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Who is Masta Ace and what has he contributed to music?

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Hip-Hop / Rap Singer, Writer

Masta Ace is an East Coast rapper whose audience has spread to the West Coast and Europe and remains a major presence in the world of hip-hop. Born Duval Clear in 1966 and raised by a hard-working single mother, Masta Ace grew up in the Brownsville projects of Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1970s he joined a deejay crew. By the early to mid-1980s, Masta Ace was involved in the hip-hop scene, including writing rhyme lyrics. Duval continued to develop his interest in hip-hop and rapping while he finished his studies at the University of Rhode Island where in 1988 he took a degree in marketing.

Career / Recordings

Masta Ace's career began when the mainstream American hip-hop movement was young, so the hip-hop-rap movement and he have grown up together. His signature style includes streetwise wordplay, deep bass beat, and lyrics about ghetto life, to which he adds criticisms about shallow material aspirations.

Masta Ace won a rap contest in 1987, first prize for which was six hours of recording with hip-hop star Marley Marl in Marl's own recording studio. It was the year he graduated with his marketing degree, in 1988, that Masta Ace got his chance and first career break in Marl's studio.

Marl was significantly impressed with Ace and invited him to participate in recording Marl's upcoming 1988 compilation album, Marley Marl's In Control, Vol. I. Marl gave Ace two songs to perform and record for the album: "Simon Says" and "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize"; the two songs were written as a collaboration between Marl and Ace. As a matter of chance, because MC Shan opted out of the recording session, Marl also invited Ace to replace MC Shan on "The Symphony, Part 1," rapping in company with rappers Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Craig G.

I was only there at the session to observe. It's funny because I could have easily not been there that day; it was pure luck--or fate. (Underground Sound)

After the terrific reviews for In Control and "Symphony," Marl offered Ace membership in his Juice Crew posse of rappers, which included, among others, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shante.

Cold Chillin' Records, New York

As a result of In Control, Cold Chillin' Records signed Ace to a recording contract (the same New York label Marl recorded with). Ace's debut album was the 1990 Take a Look Around which included the hit song "Me and the Biz." Cold Chillin' did not promote the album, and it was not a success. Three years later, Ace changed labels by signing with the Los Angeles record label, Delicious Vinyl.

Delicious Vinyl Records, Los Angeles

After signing with Delicious, Ace, who had faded from the rap scene in disillusionment after the failure of Take a Look Around, joined collaborative forces with Brand New Heavies and recorded a track on their 1992 album Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. I. The next year, 1993, Masta Ace developed the trio, Masta Ace Incorporated, with Lord Digga and Paula Perry, and they released the album Slaughtahouse, which fused east coast rap style with west coast rap sensibilities expanding his audience and fan base. It was the track "Born to Roll" that brought Ace and the trio national attention: Their "Brooklyn bass music"--what Ace calls his signature sound--was spread to a new and growing audience not connected to the East Coast.

Filmmaker Spike Lee asked Masta Ace to team up with Special Ed and Buckshot in 1994 to record the title track of his upcoming film Crooklyn, a privilege that kept Ace in the public's attention while he worked on his next album for Delicious. Sittin' on Chrome was released in 1995 and featured hip-hop artists Leschea and the Cella Dwellas (The Dwellas). One track, "The INC Ride," about cruising in cars, became a hit, and it incorporated samplings from the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You." Ace told iMusic Urban Showcase that he hoped "The INC Ride" would present car cruising to kids as something fun to do that had no association with violence:

[Cruisin' is shown as] just a thing for kids to do that's fun and nonviolent. Much of the current "staying real" talk in hip-hop has to do with rapping about such negative things as blunts, 40s, and guns. That's not for me.

Big Beat Records / Private Production

After 1995, Ace released his contract with Delicious Vinyl and focused on private projects for the Masta Ace Incorporated trio, which now included Leschea with Paula Perry, and started a street promotions company. In addition, Ace released the occasional single, but no albums. Ace had grown to reject the rap/hip-hop music industry politics and manipulations after Big Beat Records--with whom he signed after leaving Delicious Vinyl--"shelved" two years worth of work that was meant to have produced Ace's next album.

European Tour

Ace's second career break came when, in 2000, he embarked on a highly successful European tour that included club shows in Germany, England, Scotland, Italy, and Switzerland. Ace was enthusiastic about the success of his European debut: "Most artists feel like if they can't shine here in the U.S., then they don't want to shine. I didn't feel that way" (Evil Monito Online).

JCOR Records

When he returned to the U.S., after enthusiastic reception in Europe, he signed with JCOR Records and was eager to produce another album, though he insisted that the album be made on his own terms. Disposable Arts was released in 2001 on the JCOR label, and it provided a hard look at both ghetto life and hip-hop music criticizing the dominant themes of grasping after material extravagances such as diamonds and cars. After the release of Disposable Arts, Ace told that he wanted to provide a sense of proportion for rap listeners.

I feel like the average hip-hop fan is not well-rounded at all. Their musical diet is not a balanced one. My job in this is to be one of the providers of balance.

Source: Wendy Kagan. "Masta Ace." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 40. Gale Cengage, 2006.

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