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Masta Ace

Venue: Xoyo, London

Date: 10th May 2016

By Andrew Kay | 20 August 2016

Masta Ace has a carved a niche out for himself in the world of hip-hop. An independent, with an abundance of talent, his embryonic beginning happened under the Marley Marl ‘In Control’ banner in the late 80s. That didn’t work out- Ace has never really been a company man, unless that company encourages an individualistic spirit, and his subsequent albums have been filled with deft narratives, creative wordplay and a nice mixture of boom-bap beats laced around traditional soul and funk samples.  So, leaving Cold Chillin’ Warner Brothers and being forced into quick reinvention has been the making of Masta Ace.  Even though, for me, his first album will always be his finest moment, with “I Got Ta” being one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time, for its hope, positivity, idealism, beautiful sentiment and timeless honesty.

Building on a loyal following who might not have been around since 1990, Masta Ace seems to constantly be on tour around the world, playing to appreciative audiences who warm to his talent and humility - he has a direct connection with his audience, which I witnesse, and whilst other issues irritated me about tonight, his showmanship wasn’t one of them.

Arriving late and being fobbed off by the venue’s staff: “is Masta Ace on stage now?” “No mate, he’s on at 9.30p.m,” even though I heard him do his rendition of his verse on “Crooklyn”  in the lobby at 9.20pm! More minutes were wasted as everyone had to show I.D, then everyone had to show their E-ticket and then have that ticked off by yet another list, all before being let into the venue, which, to me, is overkill. The venue’s basement was a sweatbox, as people jockeyed for position. Ace was already on stage in an orange polo shirt, alongside Marco Polo on DJ duties and Stricklin from EMC, with Ace rattling through much of his post “Take A Look Around” catalogue, with “I.N.C Ride” and “Son of Yvonne” getting warm responses.

As I moved into the crowd, it became easier to see Ace, but the trade off was to experience a constant dickheadedness of behaviour from several in the crowd. I can accept a bit of pushing and shoving, but this was more and more annoying as the evening went on. People were pushing and shoving to the point of it becoming dangerous. The twerp behind me expected to use my arms, hips and head as some sort of rest for his limbs- I was close to decking him and others’ who couldn’t behave. Not sure if it’s because it was Old Street/Hoxton, but I didn’t see these heads as true hip-hop fans, as they didn’t respect others or behave themselves. I have a particular dislike for bearded, skinny jean wearing hipsters morons who seem to populate a lot of shows nowadays. It maybe that I’m middle-aged, but if they do hip-hop in Hoxton in the future, then count me out, as it’s an art form I love that seems to have been appropriated by people who have literally jumped on a bandwagon… that has craft beer sponsorship on the wheels.

Anyway, Ace’s performance, for a man nearly fifty, was astonishing. He was animated, energetic and rocked the crowd for an hour and a half (other Golden Age artists take note: Ace says what he does and does what he says). Beads of sweat hit the stage and whilst Stricklen helped out on a verse or three, it was really all about Ace’s commanding presence.  There were entertaining moments, such as a call and response karaoke type interlude where an interpolated version of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Excursions” got the crowd singing along to Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” and “Open Your Eyes” by Bobby Caldwell.  Ace spoke in heartfelt fashion about his late mother and the death of Phife Dawg (incidentally, one of the new cuts on the album, which Ace played tonight, “Juanita Estefan”, was a play on “Bonita Applebum” with the same subject matter with similar undercurrent melody).  Clearly Quest’s influence will live on, especially with a fan and contemporary like Masta Ace.

Assuming that there were 40-something heads in tonight, Ace didn’t disappoint, playing “The Symphony”, “Me and the Biz”, “I Got Ta”, “Music Man” Letter To The Better” to decent applause. Eddie Kendrick’s sample on “Brooklyn Battles” worked well too, as the base thudded to the venue’s floor and Ace’s talent for spinning compelling narratives was laid bare, as he spun an autobiographical tale with vivid moments and abstractions.

Another track off the new album, “The Falling Season”, “Me and A.G”, went down well, but it wasn’t until the calls for “Brooklyn Masala” were answered that the crowd left satisfied.

On the evidence tonight, Masta Ace still has a loyal following with many more scooped up over the years. He deserves his accolades and his showmanship has gotten better and he’s grown as an artist. Despite my reservations about the crowd and the venue, I came to see a legend and wasn’t disappointed.

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