By Luke FoxOver a pre-concert spread of short ribs, fried chicken, waffles and plenty of collard greens at Toronto's Harlem restaurant, diehard East coast rhyme legends Masta Ace (Brooklyn), 43, and Edo G (Boston), 39, chat exclusively with Exclaim! on the trials and triumphs of a recording career in hip-hop that, combined, stretches 40 years deep. Fitting that the newly formed duo, promoting their new Arts & Entertainment album, are eating food for the soul. From Edo's "Be a Father to Your Child" to Ace's "Take a Walk" to their original link-up, "Wishful Thinking," their music has always been just that.
Many respected veteran rappers have at least one album or one song that can be viewed as soft or suspect, but the consistency of both your catalogues is rare. What is the key to that consistency? Masta Ace: For me, it's continuing to be a fan of hip-hop and listening to the new guys. A lot of guys from our era get shut down and don't want to listen to new guys because they're new. But when I hear new guys with talent, that fuels me because rap is a competitive sport and everybody wants to be the best. So when I hear dudes that are really, really good, it makes me go back and write harder and sound current and be relevant.
Who have you heard lately that impresses you? MA: Drake is one I've heard recently, and Jay Electronica is another who popped out to me. There will be a few more that emerge, but those two guys are dope. Edo G: A lot of cats from the same era as me and Ace have a good ear for picking beats, first of all. If you're picking crappy beats, just because you've had some success in the past doesn't mean that [you'll stay on top]. To stay consistent lyrically, we're both at the top of our game. We got to a stage where we can rap with the best, but song-wise, a lot of people don't try to put whole solid projects together. And for us, we never really strayed from what we started out doing. So that consistency is throughout every album we've done. It shows in the music, and I think fans appreciate that because they know they're gonna get solid stuff from us every time.
You've both been in the game for approximately 20 years. Have you ever been tempted to stray from that sound and follow a hot trend? ED: There's always a thought in your head. You might rhyme on a Southern-style beat and it just doesn't fit; you might find one that does fit. But it has to be organic. The thought crossed my mind, but nah, I've always stuck to the script. MA: I've done it. Right after I had my squabbles with Delicious Vinyl, I got signed to Atlantic Records. And what was going on in hip-hop at that time was that Bad Boy/Puffy movement had taken over, and all the labels were looking for music that had a glossier, shinier edge to it. That disco-loop kinda vibe that could rock parties. I was on Atlantic, and they put it to me like I should make some records that could compete with those top records. I went to the studio and did some songs that to this day I think are good records, but some of the subject matter and the rhymes and the way I was rhyming was definitely out of character. It wasn't what I felt inside. I was doing it because I wanted to keep my deal and I wanted to make a living recording. I made some songs that are a little embarrassing to listen to now. I'm happy to say those records never saw the light of day. Who knows what direction my career might've gone in? It could've went up or down.
Where are those records now? MA: I have 'em. I went up in Atlantic after I got dropped on some tough-guy stuff and I basically took all my DATs, so they don't have any of that music.
Ace, you debuted in 1988 on "The Symphony." Edo, you came out in 1991. Has there been a year since where either of you thought about giving up on rap? ED: For me, it was '95, when I got dropped from Mercury while working on the third album. We had got the first half of the budget and started recording ― and that was real late. I was kinda gassed. I was so used to the cars picking me up, the plane rides, the whole shit. And I was real lazy in recording the third album. I sent it to them, and it wasn't done. They said, "Nah, we ain't gonna put this record out. Actually, we're gonna drop you." It was like, "Oh, shit." Ninety-five was real depressing for me. I was smoking a lot of weed ― actually, no, I wasn't smoking weed then. A lot of drinking and thinking what the hell was I gonna do. In '96, the light kicked in again, and I found the blessings of being independent, of being able to put records out that I really want to do without all the hoopla. We put out an EP [Dedicated] in late '96, and it was rolling again.
So you had a whole year of not writing anything? ED: Nah, I was kinda depressed, kinda contemplating what I was gonna do now. Luckily, I've always been surrounded by a lot of great people. We came together and put out the EP and sold 12,000 to 15,000 and made a nice amount of money independently. I was like, "Shit! I can do this all the time." Since then I've been rolling.