Masta Ace on Mom, Marshall and MA Doom

On a cross-Canada tour to support his latest record, the MF Doom-produced MA Doom: Son of Yvonne, Masta Ace called Cult MTL to discuss legacies and live shows en route to tomorrow’s show, with guests and eMC bandmates Wordsworth and Stricklin’.

Masta Ace

Brownsville, Brooklyn is definitely a place where stars are born. A lotta heads might think of Billy Danze’ s snarling homage to the hood in his first verse on “Ante Up,” but after two decades-plus in the game, Masta Ace is still the undisputed king of the block and an eternal top-10 lyricist to any hip hopper who admires the craft beyond the superficial level.

On a cross-Canada tour to support his latest, the MF Doom-produced MA Doom: Son of Yvonne (a dope-ass entry to his catalogue and a touching tribute to his late mother), Masta Ace caught up with me by phone last week from Nelson, B.C., to discuss legacies and live shows en route to this Wednesday’s Cult MTL/Under Pressure co-presentation of his show with guests and eMC bandmates Wordsworth and Stricklin’.

Darcy MacDonald: When last we spoke, you were putting the finishing touches on your album. Now that it’s been out for a bit, how are you feeling about the response?

Masta Ace: It’s been great. I’m really proud that I was able to get that project done, and I just feel good to see people respond to the record the way they have. A lotta people appreciate me dedicating the record to the memory of my mother. People got a chance to get a little insight, and to hear about her, and it’s cool to just hear people saying her name. It’s almost like it brings her alive again. You know, seein’ her name on tour posters, seein’ her name in magazines and articles about my project, it just makes me feel good.

DM: If I may ask, when did your mom pass, and what were the circumstances?

Ace:  She passed away in 2005. It was written down as a cardio-pulmonary issue. She was 54 years old; it was completely unexpected. She collapsed at home alone in Virginia. And that’s pretty much what happened.

DM: How did your mom look at your rap career, from the early days on? And when you started to catch on, how did she feel about it all?

Ace: I first went into the studio to record when I graduated from college . About six months or so into doing that, she was really getting on my case about going out and starting to do some interviews, to try to get a job based on the degree that I had gotten in college. She didn’t really know what I was tryin’ to do with this music stuff. She knew that it’s always just a dream, but the reality is you gotta start out with a real job.

Initially she thought I had my head in the clouds and it wasn’t gonna work out. But once it kinda took off and my career started to take shape, I had a couple of videos and people started to know who I was a little bit, she was completely proud of me and embraced me.

As I was going through her things when I had to sell her house, I found my whole discography, my whole career in this one drawer that she had been keeping, just photos from magazines and interviews, articles — anything to do with my career that she was able to get her hands on, she kept it in this one particular drawer. I thought that was pretty cool!

DM: Yeah, that’s blessed for sure! What did your mom do with her life, aside from being your mom?

Ace: Well, she graduated from college the year after I graduated. She was going to school and working for a really long time. It’s a slow course, you know. She wanted me to finish college, so she basically put her college nights on hold until I was done. She took a few classes, a few here and there, and went on to work in a few different places. More recently (prior to her passing in 2005), she had been working for the U.S. postal service as a private contractor dealing with computer systems and things like that.

She was kind of an entrepreneur in a couple of ways. She kinda made her own hours and did her own thing, and it was pretty cool.

DM: So would you say you learned something about that indie hustle from your mom?

Ace: Definitely. In my first year of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to major in chemistry — that was like my favourite class in high school, so I went into college thinkin’ I wanted to get into chemistry. But then, takin’ those calculus classes, it just became clear how it wasn’t gonna work out for me.

And I switched to marketing, which is what she was majoring in at the time in college. So I really followed in her footsteps in that way.


DM: You had told me before it dropped that you were originally gonna put out MA Doom as a mixtape and that you decided to take a little more time to develop it. I think the listener familiar with the MF Doom source material can hear that extra touch, but I would like to know how it’s been incorporating that new music into a live show already packed with staple classics.

Ace:  I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little bit difficult because any time that I’m adding songs to the set, I gotta take songs out. I’m not tryin’ to do a two-hour show! So it’s like, okay, I gotta sacrifice certain records in the show, certain moments in the show, to integrate these new records. And now this here is a cool point, because I basically get to experiment with the new stuff and see what works live. It feels good live, testing that out, and I’ve gone through that with each album before, as they come out, in that first month or so, like, “Oh, let’s try that record tonight, let’s try this one tonight,” and figuring out how I’m gonna set it up. So we’re in that stage right now.

DM: A lot has been made about the fact that Eminem has always held you high as a big influence on him. At what point did you get to connect with him on an artistic level?

Ace: The first time I ever heard him, I was actually introduced to his music by DJ Jazzy Jeff. He told me about him, played me his music and then described him. I didn’t know anything about him, I didn’t know that he was white — I just knew that when you hear this kid, it was incredible, and when I heard it I was like, “This kid is nice. Like, he’s serious;  he’s puttin’ some words together that I haven’t heard anybody do.” I was really impressed by the songs, and actually, it was freestyles — it wasn’t even songs. He had just signed his deal with Dre; nobody knew who he was. He was just showing up on these radio shows, like Sway & King Tech in the Morning, Stretch & Bobitto, so I was definitely into him right out the gate.

When his first record came out, I was thoroughly impressed. Not so much by the singles, because the singles are what they are in the pop radio reality, but I was focused more on the album cut, the joints that won’t be played on the radio, and those joints were all just super-duper cool. It kinda makes you go back to your drawing board and make sure that your stuff is tight.

We actually met after…I think it was at the Grammys. He got up and mentioned my name from the podium as an artist that influenced him. I just thought it was cool, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. The people around me made a bigger deal out of it than I did. My phone rang off the hook the moment he said my name — four, five different phone calls, all people telling me, “Yo, you hear this guy? He just said your name!” I think people hearing that somehow thought I was gonna get a big bag of money!

I wound up meeting him a little bit later, when he invited me backstage after a show. At one point it was just me and him in the dressing room talking, and that was pretty cool. He was telling me that my album Slaughterhouse was a really crucial record for him and his boys, the D12 dudes. They’d basically drive around Detroit before they had any money, in a beat-up car, and play that album over and over again. It was cool hearing that. But no bag of money is gonna be delivered based on another artist giving you some love. ■

Masta Ace headlines with support from Stricklin, Wordsworth, the Bundies, Ill Tone & the Kids, Citizen Kane, the Grindhouse Project, L.E.S, DJ Johnny Illdigger and host Darcy MacDonald at Foufounes Electriques (87 Ste-Catherine E.) on Wednesday, March 27, 11 p.m., $15. The show is preceded by an art battle, details here.

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