The Okayplayer Interview: Masta Ace Speaks On Working With MF Doom, Big Daddy Kane & More

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Masta Ace

It’s quickly approaching a quarter-century since we first heard Masta Ace spit over the Marley Marl classic, “The Symphony.” Today he released his first solo album in eight years, MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne, which is already on iTunes and now getting its physical release from Fat Beats (on vinyl and CD respectivelystream it in it’s entirety here). Okayplayer was fortunate enough to chop it up with the Brooklyn legend over the phone, and Ace spoke candidly on re-connecting with fellow Juice Crew alum, Big Daddy Kane and how difficult it really was to get a 16 from the elusive MF Doom (who indirectly provided the album with its instrumental backbone, all the beats being taken from his Special Herbs beat tape series). We also spoke on the reception of the new record, the re-release of his classic Disposable Arts album, his legacy and much more.

OKP: Since your last solo album, you’ve done projects like eMC and A&E, what was it like getting back in the lab by yourself again?

MA: It was fun. It was exciting. In group projects, you have to consider other people’s opinions, other people’s musical tastes, so it felt good to get back to doing exactly what I wanted to do every step of the way, without consulting anybody. I just got the chance to pick out beats that I like, and I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s tastes…and write the songs that I wanted to write. Now I will say this, when you’re writing a whole record, it’s a little bit more work on you. In those group situations you only have to write a verse, a half of a verse, and you’re not being forced to write full songs when you’re in a group situation. But it was definitely good just getting back to telling the story I wanted to do.

OKP: Is that anything to do with why you decided to dedicate it to your Mother, who passed away in 2005?

MA: It definitely lent itself to me, doing an album that was so personal and so much about my childhood. I wouldn’t have been able to do that type of record as a real, true collaboration project. Although people consider this as a collaboration project because Doom is involved, but he didn’t really have any say in the beats that I picked, or the songs and topics that I chose to write about. He merely provided the backdrop by releasing these instrumentals to the world, and I just got my hands on them.

OKP: You got these beats from Doom’s Special Herbs series, did you have a relationship with him prior to this project?

MA: We have met a couple of times, but we never really had a real conversation or talked about collaborating or anything like that before this. But I’m definitely familiar with what he’s doing, and what he has been doing.

OKP: Was there any issue getting Doom’s approval to use these beats?

MA: No there was no issue because the project was underway before he even knew about it. I didn’t go into it saying, “I need to talk to Doom first, before I start working on this project” because initially it was just going to be a free (mixtape) download for the fans. I wasn’t going to get into charging money for whatever. It was just going to be a kind of mixtape project where I just spit over some Doom beats, and give it away. But it wound up turning into more than that when Fat Beats got involved and started talking about money, wanting to sell it. That kind of changed everything.

OKP: After you decided it was going to be an LP, did it change the way you went about putting the project together?

MA: Yeah definitely. It changed the whole focus of the project from you know, mixtapes, spittin’, rappin’ talking about nonsense, just rappity raps.  Once you start talking about money and the fact that people are going to be paying for this project, I felt like I owed it to people to give them a little bit more than just freestyle raps. I felt like I needed to do more with it, and plus if it was going to be for sale, to me it was going to fall under that standard of my previous releases.

OKP: Right, when people hear about a new Masta Ace album, they’re probably going to expect a pretty cohesive album–usually with a narrative. Is that what we’re getting with MA_Doom?

MA: Yeah, it kind of takes you through my childhood. There’s a character on the album that’s me when I was 12-years old, and there’s a few skits with him. And it kind of brings you forward a little bit with the lyrics. It’s definitely not as spelled out, in terms of the storyline, as Long Hot Summer but there is skits that you can follow and they carry you from one song to the next, the way I’ve done on past records.


OKP: You mentioned on twitter trying to get a verse from Doom, I don’t see him on the tracklisting, but I’ve also read he is, did you end up getting that verse?

MA: Yeah we got the verse. The song is called “Think I Am” and it features Big Daddy Kane and Doom.

OKP: Nice, what was whole story behind getting that verse?

MA: It took a lot of months. The verse was scheduled to be delivered by September, and we didn’t get it until March.

OKP: Doom’s sort of notorious for being reclusive, was it hard getting a hold of him?

MA: Yeah it’s virtually impossible (to get in contact with him). He speaks through his manager and different people. It’s a little difficult. Not just difficult for me, it’s even difficult for people who work directly next to him (laughs). They were calling me, apologizing to me for how long stuff was taking because they couldn’t get him on the phone or get him to knock out things he needed to knock out.

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