Masta Ace is probably in my top ten—his flow is clearly a source of inspiration for Eminem, he was one of the first people to mix conscious rap with traditional old-school storytelling and autobiography. Ace is an unsung hero, whose work is too thoughtful to break through to the mainstream, his beats too old school for many young ears, and he doesn’t make dance songs so forget the clubs.
His newest one is heavily into his childhood story. 3000 Avenue (with a guest shot from Your Old Droog, another underground rap hero), lists all the public schools I applied for as a kid in Brooklyn (but he doesn’t include the one I actually went to, strangely), and talks about the hard times of being a black kid in New York City who isn’t a drug dealer or a gangster—who just wants education. It leads directly into Young Black Intelligent (Y.B.I.), where he laments: “Why be me? If I fly, they gonna see….”
As the mixtape continues, Ace gets older. He sees his friends and the cornerboys start to go sour. “Why you wanna die for a fake chain? Or a real one?” I used to think the same thing, coming up on the trains in BK. And if you weren’t enmeshed in the 1980s NYC enough yet, guest rapper A.G. compares himself and Ace to Run DMC.
And of course, he ends up lamenting the end of his own era, going through “Say Goodbye,” featuring Wordsworth—another Brooklyn MC who has been around for over a decade. And with “Total Recall,” with the World Famous Supreme Team, shouting out to Krushgroove over the oldest school beats on the album. You know who WFST are, right? Those dudes from the 1980s hit Buffalo Gals—one of the first rap groups ever to chart.
Start to finish, this is a perfect rap album.
Some may find the voiceovers and skits a bit didactic—but just think about the old Public Enemy albums. They did the same thing. This kind of rapping feels like a lost art, but Masta Ace hasn’t lost a damn thing. He’s still one of the best rappers alive.