MASTA ACE – SHELF LIFE VOL. 1
(UNRELEASED MATERIAL FROM 1992)
Right now – call up your moms or your sister or any female (provided you have obtained her digits
via legitimate sources) and thank them – because without the stronger and definitely more curvy sex, we would have no “Music Man”, no “Ace iz Wild” or no “SlaughtaHouse” or “Take a Look Around”. Lemme explain fellas…
Scooter Rockwell, a none too famous MC from Brownsville, maybe we should call him, in the words of Queen Latifah in “Juice” “a local rapper”, used to hang out at a skate rink in Queens which was part of the “United Skates of America” chain. One day he saw a notice that there was an MC contest taking place at the rink with the first prize being [DOPE ALERT] a free recording session in Marley Marl’s studio. It sounded very glamorous, but back then, Marley’s studio was simply his mom’s house – who’s house? HIS MOM’S HOUSE. Cats would record vocals in the bathroom, or write lyrics in the kitchen and do some drum programming in a bedroom – meet together in the hallway and BOOM – classic Hip Hop joints were sculpted. Actually, that’s CRAZY DOPE!
So back to Scooter – Scooter’s boy and fellow Hip Hop and specifically MC’ing aficionado was a certain artist named Master Ace. It was the 1986 winter break from his junior year in college and Ace had just come home from college to visit his family – being the righteous young man he had become he opted for chilling with family rather than competing with a host of Brooklynite rappers. Enter important female No.1. His moms had overheard him declining Scooter’s offer of a creatively nourishing night out and like any caring mother told him to ‘Get the hell out the house and enjoy yourself!’. Given the go-ahead to remove himself from the family home for the evening he called Scooter back. Enter important female No. 2. Scooter’s sister answered the phone and informed Ace of the fact that he had very recently left the building. Now any average sister would’ve left it at “Sorry, you missed him, he’s gone..”, BUT THIS exceptional sister sprinted out the house, ran a block up the street and called Scooter back. Nuff said, the two boys hopped on the A train, transferred to the F and made their way to the event up in Queens.
Ace won the competition, but it wasn’t until he graduated from college in Spring 1988, roughly 15 months after the MC contest at the rink, that Ace would claim his prize. Marley had given the cats that arranged the contest his “studio” number – aka his mom’s phone number. Ace would call up and constantly get Marley’s sister on the phone. Important female No.3. After many, many MONTHS of calling this number (this was his damn PRIZE – why would he give up??) he began to develop a rapport Marley Marl’s sister. He was his likeable, quick-witted self during the brief phone calls which usually ended with “Nah he ain’t here”. Then one day after a short back n forth, feeling sorry for the conned MC competition winner she revealed to him that this wasn’t the number he needed – and that this was Mr Marl’s mother’s abode. She proceeded to spill the numerical beans and handed to him the most valuable set of numbers he’d ever had at his disposal – the key to the promised land – behind which magical door lay the likes of Biz Markie, Kane, Kool G Rap, MC Shan and the man himself – the elusive, the competition-reneging Marley ‘Marlon’ Marl..
Cut to Marlon’s mother’s apartment in the early spring of 1988. Ace showed up and dropped some verses for the up and coming Hip Hop mogul and Marl was suitably impressed. There and then he offered Ace the opportunity to feature on a compilation album he was working on for Cold Chillin’ Records entitled Marley Marl – In Control Vol 1 – heard of it? Soon after, around June ’88 they began work on Ace’s early demo’s “Power Move” & “Howard Park” and in the summer Ace recorded two of the joints for the In Control record “Simon Says” & “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”. Ace was still very much on his way up and was hanging around artists he had admired and had a great deal of respect for – he was soaking in all the Hip Hop juices of this crew! When he heard of the photo shoot for the In Control album which was to take place at a small airport on Long Island in the fall, he tagged along to Marley’s studio to see some of the fellas record a new song. After the shoot Kane, Kool G & Craig G made their way back to Marley’s new studio in Astoria. Marley had made some loot off the Shan and Shante projects and had moved his gear out of his mom’s apartment, had bought a new car and had set up his studio in Queens. Ace made himself useful by giving Craig a ride to the studio – a great opportunity to catch some legends at work.
Back at Marley’s crib everyone was doing their thing, writing their verses to the “Symphony” beat. After some time Marley was ready to start recording vocals but there was some hesitation about who was gonna reveal their new rhymes first. At this point, to loosen up the vibe in the room Marley invited the youngest member of the congregation, Ace, to get it started. He wasn’t even supposed to be on this track – but Marley needed someone to break the ice. Ace dropped some verses he had in his head over the “Hard to Handle” loop and that was that. He didn’t expect the verse to be used and he didn’t think Marley even intended to use that verse on the track – but when it came to putting it all together it was included and the rest is his-story…
That multi-Hip Hop-star-studded foray was followed by a 12″ on the Cold Chillin’ “tester label” Prism, the very classic “Letter to the Better” 12″ billed as Ace & Action (Action being short for his crew The Action Posse – pah you know all this shit anyway..). Ace had signed a single deal with Cold Chillin’ on Marley’s mom’s kitchen table that stipulated he would do a single on Prism and IF sales were respectable he could be required to fulfill an album commitment. Which is what happened. Bla bla bla, “Me & the Biz” yada yada yada “Music Man” bla bla bla “Movin On” (damn this is boring) – one hugely successful album later he begins work on his second album for Cold Chillin Records….
By this time Cold Chillin’ had gone on a furious signing spree – Genius aka GZA, Kid Capri, Diamond Shell (Biz’s Brother), Grand Daddy IU were all signed to the label – but sales were dipping slightly and Warner Brothers, who were responsible for Cold Chillin’s distribution, in true management consulting style came in and started making cuts. Literally cuts were made – a line (not a figurative line an actual line) was drawn (probably with some kind of square/un-hip fountain pen or possibly a quill!) between the keepers and the ones who had to go! Ace was the first name under the line. Above the line were the usual (and entirely guilty) higher selling suspects: Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane and below were the new signings and Ace. Ace was offered the chance to drop his second album on Prism but declined – why downgrade?. It was at this point his manager began shipping his talents to other labels and it wasn’t that long before Delicious Vinyl bit. Unfortunately all his work for the second album was not part of the new deal so had to be discarded at the time and here we are to scoop that sh1t right up and drop it on a limited vinyl pressing for YOU, the most loyal of fish fanatiks. This caviar (and we are talkin Beluga son) is gonna move like a tuna fleeing a hammerhead – for reel!!
I asked Ace about this material and how it fits into his whale-sized body of work and he told me that the first 3 and indeed all his work follows a natural progression. The “preachiness” which he saw in himself (on reflection) in some of the first album material was tempered for the second album which is a more subtle and coded attempt to get into the listener’s head – he described it as ‘fooling people into learning’. Following on from the second album we find ourselves in full-on parody mode in the gangster-rapper-piss-take “SlaughtaHouse” and on and on, like a Shyheim song from 1993. It’s almost certainly a cliche to label Masta Ace as an underrated Hip Hop artist – BUT (of course there’s a but) if you follow his albums through the years there is no way he has been truly
appreciated or indeed critically rewarded for his contributions to the art-form and society as a whole for his musical and cultural efforts. And just to finish up with the Master Ace/Masta Ace question – they are BOTH helladope!!
A1 Kick it On the One feat. Paula Perry
A2 Hell Up in Harlem feat. Kid Dynamite a.k.a Sha Stimuli
A3 Jack B Nimble (Original version)
B1 Aint Misbehavin’
B3 Ace Iz Wild (Instrumental)
All tracks written by Masta Ace. Al,A3 and B2 produced by Masta Ace. A2 and B1 produced by Delite. B3 produced by Marley Marl and co-produced by Masta Ace. All tracks except B3 recorded 1992. B3 recorded 1990. Photo courtesy of George Dubose.
Volume 2 dropped 6 Months Later
A1 Scared of the Dark
A2 The Younger Generation
A3 Sold Out
B1 Steady’s Jam
B2 One Two, One Two
B3 Brooklyn Battles (Dub Version)
Credits: A1 produced by Young Disciples. A2 prod. by Outloud.
A3 & B3 prod. by Marley Marl. B1 prod. by Steady Pace.
B2 prod by Masta Ace.