Since their work on the classic singles “The Symphony” and “Be a Father to Your Child,” Masta Ace and Edo G have been staples of Hip-Hop’s underground. Now, after years of critically acclaimed solo and group LPs with younger artists (Special Teamz, eMC), the two veterans have united for a new collaborative album entitled Arts & Entertainment. The buzz from the project has even extended to the mainstream, when the A&E channel caused an album delay over a cease and desist order regarding the duo’s original group name (A&E) and logo.
Now that the legalities are cleared up, Ace and Edo are set to release the project this Tuesday (November 3). With an LP addressing a myriad of subjects from today’s unoriginality in Hip-Hop to the struggles of being an artist, Edo G and Masta Ace continue to thrive away from the bright lights of Hip-Hop’s mainstream.
Ismael AbduSalaam: You guys have worked in the past on several songs and even toured together. Explain what made you two decide to do a full album together.
Edo G: Me and Ace did a song together in about 2002 with this group called Time Machine and the song was called “Making Some Noise.” It came out really dope. And just by chance we kept being featured on the same records over and over for the next couple years. By 2004 we had did so many records together that he asked me to jump on his album Long Hot Summer. And then I asked him to jump on My Worst Enemy. And then Ace asked me to open up on tour with him. We did Europe for about 6 weeks, and first I proposed a mixtape with all the songs we had accumulated with a few new ones, but not really an album.
It didn’t fly at the time because we had so much stuff going on. A couple of years later, my dj Supreme 1 came with a budget and the idea of us doing an album. The timing was just right because it was at the end of 2007. We started rolling from there, and halfway through it was supposed to be Supreme 1 Presents Ace and Edo because he was doing all the production. It wasn’t a full album at that point, but the budget dried up.
We had the choice of continuing or letting it be what it was. We decided to keep going and that’s what you hear on the album with everyone we reached out to, from KRS, to Double-O, Spinna, Pos, to Marsha from Floetry. We really put our feet and asses into it, pause. That’s how we got Arts and Entertainment.
Ismael: As we all know albums have many components to them. You two have been the leaders of several successful group albums like Special Teamz’ Stereotypez and eMC’s The Show. Did someone take the lead here, or where all the duties from production to special guest selection disbursed evenly?
Masta Ace: I feel it was a very even collaborative effort. Both of us brought tracks and ideas to the table. Both of us brought feature people to the album, and it was a relief to not have everything fall on you, and be able to rely on someone else to handle some of the dirty work. It was definitely a full out collaboration.
Ismael: With that said, would you guys agree it’s easier to do a group project than a solo album?
Edo G: Nah, I would say it’s easier to work with Ace. Not to say it wasn’t easy with Special Teamz. As you said being the known person out of that group, a lot of things fell on me and I’m sure it was the same thing with Ace and eMC. Being that me and Ace are on a equal level, this was one of the easiest projects to work on in my whole career.
Ismael: It’s been a little over a week since the A&E channel sent a cease and desist order about your logo. I was surprised that this project hit their radar. Were there any discussions about this or did the legal action come as a surprise as well?
Ace: It was just as much a shock for me as it was for you. We didn’t know that they would care or even been aware about what we were doing. We thought that we were so far under the radar that it would go unnoticed and we could kind of do what we wanted and have fun. But we found out for sure that someone is watching!
Ismael: A lot of the production has a soulful edge, and that would be due to thee good selection of producers in people like Large Professor and Double-O. What made you guys decide to hit the public with “Little Young” as the first single, being that the message could possibly go over people’s heads?
Edo G: We thought that the “Little Young” record would make the most noise for a new group. People know us, but not as a group. Visually, that record spoke to everybody right now. We knew with the video it would bring out what we’re talking about in the message.
Ismael: You’ve both spoke on the idea of “biting” now as compared to its original definition. Define for everyone the difference between biting and paying homage.
Ace: Paying homage now to an artist like Tupac, you might say a couple of lines known by him and flip it into something else. But back in the day, even saying a similar metaphor to someone else was frowned upon. And then calling yourself Lil or Young something after someone already has that name was frowned upon. It’s a lot of rules nowadays that are getting broken left and right that used to be unacceptable. But that’s just how the times are now. It is what it is I guess.
Ismael: To build on that you are both veterans of 10 plus years in the business, and have seen trends come, go, and return again. What about this era reminds you of past eras you’ve seen?
Edo G: I’m not mad at all the dance, fun stuff because that aspect is good for the kids to move around. I remember when the Kid N Play’s were out in the 80s. The party type records had that fun appeal to it. I just think there’s no balance in mainstream radio and television Hip-Hop representation. Then you had a range of everything. Now it’s one thing across the board
Ace: To add to that, I remember in the 80s going to the different Hip-Hop clubs and there being so many songs for styles of dances. That reminds me of the last couple of years. You have stuff like “Lean Wit it, Rock Wit It,” before you had stuff like “The Wop.” You had the Biz Dance…
Edo G: Joe Ski Love had joints, there was “Do the James Brown”
Ace: Today reminds me of the early 80s with all the different dance records.
Edo G: Kids are even dressing now like the early 80s as well. That retro 80s thing is big.
Ismael: It seems that more artists are willing to work together now since the money train has dried up. You guys never had that issue, but do you see your peers being more willing to branch out now?
Edo G: We stay at an even keel. We put records out and tour the world. We try to keep it fresh. With a lot of classic artists collaborating on albums, we’re just trying to keep it interesting. I don’t think it has too much to do with the money. The money is going to be what’s its going to be. We’re trying to keep it interesting for the fans. We can keep putting out solo albums forever and doing the same thing. But this way it keeps people engaged.
Now on the higher level they’re probably doing it for monetary reasons, but not us.
Ismael: Regarding keeping fan interest, that’s not an easy task these days. You can work on an album for a year and a half, only to have it leaked and forgotten about in a few days. How does an artist hold fans for longer than those few hours or days?
Ace: It’s definitely harder to keep the fan’s attention because we’re in the microwave era. You download an album; you’re hype on it today and forget about it by next week. That’s why the music has to be super big from the messages to the production. Everything has to be on point to hold people’s attention for longer than they’re used to. It’s the nature of how things are now.
Edo G: We did a good job of not getting it leaked early. We had a party in Boston where we gave the album out early ourselves. From that party we know the 200 copies were going to get put on the internet. We’re cool with that because it’s only a week before the street date. I’m glad we did it that way because our publicist was like man we have to leak another record. Then we’d have to do another and another. Ace was nah, let’s just focus on the records we leaked. We only leaked two records off the album before it came out.
More people should do that. If you leak too much, they’ve already heard most of the album and will skip through it.
Ace: And you’ll lose the new album experience. Instead, you’re hearing stuff all out of order if you heard 5-6 songs beforehand. Then you’ll find yourself skimming through it when you get it the first time.
Ismael: Edo, do you feel after all that the Boston Hip-Hop scene has been validated after all the work you’ve put in over the last two decades.
Edo G: Oh yeah, definitely! I have a radio show out on the Hot 97, and a lot of younger emcees have built on my foundation. You can’t mention Boston without mentioning me, so I definitely feel validated as well.
Ismael: Ace, let’s go back to the Sittin’ On Chrome album. You got a lot of criticism from NY for what was perceived to be selling out with that LP’s sound. Now, it’s revered and even has an appearance on the new DJ Hero video game. Did you foresee people coming around eventually to the vision you had for that album?
Ace: Honestly, I didn’t think people would ever come around. When I put it out, that East Coast was very mad at me. They weren’t messing with me. They thought I had sold out to the West Coast, when all I was trying to do was mix the two sounds together and create something new and different.
But in hindsight, even some of the artists who were critical of what I was doing; I see them jumping around doing Down South music or straight West Coast tracks. The same people who were critical of me.
Ismael: The “Here I Go Again” record is very heartfelt in its detail of the struggles and sometimes the self-doubt that artists go through. Can you both give examples from your career when you were close to quitting, and what exactly made you decide to keep going?
Edo G: For me, it was about ’94 going into ’95. I was still on Mercury recording that 3rd album. I had half of the budget, and it was more than the first and second LPs. But I wasn’t in a good space, so I wasn’t making good music and I was taking s**t for granted. Then I got a call from my lawyer saying Mercury wasn’t picking this option up, even though they paid half already. They just cut their losses and was like see ya later.
I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean in a life raft. What am I going to do? I had a whole year and a half of being depressed: just smoking weed and being f**ked up. Then around ’96 and ‘97 the independent scene starting flourishing. Me and my man Joe Mansfield put on an EP titled Dedicated. It was just 6 songs in vinyl and we sold like 15,000 copies. The money was great, and it inspired me to get back to where I am today.
Ace: For me it was about 1998. I had just left Delicious Vinyl and signed with Big Beat Records. I had recorded about 16 songs, and we were basically just looking for the singles. And somewhere in that process they decided they weren’t going to put the record out and just shelved it. I got really pissed off at the industry, because I felt I had put in 2 years worth of work just thrown in the garbage.
I went out and got a resume together. I said I was going to get a job at a label. I figured I couldn’t do it as an artist, so I was going to fix the industry from the inside. I was sending resumes out and focusing more on producing. I felt producers didn’t have to go through the nonsense that artists did. They just got their money. I started shopping beat CDs and the whole nine.
In ’99 I went out to Philly and did work with DJ Jazzy Jeff and his Touch of Jazz crew. That was inspiring and got me focused.
In 2000 I went out on a tour of Europe, not really knowing what to expect. But I found there were people who actually cared that I was making records.
Those two experiences really rejuvenated me and recharged my batteries.
Ismael: One final question, please tell me there will be a video for “Dancing Like a White Girl?”
Edo G: [Laughs] Yes! We’re working on that. We’re probably not going to film it now because we’re about to go on tour in Europe for about a month. It’ll probably be filmed in January 2010. There’ll definitely be a video and we already have a crazy concept for it so you’ll love it.
Ismael: Any closing thoughts?
Edo G: Make sure to pick up the album Arts & Entertainment on November 3. Also check out our website www.aetheduo.com, there’s a lot of content that’s not out there. And thank you for the support.