Saturday, March 2, 2013

Master Ace From the Parallel Dimension

Anybody who grew up in hip-hop has to have a lot of "what if" scenarios running around in their head... What if Ice Cube had never lefr NWA? What kind of records would they have made after 100 Miles & Runnin'? What if The Beastie Boys stayed with Def Jam and Rick Rubin? What if The DOC had never lost his voice? What would a new Biggie record be like in 2013? You know he'd be making millions just ghost writing for Nicki Minaj alone. Or what if Duval Clear never moved to Delicious Vinyl and went from being Master Ace and Action³ to Masta Ace Inc? How would that have sounded?

Well, thanks to Chopped Herring Records, we can finally get a glimpse into that last alternate reality. Shelf Life vol. 1 is an EP worth of tracks (mostly) recorded for his second Cold Chillin' Warner Bros album that never happened. Their website tells the story, "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 so yes, Chopped Herring has just un-discarded it for us.

To be honest, I've always been a bit on the fence about Ace's Delicious Vinyl years. I mean, sure, who couldn't love "Saturday Night Live," the introduction of Lord Digga, "Jeep Ass Nigga," that crazy cut with the Cella Dwellas, and all the great highlights? But still... the experiments with production style and flows, some of the more extreme concept songs... sometimes he started to get a little weird; and to be honest, I just wasn't ready to let Juice Crew-era Ace go. And, now granted. You can't put everything on Delicious Vinyl and leaving Marley's nest... a lot of his musical evolution probably would've taken place no matter where he was at. And again. the changes weren't all bad... one of the most exciting aspects of Ace is how he's proven himself able to not only adapt but be a stand-out MC in all different eras. But some of those shifts were frustrating, and that theoretical Cold Chillin' MastER Ace has always been in the back of my mind.

And now, holy shit, he's on my turntables! It's not totally Take a Look Around sounding, though... The production on that album was all Marley (and a couple songs by Mister Cee), and this material is mostly self-produced, just like a lot of Ace's Delicious Vinyl stuff.  Like I said, a lot of his musical evolution was gonna happen regardless. But it does certainly bridge that gap. Also, the stuff here sounds more raw, but I'm not sure how much of that is due him being to a different creative head space, and how much of it is just these tracks not being fully polished, final versions meant for the public. Some of these might be rough versions he planned to re-record or who knows what. Certainly the sound quality suggests these aren't fully mastered reels a big budget label would've put out.

How much that's a plus or minus will probably depend on your own taste, but I think that raw feel definitely works in the favor of the opening track, "Kick It On the One." It's just an ill, hardcore freestyle track with Ace trading rhymes back and forth with a very young sounding Paula Perry. Her voice doesn't sound fully developed yet here, but that doesn't hurt the track at all. It's a killer and would've been a highlight on any Ace album.

Speaking of young sounding, the next song features the EP's only other guest, Sha Stimuli. Then known as Kid Dynamite, I don't know just how young he was; but he sounds like he easily qualifies as "kid rapper." That doesn't spoil anything, though, as "Hell Up In Harlem" is a hot track and a radical political salvo. ...It also doesn't seem to be at all faithful to premise of Larry Cohen's original Hell Up In Harlem film, but who cares? It's dope.

There's a couple other unreleased tracks (including two surprisingly produced by Delite of Stetsasonic), and an original, unheard early version of "Jack B, Nimble," which was an album track on Slaughtahouse.  Some of the elements are the same, including the fresh "Jack of Spades" cuts on the hook; but this one is definitely higher energy, matching the frenetic energy of the story, Jack on the run. I like it better.

And finally, I said this EP was "mostly" recorded for Ace's second, shelved album, right? That's because the last track is an instrumental for "Ace Iz Wild." That was a Marley-produced cut from his first album that was never put out as a single or any other method that would've given us the instrumental version. So here it is now, for the first time. Personally, "Ace Iz Wild" was never one of my favorites... when I used to listen to Take a Look Around back in the day, I'd often flip the tape over after "Four Minus Three" to skip it. I mean, it was good, but the hook was goofy and it just never quite caught on with me like the rest of the album. And unfortunately, that hook is included on instrumental track. But, still, I know a lot of heads will be happy to finally get their hands on it, so I'm happy to see it here. Just not as happy as I am to see the parallel dimension Master Ace material.

Now, who's going to release the record telling us what we would've gotten if Queen Latifah stayed with DJ Mark the 45 King?

1 comment:

  1. "To be honest, I've always been a bit on the fence about Ace's Delicious Vinyl years."

    Word. Slaughtahouse was a great album, but Take a Look Around remains his strongest release, in my opinion. Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer both had some killer material but were bogged down by their own concepts. And now I read that Ace's upcoming solo project is gonna be yet another concept album.

    Masta Ace is one of the best rappers ever, and it's great to see that he's still going strong. I just wish he would stop trying to be so damn clever.