Continuing my ranking of my favorite (mostly hip hop) artists, today it’s Brooklyn’s own Masta Ace. Ace went to school where I did, we grew up at the same time, so he really speaks to me. He’s also one of the early ’90s rappers who doesn’t nearly enough credit–it’s clear he’s been a big influence on tons of artists.
He even had a part on Marley Marl’s seminal pass-the-mic cut, “The Symphony,” way back in 1988–being the new jack who got to share space with the legends Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane.
So let’s look at his amazing discography. If you don’t have any of his albums, go get the entire top 5. Gems.
The Tonite Show and The Turning Point EP, both by EMC (2015)
There are some good songs on these two releases. There’s also a lot of meh and skits.
Take a Look Around (1990)
His debut. He doesn’t have his own voice yet, but his skills are evident. Several of the tracks were produced by Marley Marl, and it started as an independent release before being picked up by Reprise Records..
If you like old school rap, you’ll definitely like this. But it’s very different from–and less mature than–his later stuff.
Key track: The Symphony, an unforgettable classic originally released in ’88.
The Show by EMC (2008)
Ace announced his retirement and then joined with Punchline, Wordsworth, and Stricklin to release two albums. This one was better than the second. Neither were great from end-to-end, but both, of course, had moments of greatness–and some strong features by Sean Price and Little Brother.
Key tracks: Git Some, Make it Better.
Sittin’ on Chrome (1995)
Masta Ace Incorporated’s second and last outing, and the end of the ’90s era Masta Ace. Unlike his earlier album, this one cribbed heavily from the West Coast/P-Funk sound–and it feels like it’s borrowed, not genuine. But his lyrics, as always, are very clever. The album spawned a few singles, like Born to Roll (his biggest hit so far) and People In My Hood.
The Falling Season (2016)
The cover shows Masta Ace in a cap and gown, symbolizing his transition to his most recent style. Ace is constantly reinventing his approach to hip hop, and Falling Season finds him reminiscing about–and then graduating from–High School.
He’s an adult when this album is over.
Key tracks: 3000 Ave X, with an absolutely killer spot by Your Old Droog); Young Black Intelligent (Y.B.I.) with Pav Bundy, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and Chuck D.
MA Doom: Son of Yvonne (2012)
Beats cribbed from MF Doom’s Special Herbs series. Vocals by Ace with a few key features, one of which was Doom himself. The two never met to work on this record.
Slaughtahouse by Masta Ace Incorporated (1993)
Why did Ace start putting out albums as M.A. Inc.?. I dunno. I also don’t know why he gave producer credit to Ase One, because it was also him.
The title track and theme of the album was to speak out against violence in hip hop, arriving several years after KRS-One started the “Stop the Violence” campaign. Slaughtahouse is pretty beloved by ’90s heads. I’ll say that for me it sounds a little dated, but Ace’s skills are clear here. It’s the best album from his initial, ’90s phase.
Key tracks: The title cut is hilarious and makes his points about violence well, with bars like: “Here come the craziest niggas on earth/Cutthroats, ever since birth/Blood and guts are gonna spill/Cuz it’s murder murder murder, and kill kill kill…” Also check out Jeep Ass Niguh, and Saturday Nite Live.
A Breukelen Story (with Marco Polo) (2018)
Masta Ace’s career can be broken down into various phases, and Breukelen Story is his current phase. He’s older now, wiser, and can take a broader view of things. I think this is also unique in that Masta Ace is actually rapping about producer Marco Polo’s experiences growing up–not his own.
Hip Hop is generally a young man’s game and getting older is usually the death knell for even the greatest of rap’s voices, but Ace is the rare example of a rapper who does it well–and in many ways gets better with age.
Key tracks: Breukelen featuring ’90s legends Smif-N-Wessun; Kings; American Me.
Arts and Entertainment with Ed O.G. (2009)
I love this album! If it just had the kinda-dis track “Lil Young,” where Ace and Ed go after every rapper who calls themselves “Lil” or “Young.” It’s hilarious. But there’s a lot of other clever, fun, stay-true-to-the-game numbers like Pass the Mic, 8 Is Enough, Good Music…There’s no bad songs on this album.
Some unused cuts and remixes were included on a follow-up, “More Entertainment.” It’s good, but not essential. This album is essential.
Long Hot Summer (2004)
There’s no question that nearly every hip hop head would rate Disposable Arts as the best Ace album, but for me, it’s kind of a toss-up. Long Hot Summer has some truly extraordinary and completely unusual songs on it. His duet with Jean Grae, for example, has them trading bars using the brand names of soft drinks and detergents. It’s called “Soda and Soap.” I love this song. It’s one of the most fun hip hop jams of all time.
Like his other great works, this album didn’t sell well. But it’s phenomenal.
Key cuts: H.O.O.D.; F.A.Y. (Fuck All Y’all) featuring Strick; Wutuwankno with Ace’s frequent partner Edo G.
Disposable Arts (2001)
This album is universally hailed as a masterpiece. After exploding out the gate with three albums in the early ’90s, culminating with “Sitting on Chrome” in 1995. Then, Ace was silent until 2001. Disposable Arts marks his “comeback” as well as a sharp change in direction from someone who was an expert at the kind of rap other people were also doing to a creator with the skills to reinvent the genre and create something entirely original.
D.A. is a concept album: A young black man gets out of jail and returns home to Brooklyn, noting all the problems for people of color that have developed in his absence.
The album was a clear and intentional departure from his prior work, all the way to the cover–which has him sitting on the pavement instead of the car he perched on for Sitting on Chrome.
Key tracks: All of them, of course, but in particular: Block Episode with Punch and Words; Don’t Understand featuring Greg Nice; Hold U, which has a killer spot by Jean Grae; the playful Alphabet Soup; and my personal, all-time favorite Masta Ace song, Take A Walk.