Masta Ace has been a rapper's rapper since he jumped into the game back in 1988, and after a 27-year career he remains one of the most respected underground MCs of all time. He is going to be coming through Phoenix for a date at downtown's Last Exit Live on April 2.
The rapper is visiting the Valley just before the release of his new record, which he says is due out in May, and with it being his first solo release since 2004's Long Hot Summer , it's safe to say it's long awaited.
However, as much as hip-hop heads may be clamoring for a new Masta Ace album it's not as if the prolific MC has taken off the last decade. Since releasing LHS, the wordsmith has been working on collaborative projects with his side group, eMC (along with Wordsworth and Stricklin), as well as on his collab with MF Doom.
"I really wasn't going to put out a new solo album unless I really had something I really wanted to say, and so that's what happened with this record," Masta Ace says.
But before he can drop the new tunes, or make his appearance in Phoenix, he had a chat with New Times.
What is your take on the current state of hip-hop music?
There's some signs of life, and there's some signs of hope and optimism. There are some new artists that are trying to break in or have broken in and are starting to sell records, and pure hip-hop artists that make music that can heal and that people can learn from. Those types of artists have always existed; the problem is the masses weren't costuming that music. They weren't going to buy it. Now there are artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole selling units, and hopefully people will continue to buy it. The most negative and misogynistic and everything you can think of from a negative standpoint — that's what labels were looking to sign. They thought that's what hip-hop fans wanted to hear, and that's what hip-hop fans supported. I'm happy that's starting to shift a little bit.
What do you think about people who say acts like Migos, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan are ruining the game?
I don't know who Migos is, but when you make a statement like something is ruining hip-hop, I think that's giving them way too much credit. They aren't ruining hip-hop. The consumers are — the fans of the music are ruining hip-hop. Artists can make anything they want to make; they make straight-up violent, the worst music you can possibly make, and if you, the consumer, want to take your money and purchase that type of music and make that music go platinum, then you're the problem. Artists can make anything they want to make. They can rap over a drip of water, and if you buy that, that's your fault. Hip-hop fans have made artists with zero talent rich and famous, rich and famous. If that's what rap fans want to support, then it's the rap fans' fault. Don't blame the artist. Blame the people who listen to it: rap fans who dance to that music and support that music.
What are your thoughts on The Life of Pablo and Kanye West's antics?
What I have to say about Kanye is he's a talent. The music he makes, for the most part, I enjoy. I like what he does in the studio. Some of the extracurricular stuff that goes on in the media that doesn't affect me; all of those antics are just to bring attention to himself and get people interested in what he's doing. Bottom line to me is how the music sounds. When I listen to The Life of Pablo, the music is great; the rhymes are great. If the music is whack, I wouldn't be paying attention to him at all.
What's going on with your upcoming record?
It's a period piece, if you will. It takes place during my high-school years. I take you back to the first day I walked into my high school, and then the album takes you through the four years, and then I graduate. At the end ... I take you back to my neighborhood and what I was doing at that time.
Was it hard to get into the headspace you were in in high school?
It wasn't difficult at all, honestly. I'm a very nostalgic person by nature, and I'm always thinking back, remembering back, longing for certain time periods. And that's how this record came about.
What current rappers are you into right now?
I Like Joey Bada$$, I like Action Bronson. Elzhy — he was one of the members of Slum Village for a while, and he's one of the most lyrical cats ever that nobody mentions. He redid Nas' Illmatic he called it Elmatic with a live band. [It's] one of the best underground hip-hop projects ever.
What's different in your goals as a rapper from when you were just coming up?
I was just trying to prove I was a dope MC. I was rapping for rappers. I was trying to prove I was one of the best in the game. Every rhyme I wrote was like, "I'm the dopest. I'm the illest." Now I want to communicate with people. I feel like I'm the voice of a certain population of hip-hop fans; they feel abandoned by hip-hop. They think the music isn't being made for them. I'm trying to help people to cope with things they deal with in their lives. It’s just about helping people now, not trying to prove I'm the illest on the mic.
What do you mean when you say “abandoned by hip-hop?”
The fans of my generation, everybody who's over 35, a lot of them feel like the music being played on the radio doesn't speak to them. They feel like it's for a different generation. ... It's difficult. Some of our classic artists who we loved when we were younger aren't making music anymore. ... It's just like, "Who's making music for me?"
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.