Often times when your passion intersects with your paycheck you will be faced with considerable personal challenges and hard choices. In Hip Hop there’s age old talk of what types of artists, specifically based on their subject matter choices, have the greater potential to thrive or flop in terms of sales. One general “rule” is that so-called “Conscious Rap” is a hard sell. While there is plenty of evidence to support this, it’s not particularly that simple. In the case of Master Ace’s debut album “Take A Look Around”, many factors were in play; the effectiveness of his label’s marketing, the current trends in Hip Hop, and also admittedly the “Conscious Rap” is a hard sell thing.
These were possibly the brewing thoughts in the mind of Master Ace as he existed in that grey area in a music career between your first and second album, particularly while simultaneously being also between record deals. In 1991 he dropped his last release for Cold Chillin’ in the form of the “Movin’ On” single, where gave the first real showcasing of his production skills* and also provided a better introduction to part of his crew, Ice U Rock. Back then it seemed so long, but it was only a year later that he showed up as a guest of the Brand New Heavies with “Wake Me When I’m Dead”, arguably the best track on their “Heavy Rhyme Experience” album on Delicious Vinyl, that was packing many heavy hitters such as Main Source, Gang Starr, Black Sheep, Kool G Rap, etc…
Not long after it was announced that Master Ace had also joined the Delicious Vinyl rooster. His next release saw him take a very different approach. First off, he had conceived a plan that established him as sitting somewhere in-between being a soloist and being in a group with his Masta Ace Incorporated concept, which also included Lord Digga, Paula Perry and his long-time collaborators, Ice U Rock. The content had also changed. The mood on “Slaughtahouse” was appropriately dark. His positive encouragements and enlightening words weren’t completely, but they were present in a more undertone style. Even his rhyme style was different, but clearly he was still passionate with the pen. In truth, Master Ace had managed to do what many artists attempt but fail. He had heavily reinvented himself, but without completely abandoning his original fan base, while simultaneously launching his career in an upward direction.
Perhaps the primary reason why it transitioned so well was because Ace basically, in many aspects, made a version of his debut album that was more fitting for the times. His debut “Take A Look Around” was largely about observing his neighborhood, particularly the issues of crime, poverty and oppression, including the part he played in it. To fit the mood for the day the beats were break beat heavy and sometimes with a New Jack Swing feel. It’s one of Marley Marl's most commercial sending produced albums. The title track on “Take A Look Around” took a Gil-Scott Heron approach to deliver some spoken word poetry on Ace’s observations. On “Slaughtahouse”, released in the aftermath of Dr Dre’s “The Chronic” album, the action opens with “A Walk Thru The Valley”, which obverses the same neighborhoods he had before, but from a different perspective. “Take A Look Around” mainly focuses on the fiscal needs of the people to better their conditions and how they need to be motivated to get it. On the other side, “A Walk Thru The Valley” starts with a barrage of gunshots, screams and music that cries out in urgency. Ace speaks about those same streets, but the need to make money is outweighed by just trying to survive the “many 9 millimeter automatic pistol-toting young men that roam everywhere.” As intended, that sets the tone for the rest of the record. The title track comes next and it starts with two MCs playing characters roles as MC Negro and Ignorant MC. They rhyme over a Funk track with a “Funky Worm” sample, much like the rising popular sound in so-called Gangster Rap. They end the skit bragging about their new album, “Brains On The Sidewalk” before they are soon cut short as the track morphs into a new beat and some commentary by Paula Perry, “Time for the weak ass, wack ass, no skills, negative, anti-everything MCs to get shut down. They getting slaughtered!” That is directly followed by the crew chant, “Death to the Wack MCs, Death To Wack MCs!” Essentially, rather than try to combat the “murder, murder, murder. Kill, kill, kill” MCs with logic and speeches, Masta Ace and crew decide to meet them on their own terms, but with higher skill levels, creativity and plenty of sarcasm. His reasons for this mission are described in one line, “I started making records, but I’m still a fan!” To give a visual of what to expect in his Slaughahouse he offers, “This is the place where freestyles and skills are sharp like axes and suckers get the chills…” In other words, their call for the death of wack mcs will be achieved from artistic means, not relying on the typical gunplay they are speaking out against. To further accent that point he soon adds, “I…am not down with the standard, The man did NOT do what ever other man did/Candid...just like the man Allen Funts/And there’s nothing worse than a Rapper when he fronts!”
The production on the album is great. It’s mainly based on minimal chopped up sample sounds. There’s lots of deep looming basslines, jazzy horns that are often slowed down for solemn or sort of drunken effect. The album is basically split into two different types of songs; ones that build from where the intro started and ones that continue the mission to eliminate the wack MCs via the title track.
Building from “A Walk Thru The Valley” are tracks such as; “Late Model Sedan”, “Jack B Nimble”, and “Who You Jackin’?” “Late Model Sedan” is virtually a direct continuation from the intro. “Jack B Nimble” is a story track where Ace describes the scene of a criminal on the run from crooked cops, but the twist is that Ace’s words are actually acting as advice for Jack, trying to navigate him from trouble, but alas it all ends with, “But now it’s time to take the 9 from your back/Cause they’re kicking down the door…good luck Jack…” Of the three, “Who You Jackin’?” is the best, one of the album’s best in fact. It is a duet with him and one of the members of his I.N.C crew. Paula Perry is a no-nonsense girl who walks thru the neighborhood and “keeps my hand in my pocket on my razor”. Ace plays a character described as, “Ruthless, toothless, walking in the thick here/Looking for a vic, yeah, how about this chick here?!” However, his confrontation does not end as intended due to the contents of her pocket.
The “Death To The Wack MCs” tracks compromise a heavy amount of the album’s content and were generally the standouts for me. Ace was flexing an offbeat, onbeat slightly robotic style. At the end of “Rollin’ Wit Umdadda“, there’s a clip from a live show where he sets it up to debut this new style. Before “Slaughtahouse” came out there were already some whispered legend of this show verse foretelling of his ill new technique. He flirted with it on “Wake Me When I’m Dead” with the Brand New Heavies, but the true unveiling was on the single to this album, via the B-side, “Saturday Nite Live” with members of his crew, Lord Digga and Uneek and Eyce and is a solid 90s posse cut. “The Big East” takes an excellent Earth, Wind & Fire sample and creates a great vibe for Ace to drop some of the finest lyrics on the album. “Boom Bashin” is an ill slow moving track that sounds like it should played loudly in a dark hazy smoke filled room. As the title hints, “Crazy Drunken Styles” is where the lyrics get the most outlandish, particularly with Lord Digga and this track is actually more his song than Ace’s. Lord Digga’s presence is felt strongly on this album, production-wise and vocally. I assume it was a set up for launching his solo career. “Ain’t U Da Masta” is the one track on the album that illustrates the bridge from previous Master Ace tracks to “Slaughtahouse”. The track feels upbeat with some happy pianos, but still uses the dusty drums. Masta Ace proceeds to drop a series punchlines, rhyme schemes, and playfully vent some frustrations, particularly with the media.
The album is credited to Masta Ace Incorporated, rather than just Master Ace and introduces his concept to be a solo artist, but with a regular supporting case of MCs and producers. It gives a nod to his creative marketing skills that is also evident in the way he built the themes, tone and characters for this album. He nailed the concept with great effect and following this project he moved on to other plans of attack…every-evolving.
-Written By Kevin Beacham
The new Delicious Vinyl reissue of “Slaughahouse” is a 2-Disc release. Disc One is the original album. The second disc has 18 remixes and alternate versions (such as instrumentals, dubs, and acapellas) of three of the album tracks. The standard album is also available on 2XLP Vinyl.
The biggest upset of the deluxe “Slaughtahouse” CD reissue is that I was really hoping they were going to give up the full album instrumentals, which I know many people would love to have, myself included. This has been something I’ve been hoping would hoping eventually, the instrumental releases of 80s and 90s albums, but it’s still not happening that often.
-Editor’s Note: In ’92 I reached out to Delicious Vinyl specifically to do indie promotions for this project, via my company Rage Promotions, because I was such a huge Master Ace fan. It was dope to be a part of the promotions of this and setting up promo runs for Ace and crew in Chicago to do retail in-store appearances, club performances, and radio freestyles. I played this album a ridiculous amount of time when it dropped…
*Ace is the producer for the “Music Man” Remix on his previous single, but on there he retained most of the original elements of the Marley Marl production and just added sounds and flavor. With “Movin’ On” he completely scrapped all of Marley’s sound and even abandoned the mood of the original, turning a largely forgettable album track into an exciting single.