lawyer” on speaker phone saying something like, “I’m here with Master Ace. We loved your proposal. What you are saying is exactly where we are trying to go with this record. We want to hire you.”

What they were basically referring to is that my proposal was NOT filled with false dreams and goals of day time radio play, soundscan reports, and so on. I talked about hitting the streets, underground clubs, mixshow and mixtape DJs, college radio, and things of that nature. I spoke about doing things like approach ciphers with a boom box playing the artists instrumental to create interest. I also said I would service commercial radio and these bigger places, but would concentrate on those other areas. Basically, my proposal was B-boy to the bone…ha.

Once I got started, I worked hard to deliver on my promises. I put that 12” in the hands of probably every key DJ and Radio Show Host in Chicago. I was at nearly all the underground club nights and parties with stickers. People definitely were responding and that lead to getting confirmed for a Master Ace promotional run in Chicago that I needed to set up. He came thru with some of his crew, Lord Digga and Paula Perry. I can’t remember how long he was in town, but I think it was at least 2-3 days. I had him setup with several retail stops, radio show appearances, and a show at the China Club.

Truthfully, a lot of it is a blur and I don’t have any of this documented in my journal. This all took place right around the same time my daughter was born, so things were hectic and I stopped documenting things like I usually did. I remember doing an in-store at a short-lived Hop Hop record shop in Evanston. It was a nice turn out. They let Master Ace do a Graf piece on their back wall. Kids hung out and got autographs and photos. I remember a few kids were sweating him to listen to them rhyme and he was indulgent. It was going on for a while so I was just getting ready to go dead it, so he could pay attention to the other fans. Then a kid kicked something that was pretty ill so I had to give props. It ended up being this dude, Smooth 1, who was in a crew, at the time, called Batteries Not Included (I actually don’t remember the funny Hip Hop spelling they had...ha). He later had a crew called “Off Da Wall” that was nice, I’ll have to do Demo post on them soon.

Anyway, we hit a bunch of spots and I think it was a successful run. I don’t remember much about the actual show, but I know I had issues with the China Club. The management and security were not being helpful and making things very difficult as I recall. I don’t even think I saw them perform because I was dealing with nonsense.

The highlight of it all though has to be hitting up the Legendary WHPK. They did a quick On-Air interview and then opened up the mic for a freestyle session. Master Ace requested that they throw on the Common Sense “Soul By The Pound” Remix, which had just dropped. Before he rocks, he gives a shout out to Common for the instrumental and then he rips it. T-Flux from East Of The Rockwas in the building so he gets on and drops some bugged out greatness. Common, who was apparently tuned and was in the area, decided to come by and he just walks in the door and right to the mic and proceeds to kill it off the top. My tape cuts off during Common, but as I remember, before I could even flip the tape over to continue recording he was done, so not much got missed.

As for the freestyle, Lord Digga kicks some filthy verses that later showed up on one of his demos. It’s funny, at the time guys were kicking verses on the radio and adding these studders and pauses to, assumably, make it seem like it was “off the top”… Master Ace used this verse on pretty much all of his radio appearances during this national promotion run. I assume he didn’t really rhyme off the top, so I figured it was cool that he at least prepared something not on the album to make it “semi-exclusive". Paula Perry is just rugged, even is she deceives with, “rollin’ gentle, all thru your mental”…definitely not, more like a hammer to dome-piece.

[audio:|titles=Masta Ace INC, Common, East oF The Rock-WHPK Freestyle]

I continued to be Master Ace’s promotion guy in Chicago for “Sitting On Chrome” as well. I also have an interview I did with him that never got posted anywhere. I’ll have to transcribe that one day…when I find a answering machine that can play the tape..ha

All in all, it was a great experience to help an artist that I had respect for and try to help push their career to the next level or at least gain them new fans and exposure. I feel I can call this one: Mission accomplished, if only on a small scale.

Editors Notes:
*In "Letter To The Better", he had a lot of ill techniques that weren’t the obvious use of multi-syllabics:

-“This Ain’t the SAME OLE, LAME OLEbragging and nagging,
all that BECAME OLD/Years ago and Yo, here’s a ProFESSION
that I’m FRESH IN so…”

-It wont FADE or RUN, cause MADE of ONE/
hundred percent knowledge that WEIGHED a TON

-“used to be a innocent bySTANDER/
AND A lot YEARS filled my EARS with SLANDER

**This freestyle has been leaked all over online over the years. It features a ridiculously long list of talented MCs. It’s also where Ill (of Ill Al Skratch fame or if you are down by law, W.I.S.E Guyz fame) infmously took shots at Kane at his own B-day party. Master Ace placed this freestyle as an interlude on the “Slaughtahouse” Album.

***Allow me to confess, I was stone cold sweating Paula Perry…ha. Cute, East Coast accent, rugged persona, ill rhymer…what’s not to sweat I ask.


Written By Kevin Beacham

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.