Capable of coaching high school football while concurrently making albums, Masta Ace clearly isn’t an ordinary rapper. Considering his double life, it’s wholly appropriate that for his latest project, MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne, the legendary emcee hooked up with fellow top-tier rapper DOOM, who also leads a dual life (maybe a triple or quadruple life if you consider his various personas). Waxing nostalgic over carefully selected tracks from DOOM’s instrumental series, Special Herbs, on MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne, Ace is well-seasoned, yet palatable. The narrative he presents is deeply personal, even when he embellishes. All in all, the album gives an engaging and moving portrait of Ace and his origins. That being said, for further knowledge, we consulted the man himself. Discussing the circumstances of his mother’s death, living as a rapper and coach, and re-working DOOM’s beats without the supervillain, Masta Ace gives us the story behind the storytelling. Listen.
RESPECT: Your Wikipedia page says that you’re a high school football coach, but there’s no citation for that. Can you confirm or deny that?
Masta Ace: Yeah it’s true. I just left football practice just now because I have a meeting with my distributor. I took off my coaching clothes and put on my rapper clothes and now I’m headed over to a meeting.
How long have you been coaching?
This is my 11th year.
So you’ve been coaching while rapping?
Yeah, 2002 was my first full season coaching. From that time, I would basically not tour between the months of August to November.
Does your team know about your legacy?
Not really. I’m at my second school. This is my second year in a new school. At my first school, I coached there for 9 years. There were kids that knew that I made music before, but I don’t think the fact that I was really known ever really hit home with them. It’s a younger generation, so if your song’s not on the radio or you’re not popular…they’re not really aware of hip-hop history. They kinda just know what they see on tv or hear on the radio. So as much as a few them got word that I rapped back in the day, they had no clue that I still tour and put albums out. I’ve even put albums out during the time that I was coaching, but they never knew that.
So your latest album is dedicated to your mother and is really personal. How long ago did she pass?
She passed in 2005.
What were the circumstances of her death?
It was natural causes, they say. She was 64. Because she was home alone and there was no kind of foul play, I basically wasn’t able to even get them to do a real investigation or an autopsy or anything like that. But basically she had had minor brain surgery a couple of years before that. She had a vein in her head that caused her to have a seizure and collapse one day and they repaired it. So she had two years recovering from that seizure — which luckily happened at work — and two years after that happened, the doctors gave her clearance and told her that the surgery was a success and she was good, but something must have happened while she was home alone. No one was there to call an ambulance.
Since it was so sudden, would you say the album was an opportunity to thank her because you didn’t have the time to do it when she was still here?
That’s exactly what it is. It’s me summing up my childhood and saying thank you to her and letting the world know a little bit about her. I don’t know if she ever heard a proper thank you from me. When you’re living and it’s your mom and you see every day or go see her every other week it kinda just becomes, “I’mma talk to her tomorrow.” You don’t feel that need to say anything. It’s not like she was sick and her health was deteriorating. When you have something like that going on, you have a little sense that something might happen, so you may start to say the things you want to say. When it just happens all of a sudden, there’s no way for you to ever expect it. Like I said, she had just gotten the clean health bill, so I didn’t think she was going anywhere anytime soon.
Do you feel like you said “thank you” in the way that you wanted?
Maybe not word for word, but I think the album itself is a thank you: putting her name in the title, the little speech that my character gave at the end…I could have said a lot more, but I didn’t want to get overly sentimental where it would be corny to people. I just tried to keep it short and brief and sweet and tried to hit the basic points. She raised a good kid; I learned right from wrong and how to figure things out with her help. That’s pretty much what I wanted to say. Thanks for setting me up properly.
All of the beats come from DOOM’s Special Herbs series. Were any of the beats retouched or remixed? Some of them sound slightly different.
Yeah. The only beat that we didn’t do anything do was the “Slow Down” beat and that’s basically because it would have taken us forever to beef that up because the track slows down and speeds up. It would have been very difficult to do that. On all the other tracks we added kicks, snares 808s, sub-basses, filtered bass, filtered the loops and added some bottoms. With the kicks and snares, because we didn’t have multi tracks, we – me and my partner Filthy Rich, who engineered the whole album – he basically sat there and hand-placed every kick and every snare on every song. It was crazy. He literally had to sit there one-by-one and put every kick on top of DOOM’s kicks so that it was now a double kick or a double snare. He had to place it right on – place it, listen to it, move it a little bit, play it again. “Not quite? Do it again. Now you go to the next kick.” Imagine doing that for every part of every song for the whole album.
In your web series video you said that you listened to all those beats and got inspired. What about the beats do you find inspirational?
I’m not sure how to answer that. My boy gave me like 60 other beats that we had and were playing in his car. For me, it was just instrumentals to drive to. I wasn’t thinking about them in terms of me doing anything with them. I just wanted to drive with them. And I would drive with those instrumentals and listen to them and listen to them. And after a certain period of time, certain ones started kind of jumping out at me like, “Oh, I could kick some stuff to this right there.” Before you know it, I’m driving and writing in my head. A lot of the time, that’s where I do a lot of my writing, while I’m driving. I come up with the best lines when I’m doing something other than trying to write. You get me a pen and a piece of paper and turn a beat on and say, “Write me a rhyme,” that rhyme won’t come out nearly as good if you tell me, go clean out the backyard and I put the headphones on while I’m cleaning.
Those beats have been used before. Was it kind of awkward rapping over previously released beats for a commercial release?
It wasn’t awkward for me because I had never heard most of the songs that were recorded to those beats. So I kind of felt like if I don’t know most of these, the average person isn’t going to know most of these beats. So I kind of just decided that there would be a small percentage of the population that was going to be so familiar with these beats that it would be annoying for them.
In addition to speaking about your mother on the album, you also speak about your friends. Are you still in contact with the people in “Me and My Gang?”
None of the characters that I name in “Me and My Gang” are actually people. They’re based on people I know. I do know a guy named Ronnell that I went to high school with, who did drive a cab at one time. I haven’t seen him in years though. I do know a guy that works at the post office. He’s actually a postal worker; he doesn’t work at the post office, but he’s a mail carrier. There was inspiration there. I do know a couple guys that had tryouts at the NFL that are now overweight. But like I said, it’s loosely based on real people.
You were evoking a mood rather than going for straight realism.
Exactly. To me it’s more fun as a writer when you can add a little creative fiction to it. “I know a dude who has ten kids by different women” is better than naming those [actual] people.
So who made the album artwork? It really complements the sentimentality of the album.
That was conceptualized by me. I kind of knew what I wanted. But my cousin, who also designed my website, she actually put it all together and did the physical artwork. She did different versions until we got it the way I wanted it. I gave her the vision and she executed it.
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