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Interview: Find A Mentor Within Masta Ace

CMJ Music Marathon in New York City has officially come to an end. For all you Shockya readers, who could not attend the weeklong events, we will relay some highlights to you starting with our interview with Masta Ace. We got to chat with the legendary rapper at The Syndicate’s Conflict Of Interest party at Rebel NYC, where he hosted a set and presented M3 artists, The Bundies. We’ll get to the details about The Bundies in a later post, but for now just take note that the group consists of Paris “Bundy” Wells and Tara “Jamelle Bundy” Jones.

We really didn’t know the true meaning of swag until we saw Ace in person. The Brooklyn native has been in the music industry for over two decades. Making his recording debut on “The Symphony” in the late 80s, Ace released his album, “Take A Look Around” in 1990 via Cold Chillin’. With a series of albums under his belt since then, Ace also made time to establish his own label, M3 Records, which distributed his fifth album, “A Long Hot Summer”, in 2004. The legendary rapper is set to release his latest album, “MA Doom: Son of Yvonne” in the coming months. He’ll tell you more about that album with MF Doom in our chat below.

Let’s move back to Ace’s swag, which entails more than his physical appearance. Ace’s charisma and passion for music radiates from him the minute he opens his mouth. He doesn’t just release music; he studies it and thoroughly understands the ins and the outs of the industry. To aspiring hip –hop stars, we think you ought to follow in his footsteps. You should make great music, but also remember to soak in the knowledge that surrounds the craft.

It was an honor talking to Ace and we are more than happy to share all that we learned from him with you Shockya readers.

Can you tell me about your new album coming out with MF Doom?

Yes. The album is going to be called “MF Doom: Son Of Yvonne”. It is actually dedicated to my late mother passing in 2005. It takes you back to when I was about 12 years old. It gives you a little insight into what my childhood was like, growing up in a neighborhood and those experiences. The music inspired by his instrumental series. He put up about 180 instrumentals called, “Special Herbs” and a friend of mine exposed me to those instrumentals. I drove around with them for about two months and started to really like a couple of them a lot and decided to start writing songs to them. I didn’t really plan for it to be an official album. It was going to be more like a mixtape or something to do just for fun, but it started to take shape and it seemed to me like it would make a good album. I just started to put it together that way and here we are.

Do you and MF Doom get along well?

The interesting thing is that it is not really a collaboration project because he had no idea that I was writing this album. He put those instrumentals out for the world to have and I discovered them. I wrote this music and in January, I started tweeting a little bit about it and people were showing a lot of interest. He found out about it kind of through the grape vine that I was doing this record. We wound up being on a show together in Switzerland and hung out. After the show, I went to his hotel room and actually played him the whole album. He had no idea about anything until that day when I sat there and played him the whole album. He was blown away.

You grew up in New York. How influential was the NYC scene on your music. Is it still impacting it now?

Definitely. New York City, Brooklyn in particular, influences me very much in terms of the way I was writing back then. There was a period where I moved out of Brooklyn and moved into Queens for a much quieter and laidback neighborhood. I feel like my writing was affected by that. As soon as I moved back to Brooklyn, I was around that tenseness. I found that my writing took on a different shape. So, it definitely makes a difference for me. You are on those subway trains and you are in those situations where things are a little dicey. There’s a lot of characters walking around, a lot of different people and how they are dressed. All that stuff comes out in my music. I feel like growing up in Brooklyn makes me write much more visually than if I was growing up in some place else.

And it still influences you now? Even on your upcoming album?

Absolutely. I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. I moved out to the suburbs in Jersey, but what I did on this record is that I really drew back to my childhood. That was where I kind of pulled from. A lot of memories being a young kid and growing up around hip hop and how things were, all of that stuff is here on this record.

How do you think the NYC music scene has changed since then?

When I first came up, there was literally a hip-hop party every night of the week. Monday through Sunday, there was something going on. You would go to these events and you would see pretty much the same people. It was like the who’s who of hip-hop. You would see Brand Nubians there. You would see X Clan there. You would see Salt n’ Pepa. Everybody would just hang out and party together. It isn’t like that anymore. It is kind of like a little bit more separated. The hip-hop events are real spread out and a little more trendy now. Back then everybody had the rope chains and everybody dressed a certain way. That’s what the scene was. Now, it is a little more fashion forward and everybody is kind of conscious of the way they dress and the way they look. It is a little different, but it was a lot more fun coming to a venue in the early 90s because people would come to these parties and literally dance till they sweat. That’s how I came up. I came up dancing to hip-hop. It isn’t quite that way anymore, but it takes a little bit getting used to.

What are some artists you listen to nowadays?

I listen to Elzhi. I like the new record they put out. Always a Big and Little Brother fan. I listen to Jean Grae. A new group out of LA, called Malcolm and Martin. They are really dope. When I am working on a new record, I don’t listen to as much of other people’s stuff as I do when I am done. I never want to get influenced by their music and what I am writing. So I would say for the last six, seven months, I haven’t been listening to a lot of stuff, but when I am listening to stuff, it is that kind of stuff.

How was it working with The Bundies on their upcoming album?

It was actually stress free because they are a self-contained production unit. They do all the music. They do all the writing. For a change, I didn’t have to be involved in the creative part. I could focus more on the artist development, on the visual and kind of being a stylist in a sense. I am making sure they look right and present themselves the right way. I would make certain suggestions about songs. Certain places where I think melodies might be better or harmonies might be better. They always listen to that stuff, but for the most part, they found their sound on their own. They created this music on their own. I am just proud and excited to be apart of it. I feel like it is the next generation of good music.

Are you excited to present The Bundies tonight and open up Conflict of Interest?

I am. I am super nervous.

You still get nervous?

Well, if it was my thing I don’t think I would this nervous. I am nervous because it is them and it is the first time people are kind of seeing them. People don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what to expect. It is all kind of brand new for them. For many years, Jamelle Bundy was a writer and a back up singer for other people. So, she has always been in the background and now, for the first time, she is kind of like the featured person. It is a little nerve-wracking for her, but she is looking forward to it and I think she is excited about it. I can’t wait to unveil their music and let people check it out.

Do The Bundies influence your music?

They don’t really influence my music because their sound is way to the left. I am pretty much pure, kind of boom bap hip-hop, right down in the middle. I don’t veer too much off that course. They don’t mind being different and weird. They don’t mind kind of touching on indie rock sounds. They are definitely not pure hip-hop. Some of their stuff is really far to the left and that’s what excites me with the potential that it can be.

What’s it like now looking back to when you first started out to now with having your own label, M3?

I feel like it’s the right order of things. I have been in this music industry over 20 years and at a certain point, you want to have your hand in other parts of the business, not just being an artist, not just performing and not just making music, but trying to guide the careers of new and up and coming cats. I can look at the industry through their eyes. It’s like, they are seeing it for the first time. Even though the industry is very different from what it was when I was coming up, I can still kind of guide them through the pitfalls of things and the mistakes I made when I was a young artist. They won’t have to make those same mistakes. If they are smart, they will listen to the old guy and take my advice.

Did you ever think you would want to have your own label when you first started?

That was definitely not even a thought of a possibility. When we were coming up, it was just about getting your record on the radio, doing a couple of shows, getting the girls and being the cool guy on the block. That was pretty much it. We didn’t really have that vision of a bigger picture. Like, wow maybe I should get my own label and get artists signed to my label. That stuff didn’t come till much later in hip-hop, like in the late 90s.

How do you think the music industry has changed throughout your career?

Well, it got to the point where it was making much, much more money than it was making when I came out. But now to see labels doing 360 deals with artists, where labels want a part of everything that the artists generates, is super different from when I was coming up. If you told an artist in 1991 that the label gets a portion of your performance, they would go crazy. That’s just unheard of back then, but that is just the new now industry. I think the digital thing is very different. When I came up, it was about the physical copies. It was about holding a CD, holding a piece of vinyl, being able to look at it, flip through the pages and read the booklet. It’s really a digital age now. We have to adjust.

You getting used to all the Twitter and Facebook crazes?

Twitter is cool because I don’t really feel like I am promoting myself. Even though there are all these people following me, I am just type train of though stuff or tell you what I am doing right now. People like it and that’s cool. I don’t feel like I am selling myself or pimping myself. I don’t use Twitter to say, go buy my record. I make people aware that it is coming out. I really don’t try to make it commercial.

Will you be playing new tracks off your album tonight at Conflict of Interest?

Ya, I am. DJ Aaron Lakrate, he should be pulling up here any minute. I’ve given him about four or five of the songs off of that album to just kind of mix in. I really don’t want to take the focus off The Bundies because it is kind of their night.

by Lonnie Nemiroff

Masta Ace

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