Year in and year out, Masta Ace stays in his lane and gives us a terrific, earnest rap record. He doesn’t need curses. He doesn’t need silly hooks or overly commercial beats. Why? Because he has a vocabulary. And the right mindset. He stays positive without avoiding the pains of racism, poverty, etc. In other words, real life comes, he stays real, and doesn’t let it beat him.

The lead track, “Breukelen,” features underground B’klyn legends Smif-and-Wessun, and is one of the best tributes to my own home borough I’ve ever heard. “Damn near everyone’s a Biggie fan–that’s ’cause we support our own…”

And like most of Masta Ace’s later-period albums, the songs weave together to tell a story. But this time, Ace isn’t telling his own story–he’s telling his producer, Polo’s, story about moving to the BK from Canada in the early 2000s. I’m trying to think of another rapper who’s been humble enough to tell someone else’s story and I honestly can’t think of one.

Most of this record is Masta Ace because when you’ve got words and flow like his, you don’t need guests. But there’s also some fine appearances by, among others, Pharoahe Monch, Styles P and another under-known, underground master of hip hop: Elzhi.

Highly recommended–one of the year’s best rap albums in a year full of excellent rap albums.

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