In general, an artist’s third album is a critical one, particularly for a underground to mid-level artist, perhaps even more so in the 80s and 90s when many artists didn’t get to do a 2nd or 3rd album…or even a 1st album in many cases. I imagine that famous cliché will start to sneak into a MCs thinking when working on their third album…”three strikes and you are out”! With “Sittin’ On Chrome” you get a sense that Masta Ace had this in mind, but he was able to find a balanced solution. Truth be told, I haven’t always felt exactly that way about it, but that’s partially due to injecting more personal feelings into it than assessing the full situation.
Based on Master Ace’s rhyming skills displayed on his debut album in 1990, “Take A Look Around”, along with the few things preceding and following it, I was a huge fan. The same year that his second album, “Slaughtahouse”, was released I started my indie Promotions Company, Rage Promotions and specifically targeted Delicious Vinyl to hire me to help promote Masta Ace because I felt he wasn’t getting the sales and attention he deserved. After a flurry of phone calls and faxes I was hired to help work “Slaughtahouse” in Chicago. That experience gave me the opportunity to work with Masta Ace on a couple things, such as bringing him to Chicago for promotional campaigns. It also made him easily accessible when I wanted to interview him about “Sittin’ On Chrome” before it dropped. In the interview he said something that affected my brain for a long time…I didn’t know how to process it. We were on topic of his three albums and the recognizable differences and he made the point of noting how from “Take A Look Around” to “Slaughtahouse” he had lessened his rhyme complexity. He said he would be doing it even more on “Sittin On Chrome”. He also talked about the evolution of his production and the direction of the subject matter. I tried not to let on, though it may have been obvious, but I was really concerned about this. I never wanted to think about an artist, especially one of my favorites, feeling the pressure to not push the limits, just so they can maintain a career. Of course, I could hear the difference in his rhyming on the two albums (or the three once I heard “Sittin On Chrome”), but I just assumed he was trying out different styles on “Slaughtahouse”. It wasn’t completely obvious he was doing it for business reasons, even if only partially, but perhaps I was being conveniently naïve.
In any event, there’s just no denying that those comments plagued me when trying to listen to “Sittin’ On Chrome”*. Everytime I heard a simple rhyme scheme my mind would beckon back to the greatness of rhyme techniques such as “It’s not the same ole, lame ole/Braggin’ and Nagging’, all that became old/Years ago and yo here’s a pro-fession/That I’m fresh in and so…” (taken from Master Ace “Letter To The Better” 1989)
However, I found myself really enjoying much of the production on "Sittin' On Chrome". On “Slaughtahouse” the production was split a bit more evenly amongst Ace and his crew, “Sittin’ On Chrome” is primarily produced by Ace with some assistance from The Bluez Brothers [Norm & Lord Digga], Uneek, and Louie Vega. The sound maintains the gritty and choppy sample heavy sound of “Slaughtahouse”, but brightens up the colors significantly. For comparison sake, “Slaughahouse” is for riding in the dark nights of Brooklyn and “Sittin’ On Chrome” is for a sunny day in LA.
I suppose the direction for this album was widely influenced by the success of a remix for the lead single from “Slaughahouse”. “Born To Roll”, snatched the stripped Roland TR-808 beats and synth sounds of Original Concept’s “Knowledge Me” and gave Masta Ace an anthem for the jeeps. This opened the door to a fan base in the car culture, which he continued on the “Sittin’ On Chrome” title track, in using the same basic music formula it is essentially “Born To Roll” part two. He flips a smoothed out version of this style for his lead single also, “The I.N.C Ride”.
For the most part, the album is filled with solid mid-tempo tracks with head-nodding beats and simple, but catchy rhymes and towards the end you’ll find the best-written tracks on the album. One of the crew cuts, “Ain’t No Game” with Paula Perry and Lord Digga, is a clear stand out. It’s perhaps the song that best illustrates the bridge from the 2nd to 3rd album. Masta Ace flexes some of his most creative rhyme schemes on the record here, like his intro, “I make more G’s than gang fights/When I bang! Right?/Plus I’m sharp like fang bites and I hang tight!”
He immediately follows that up with “Freestyle?” where he just flaunts his playful multi-syllabic style and is likely to satisfy the average Ace fan. However, my favorite track on the album is probably his collaboration with fellow Brooklynites, The Cella Dwellas. One can’t help but think that the Cella Dwellas would have been a perfect addition to the mood of his “Slaughtahouse” album. However, on “4 Da Mind” they take a boom-bap mystical hybrid style that works perfectly. Rather than inviting the Dwellas into his current soundscape, Masta Ace effortlessly blends into theirs. Showing off his best story-telling skills on the album he outlines a story of fantasy as he travels to a land of mystery to procure ancient Hip Hop scrolls, which he shares with his cohorts. Both UG and Phantasm (of Cella Dwellas) have strong showings. The song also features Lord Digga and his inclusion leaves you hungry for more vocal collabs between him and the Dwellas**.
This album had a decent amount of singles with remixes and B-Sides that provided some of his best lyrical worthy material of this time period. “Ya Hardcore” continues his theme from “Slaughtahouse” of challenging MCs who are overly concerned with murderous rhyme talk. This time Ace takes on the persona of the killer MC and invites you on an exaggerated voyage of the ridiculousness of so-called hardcore MCs. He brings the carnage to a close with some theme-supporting self-criticism as he leads you up to a massacre at the Albee Square Mall, “I just watched Scarface for the sixth time, laughing about that bulls**t way I used to rhyme/Bout keep your eyes on the prize, f**k that/Keep your eyes on your money, your hand on your gat/I’ve been reprogrammed and that’s how I feel/I just walked in the mall, now it’s time to prove I’m real…” What follows is a flurry of gunshots and screams. I think it’s safe to assume this is done in the form of satire.
“Top Ten List” is Ace showing off his writing skills. In line with the songs title, he outlines the top ten reasons why MCs aren’t as really as real or ill as they claim. It’s filled with hard-hitting and witty and punchlines. One of the most memorable moments is his “Real gangstas don’t talk s**t in magazines!” A line directed at Fat Joe, who around the same time made some comments about Masta Ace in a magazine article, particularly questioning his authenticity as a Graf artist.
Through out his career Masta Ace has proven himself to be diverse and adaptable. Even after about a five year hiatus from releasing albums he returned with “Disposable Arts” and later “Long Hot Summer”, to show he was able to evolve with times, win over new fans, satisfy his core base, and improved his ability to craft concept albums. A skill he is still in possession of, witnessed by his most recent release, “Son OF Yvonne”, done over all MF Doom beats. Providing more proof that he has been successful in utilizing his various skill sets and creativity to tap into solid musical foundations, “Sittin’ On Chrome” is a critical piece of the puzzle.
With the relaunch of Delicious Vinyl, “Sittin’ On Chrome” has gotten much attention:
Written By Kevin Beacham
*This was sort of the one drawback to having that access to artists. I got to learn the dirty side of the business. It shattered a lot of false ideas I had about the industry, how artists survived, the fact many of them had 9 to 5 jobs, and how they are quite often pushed in a corner that has them alter their art for their career. Of course, that was also very helpful information to learn on my quest, but was often “painful” to hear.
**Lord Digga was heavily involved in Cella Dwellas production, but I can’t think of another song where they rhyme together.