Masta Ace

Most would agree that Masta Ace has already had one of hip hop’s most storied careers and pretty much anything else he does with his career nowadays is simply icing on the cake-except perhaps Masta Ace himself, who sounds as hungry on the mic in 2012 as he did in 1988. On the Brooklyn veteran’s sixth solo opus (that is, if you count his two Masta Ace Incorporated albums as solo records), Ace swipes random beats off of MF Doom’s Special Herbs beat tape series to use as his canvases, over which he paints some of the most personal rhymes of his career. MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne is dedicated to his mother, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 54.

Like previous Masta Ace albums, MA_DOOM is a focused, well-sequenced album that for the most part follows a linear narrative throughout. It doesn’t quite have as effective a storyline as Disposable Arts or  A Long Hot Summer, but Ace does a good job chronicling the impact his mother had on his career, the album following him as a child of the 70s all the way up until he started rhyming with the Juice Crew. Ace kicks things off with “Nineteen Seventy Something,” where he tells the story about how he used to rap over his mom’s favorite records, and the wrath he would face if he ever scratched a Donny Hathaway platter. “Me and My Gang” is classic Ace, where he flexes one of his strongest skills--brilliant imagery--over one of Doom’s bouncier productions. He drops flawless in-the-pocket flows, while describing several quirky members of his old crew, including a guy aptly named Bud, who does nothing but smoke weed and drink Budweiser.

“Slow Down” is another example of why Masta Ace is one of hip-hop’s greatest story tellers, as he vividly tells the story of a young and naïve Ace being robbed by two young ladies after a show. The strongest moments of Son of Yvonne is when Ace speaks about his mother. “Son of Yvonne” will definitely go down as one of his strongest tracks of his career. And the one-minute long “Dedication” is probably the most powerful 60-seconds on the album, as he and the younger version of himself (who appears throughout the album on interludes) perform a very emotional spoken word poem.

MA_DOOM  isn’t without it’s missteps however. Tracks like “Home Sweet Home” and “Fresh Fest” are hindered by very weak choruses from Pav Bundy and Reggie B, respectively. Another potential letdown on MA_DOOM is determined entirely by how familiar you are with MF Doom’s Special Herbs beat tapes--and how much you are bothered by hearing previously released material. Lucky for me, I was only previously exposed to two of the beats Ace chose to rap over, and I thought he did an excellent job of making them sound like a new song rather than a mixtape freestyle (best example: “Fresh Fest” is over one of my favorite Doom tracks, “Deep Fried Frenz,” but it still works for me, chorus notwithstanding).

As a whole, Son of Yvonne feels about two or three great tracks away from being an album that can compete with some of Ace’s best work. Including the CD version bonus cut, “In Da Spot,” the album clocks in under 40 minutes. Normally I’m a fan of shorter albums, but the album’s brevity is one of its few flaws. And after eight years waiting for a new Masta Ace solo album, the listener will likely be left wanting more, but probably not in a good way. But in 2012, one can hardly complain about receiving an album of this caliber, while many of Ace’s peers from the late-80s/early-90s struggle to remain relevant, or have thrown in the towel on a rap career altogether. If MA_DOOM is indeed icing on Masta Ace’s cake of a career, then it’s some damn good icing.

- Zach Gase