Photo by Karen “Inch High” Dabner McIntyre
Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London Date: 28 May 2012
Former Juice Crew member and golden-era icon Masta Ace has spent the best part of the last twenty-five years building a well-deserved reputation as one of the most intelligent and well-rounded emcees in the game. From battle rhymes to story-telling to social commentary, the Brooklyn lyricist has proven himself in all areas, dropping numerous solo albums and collaborative projects which have all spawned their fair share of classics.
Unlike some of his peers, in more recent years Ace has managed to remain faithful to his old-school roots whilst still appealing to a new generation of fans. Both 2001’s “Disposable Arts” and 2004’s “A Long Hot Summer” satisfied original supporters as well as gaining the attention of younger listeners, which would explain the varied ages of those in attendance at this one-off London gig, from youthful Hip-Hoppers who barely looked out of their teens to ageing b-boys who no doubt clung to every word of Ace’s debut album “Take A Look Around” when it dropped in 1990.
Ten years after the release of “Disposable…” the Arts Decade Tour has found Ace making his way across Europe, celebrating the album with the help of Canadian producer-slash-deejay Marco Polo and eMC crew members Wordsworth and Milwaukee’s Stricklin.
It was New York’s Wordsworth who took to the stage of the sold-out Jazz Cafe first, acting as warm-up for the night’s headliner. Making his name in the late-90s at the infamous NY Lyricist Lounge events, the veteran artist displayed his total command of the stage as he ran through a selection of tracks from both his 2005 solo project “Mirror Music” and the forthcoming “Photo Album” release. The energetic microphone controller also threw in a couple of impressive freestyles for good measure, which left the responsive crowd both entertained and in high spirits.
Arriving onstage to the sound of the “Disposable…” skit “Commercial” and decked-out in black sportswear, Masta Ace launched into a polished set which spanned all eras of his lengthy career so far. Joined by former Tommy Boy artist Stricklin (who acted as hype-man as well as showcasing some of his own material), Ace concentrated heavily on tracks from “Disposable…” throughout the performance, including the upbeat “Don’t Understand” and the High & Mighty diss “Acknowledge”. The bass-heavy “Take A Walk” had the audience of all ages rhyming along almost word-for-word with Ace’s detailed observations of inner-city life in the Rotten Apple.
Obviously aware that older heads would want to see Ace reaching back into his true-school catalogue, the BK legend paid homage to classics from the likes of Biz Markie and Whodini before launching into his verse from the timeless Marley Marl-produced Juice Crew posse cut “The Symphony” as well as performing his verse from the original 1994 Crooklyn Dodger’s track “Crooklyn” over the instrumental to the DJ Premier-produced 1995 sequel “Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers”. Another highlight was Ace dropping his hypnotic mid-90s banger “Top Ten List”, which still remains one of his finest moments to date in this reviewer’s humble opinion.
Taking a short break to discuss the inspiration behind his new MF Doom-produced album, Ace explained how his late mother’s record collection played a large part in his musical education as a youngster and subsequently influenced his choice of beats as an artist, before moving into the project’s horn-filled autobiographical title track “Son Of Yvonne”.
Wordsworth also once again made his way onstage, joining Masta Ace and Stricklin to perform crowd favourites from eMC’s 2008 group album “The Show”, including the sublime piano-laced “Once More” and breezy car anthem “Traffic”.
Rounding the night out with classics such as the Original Concept-sampling “Born To Roll” and relentlessly funky “Letter To The Better”, Ace left a hugely satisfied crowd hoping that this wouldn’t be the last time we’d see this extremely talented emcee rocking on a UK stage.
Masta Ace pays homage to some Hip-Hop classics and drops his verse from 1988’s Juice Crew classic “The Symphony”.