Masta Ace – The Unkut Interview

Having retired from solo projects, Master Ace was touring with his EMC crew when I caught up with him at the end of 2007. While he waited for his meal he held court at the hotel bar and gave me the chance to pick his brain on a number of topics, both relevant and trivial. His show later that night was also on point, as he went beyond the call of duty to keep the crowd entertained beyond the standard ‘pace around the stage’ bullshit.

Robbie: When you first came out, everyone used to think that ‘Action’ was your DJ, when it was really your crew.

Masta Ace: Oh yeah – Steady Pace.

That must have been frustrating.

For him it was – not as much for me. He just hated when people called him Action. It was confusing – I came up with the name ‘Ace & Action’ and people thought it was the DJ. Steady Pace is still around, man. He actually lives pretty close to me. We grew up together, and we both moved to New Jersey. Now we live pretty close to each other – and best friends – so he always laughs. We talk about that every now and then, so it’s pretty funny.

When you did your first video, wasn’t Biz meant to rock up but you had to make the puppet at the last minute?

What happened was, the original song was supposed to be a duet with me and Biz. Back then, Kane was writing a lotta Biz’s rhymes, so I basically was tryin’ to show Biz that I could write for him too. So I wrote the whole song with my verses and then when he heard the song – to figure out where his parts were gonna be – I changed my voice so he would know when he rhymed. So I recorded the whole song that way, with my verse and then me imitating him, so that he could learn his parts and understand the structure of the song. At that time he was having a little problem with Marley, he didn’t want to record at Marley’s house and everything – he was kinda mad at Marley at the time – Marley thought it would be a cool idea to just leave the song how it was, with me imitating Biz. So we left it that way, but when it came time to do the video the director came up with this cool idea for getting a puppet made, and the rest is history I guess.

You should get that puppet to fight the muppet from the UMC’s ‘Blue Cheese’ video. Biz would kick that dude’s ass!

Oh yeah [gives me unimpressed look].

With your first album, I gather you were involved in choosing the records – as far as bringing a record to Marley and saying, ‘Hook this up for me’?

In most cases with Marley, I would bring a sample from my mother’s record collection. I didn’t know how to produce as far as working the equipment – I knew kinda what I wanted it to sound like – but he knew how to work the equipment. So I would bring him a record, he’d listen to it – ‘Yo, this is hot’ – he would sample it, chop it up, add drums and all that stuff, then I would spit the rhymes. It was pretty much that way across the board with most of the artists on Cold Chillin’. Everybody contributed musically. I was the first artist on Cold Chillin’ to actually get co-production credit. Because all the projects that came out with Marley’s name on ’em, pretty much they were co-produced by the artist, but at that time they weren’t gettin’ the credit for it. That’s why a lot of ’em were mad at him – like Biz and other people. They felt like he was getting too much of the credit, when they were contributing a lot.

At the end of ‘Rolling Wit Umdada’ you’ve got your freestyle from Kane’s birthday party, when Big Ill The Mack ripped him.

It was a dope party. That was actually Grand Daddy IU that you heard at the end, sayin’, ‘Pick that mic up!’ That was a wild night. I have photos from that night, with all of us on stage rapping. Kane, Jay-Z, Nice & Smooth, Just-Ice, Positive K was in there, Ill from Ill & Al Skratch. What a night! At the time it was just a party – we was just doin’ what we do – but looking back on it, it’s like crazy! Just the amount of people and different artists that was up there rapping. Scoob Lover – there were mad people in there rhyming. It was a cool night though.

After Ill shit on Kane there must have been a bit of tension in the air though.

Oh you mean when Ill did that shit he did? Oh yeah, that was kinda crazy. Kane had already left – he wasn’t even by the stage when that happened. Really, most of the rappers that was up there, everybody had kinda dispersed. It was such a long cipher that it kinda got boring after a while, so everybody was kinda leaving, and Ill got up there and just started whylin’ – kinda goin’ at Kane – but only a few people was paying attention. I was one of the people that was paying attention, and I was like, ‘Well this guy’s kinda sayin’ some stuff about Kane at his own party’. It was tension after that night, where Kane’s DJ Mr. Cee was A&R at Mercury Records, and Ill & Al Skratch were signed to Mercury Records. They were actually scarred to come to the record label because they thought somebody was gonna do something to them. They were like worried, but everything got smoothed over.

Not to bring up bad blood, but how are things with Fat Joe now?

That’s mad old, that’s like ninety…I believe in settling things like men. I don’t believe in talkin’ stuff in magazines and radio stations – I go to the person and talk to them to their face. I knew that eventually we was gonna see each other, and we saw each other. We were face-to-face, he said how he felt, I said how I felt and that was pretty much the end. We shook hands afterwards! It could got heated and turned into something else, but it didn’t.

When you did the Sittin’ On Chrome album you received a lot of flack in the press – the same thing happened to Brand Nubian – about ‘pandering to the West’ and stuff like that.

That was a crazy backlash on me because I had such a successful record at the time. Being from New York and having a record that was getting played in the West Coast and Down South – at that time it was very much about what coast you were from and it was a lot of coastal pride goin’ on at that time – so I got a little backlash from that. That really was the beginning of the East Coast/West Coast beef that was already brewing, so the Sittin’ On Chrome album was really my way of trying to bridge the gap between East and West. So I had this whole scenario where my cousin from LA came too visit me in New York – cultural exchange – and we had a good time together even though he was very different than me. People were very upset with me about the record that I made. They thought I was trying to be a California rapper, where I really didn’t change my rhyme style at all – I just flipped a different beat, that really was a East Coast beat. But people at the time were so charged-up on East/West that they didn’t take the time to really listen to anything. They were just, ‘Oh, he’s down with them! He’s rockin’ with them!’ Whatever. I feel like I opened a lot of doors for New York artists to do other things musically. Now you see everybody making Down South music now – nobody’s getting yelled at or killed for it.

People still notice, though. Whatever happened to TJ Swan, man? Did you ever hear his album?

I heard it – it’s a great album! If that album woulda come out, he woulda been double platinum, household name. I don’t know what he woulda done from there, but this was a brilliant album. In that same spirit of the Biz Mark records – his singing style. The beats were hot! It was the beginning of that kinda New Jack Swing – hadn’t really takin’ off yet. A few of those TJ Swan tracks, Marley submitted to Bel Biv Devoe later. It was like on that cusp, yo, of that next R&B sound. If that record would come out? He woulda killed!

You’ve survived so many eras, and you’ve said that you don’t want to do any more solo albums. What point are you at now?

No more solo albums, but I still wanna rap. I still have some musical contributions that I wanna make. So the EMC project – I’m one of the artists on that project. I just wanna do something new and different. Me and Ed OG are working on a collaboration album – I wanna do projects that don’t have to be a ‘Masta Ace’ album, because I’m not tryin’ to compete with my solo albums.

So you don’t have that pressure?

Right. Everybody’s gonna measure it up to Disposable… or Long Hot Summer, but these records would be something different, so I won’t have to worry about that.

What is it about Brooklyn that sets you guys apart?

Brooklyn has a certain swagger – people from Brooklyn tell you how they feel. Of course I’m generalizing a little bit, but Brooklyn is that rugged spot. It’s got culture, it’s got vibe, it’s got danger. If you came-up in that atmosphere and you were able to survive and persevere, then you’re a better person for it as you go in your life. The experiences that I had in Brooklyn just have prepared me for life. Even to this day – I’m not in that atmosphere anymore – but if I get put into a situation where those instincts have to come out, they come out! If we step outside this building right now, and there’s some guys in the parking lot that’s thinking about doin’ something to us? I’m gonna know it before they even step to us! It’s just that instinct. I carry that with me all the time.

It must be a competitive environment as well, with so many people vying for top spot.

New York in general is just very competitive. Everybody drives fast, everybody’s tryin’ to cut each other off and get in front. Everybody’s knocking each other outta the way to get ahead. That’s New York – period.

You’ve done records with J-Love and that Marco Polo joint was a nice one. Are you gonna continue doing those one-offs?

Those kinda projects – I’m all for. I like doin’ those one-off things. It’s like a little small space in time where you can kinda redefine yourself or maybe just do something that you wouldn’t do on your own project. That’s what I get outta those records.

Were you nervous about the reaction to ‘Wake Me When I’m Dead’ with the Brand New Heavies, being that it was so different?

It was something different than what anybody had ever heard from me. That’s what kinda made me wanna do it and be excited about it. Just to experiment musically – try something that was a little bit outside of the box of what I’m known for. That was a classic album, Heavy Rhyme Experience, I’m glad I was a part of it. It really opened up the door for me to be to be a part of Delicious Vinyl records and do the two albums that I did with them.

Would you agree that you were one of the first people to put more of the vulnerable side of yourself on record?

I don’t know if I was one of the first. I believe other people have done that before me. I know that I did it in a time where all rappers seemed to be perfect – everybody was ‘the man’, ‘the don’, had the best car, the biggest jewelery, the best girl. I just did it at the time where it wasn’t fashionable to do it. I’m sure that there are artists that…Biz is like the perfect example of vulnerability when he was coming up. There’s plenty of people before me, but at the time I did it, it was odd to people. I think that’s why they appreciated it.

Is it true that you did a show at the NMS where you and your dancers were playing homeless dudes?

Yeah, the beginning of my show. That’s how we started the show off. We would dress-up like homeless bums, with trench coats and the hats tucked over our heads, and we did this whole dance routine. This goes back to 1989, 1990 when I started doin’ that routine. That was kinda the beginning of me just trying to be as creative as I could on-stage and entertain people.

I notice that Cold Chillin’ have been re-pressing your first album willy-nilly.

Yeah, we’re goin’ to court with that. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but we’re goin’ to court on that.

Finally, what’s up with Ice-U-Rock and them?

Those guys are good, man. Ice-U-Rock was Master Ice, Uneek and Rock Diesel – those were the three guys who made up Ice-U-Rock. I’m still friends with those guys. Rock is a reverend now, but Ice and Uneek – I still see those guys very often. Very recently we were doin’ this Playstation tournament…


Yeah, we’ve been doin’ that since Sega Genesis – it’s been that long. I dropped out a couple of years ago when me daughter was born, but they kept doin’ it. They play every Saturday, I go by sometimes and hang out with those guys. Matter of fact – Ice, I just recently put him up on the Little Brother album – because we have similar taste in music, so every now and then I try to put them up on something they may not be aware of. He called me, tellin’ me that he really liked it. Those guys are good, man. They still do little stuff in the house, but they’ve accepted that music is not the route for them. They each work at schools and work with kids, and that’s the career path that they chose.

Master Ace feat. Ice-U-Rock – ‘Go Where I Send Thee’

Brand New Heavies feat. Masta Ace – ‘Wake Me When I’m Dead’

Masta Ace –
‘Rollin’ Wit Umdada’

Masta Ace – ‘Dear Diary’

Marco Polo feat. Masta Ace – ‘Nostalgia’

Masta Ace – ‘Me and the Biz’ video:

Masta Ace INC – ‘Slaughterhouse’ video:

Masta Ace INC – ‘Jeep Ass Nigga’ video:

Masta Ace INC – ‘Born To Roll’ video:

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36 Comments so far
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dope interview… you maintain your reign meng

Comment by max_bills 08.21.08 @

Great Interview, but you didn’t really ask him anything about his lyrics. All the background, history, and rap politics stuff is cool – but I never see folks with access to these rappers, ever ask about the rapping aspect of rap music.

– Who was at the video
– Who was at the studio
– You still beefing with?
– What’s your industry outlook?

That’s the kinda thing a publicist could put together.

If we’re hip hop heads, shouldn’t we be asking about hip hop, the music itself? Not the machine behind it all?

Comment by WestIndianArchie 08.21.08 @

Dope interview. After Ace said he doesn’t like to talk about people on records I wish you could have asked about High & Mighty and Boogieman…

Comment by Frost 08.21.08 @

Dope interview… did you ever hear that song “Small Town USA” he did with this cat Foul Mouth Jerk from NJ? Came out a few months ago and was getting some play. Pretty dope, check for it.

Comment by Lord T 08.21.08 @

masta ace, wow.dude, never fell off.

Comment by richdirection 08.21.08 @

Ace is one of the best to do it . Saw him in London a while back and he killed it.
What actually happened between him and Fat Joe though? I know Top Ten List was apparently about Joe but what sparked it?

Comment by step one 08.21.08 @

Master Ace’s first album is a Hip Hop Classic…Certified. I played that tape till it popped.

Comment by DOC SAMSON 08.21.08 @

I think a lot of rappers could learn from Masta Ace’s ‘no more solo albums’ move

Comment by Liam 08.21.08 @

Masta Ace has changed with the times and has made dope music every album and its like the guy gets even better as he gets older…
Ya i heard of the Boogie Man when i was a youth. SCARY!!!!!!!! then i found out he was as fake as the tooth fairy…

Comment by Killer Keith 08.21.08 @

Brooklyn Battles is timeless … if we had ‘hot summer nights’ in the UK I’d play it more.

Comment by ED209˚ 08.22.08 @

It’s pretty cool to see how Masta Ace and Ed O.G.’s careers have pretty much paralleled each other’s. They both had some early classic records, kept it raw when their peers fell off, and got better with age. I think both of them are rare in that they are putting out some of their strongest work twenty years after they first dropped. I was hoping for a collab album between them, and it looks like it’s happening.

Comment by HipHopHistorian 08.22.08 @

..Funny how Ace said he was trying bridge the gap between the East & West coast. When it’s so obvious that the song Slaughterhouse was a subliminal diss towards the West Coast style.

Comment by gohyphy 08.22.08 @

Dope interview Robbie!

Ase is great…Slaughtahouse is one of the greatest albums ever.

Comment by Trackstar the DJ 08.22.08 @

Nice interview. I never realised that it wasn’t Biz on ‘Me & the Biz’. I need to get my ears syringed.

Comment by End Level Boss 08.22.08 @

Wasn’t the whole concept behind the Slaughtahouse record dissing the West Coast g rap of the time?

Nice use of the Cue’s promo photo!

Comment by Eons 08.22.08 @

great stuff! some more slaughtahouse ?s woulda been cool tho.

i love this site

Comment by bongolock 08.22.08 @

yo step that beef was over graffiti

Comment by mercilesz 08.22.08 @

Ace did the Homeless Intro to his show when he played at Docklands in 89.
He put on a great show.

Comment by Beatlover 08.22.08 @

I did wonder if it was agraf related thing but it seemed strange as they’d both been signed for a while so I assumed they’d stoppped writing by then.
still, at least thats some proper Hip Hop beef and not all this youtube/Hot 97 shit you get nowadays!

Comment by step one 08.22.08 @

University of Rhode Island represent.

Comment by cricket 08.22.08 @

Ace wrote a short story about graff in The Source and did an interview about his new-found love of bombing, but since he’d only done a couple of pieces at that point Joe took exception to this and called him a toy in an ego trip interview. Ace responded with ‘Top Ten List’. All least that’ hoe I remember it.

As for WestIndianArchie’s complaints, you sound like you skimmed through without reading the piece.

I didn’t ask about Boogieman and Eon because I could care less about that situation. It was covered thoroughly enough when it happened.

Comment by Robbie 08.22.08 @

Robbie I really wish you would have asked Ace about his track”4 minus 3″from”Take a look around”,remember that line-“I’m not carin/don’t mind tearin/a cocaine pushin/dapper dan wearin/braids in ya hair/neck fulla of cables/my Dj laughs when you touch the turntables.Man that was aimed at Eric B.,and it makes sense since Ace and Kane was real cool back then,and Ra and Kane had that subliminal war going on.Great interview though.

Comment by Roger Jones 08.22.08 @

“Nice interview. I never realised that it wasn’t Biz on ‘Me & the Biz’. I need to get my ears syringed.”

I’m with End Level Boss on that one. but unlike him, theres no way I’d admit it :)

Comment by ED209˚ 08.23.08 @

Top notch interview, Robbie. I think a lot of rappers could learn from Ace about the importance of a good live show.
I saw EMC in BK earlier this summer for the Crooklyn Dodgers concert, they tore it down.

Comment by AaronM 08.23.08 @

that interview was nice, good to hear from such a legend, i’d love to hear a marco polo masta ace collabo album, and Robbie, i know you are a closet R&B fan when you talk so longingly about TJ Swan in every other interview wit bell biv devoe and en vogue posters on your wall man, haha just playin, but no really, if you keep dropping interviews on us like this, its really over for everybody on the best hip hop journalist ever tip, fuck all them tv rap magazines, they ain’t sayin shit worth readin for the most part

Comment by gstatty 08.24.08 @

im kinda young can anyone tell me the original beat for born to roll?

Comment by mercilesz 08.25.08 @

gstatty – I’m not sure where my obsession with the TJ Swan album came from to be honest – could be because Marley used to hype it up in interviews all the time.

mercilesz – the beat is off Original Concept’s ‘Knowledge Me’.

Comment by Robbie 08.25.08 @

thank u…I heard mister cee play it one day and had been wondering ever since. ur the man

Comment by mercilesz 08.25.08 @

any spotlight on ace is good. the man’s been rocking for 20 years steady with quality hip-hop and his lyrics, topics and overall humanity have always stood out for me. one of the nicest most consistent mc’s.

and to the cat that mentioned brooklyn battles.. that’s my joint too.


Comment by jay.soul 08.27.08 @

Dope Shit Robbie

Comment by daruffian 08.28.08 @

Both “Ase” and “Crack” were active writers and had ups in NYC well into the 90s.
I remember Crack was on the BQE-Fat Joe actually bombed highways.
Ase was up on some gates and alleys in Midtown Manhattan…

Comment by keatso 09.03.08 @

keatso ase didnt start writin until mad late(90’s) and started talkin all this graff stuff around the time of slaughtahouse… that was joes beef. Diamond and Joe used to write together in the eighties way before ase ever got up.

Comment by mercilesz 09.03.08 @

yeah thats what I thought-but ny graff was still popping off on the streets in the 90s (pre-Giuliani).

Comment by keatso 09.18.08 @

Nice One Robbie!
One of my all time favourite Mcs!
Had the opportunity to see him live some years ago. After the show Ace signed my copy of his first album, and I could really feel his pride and happiness when he recognized how much time has passed since that classic…
What a humble & respectable person!

Comment by Bones 10.21.08 @

I’m kinda surprised no one remembers what the beef was about between Fat Joe and Masta Ace. Masta Ace the story goes that Masta Ace was making fun of Puerto Rican rappers. Fat Joe came to one of his conserts, on stage, and smacked him.

Comment by Mike 09.28.09 @

dope intvw robbie twas nice hearin abt d gr8est mc

Comment by Jaxx 08.12.12 @

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