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Mame Biram Diouf

Masta Ace & MF Doom - MA Doom

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Can you tell me about your new album coming out with MF Doom?

Yes. The album is going to be called “MF Doom: Son Of Yvonne”. It is actually dedicated to my late mother passing in 2005. It takes you back to when I was about 12 years old. It gives you a little insight into what my childhood was like, growing up in a neighborhood and those experiences. The music inspired by his instrumental series. He put up about 180 instrumentals called, “Special Herbs” and a friend of mine exposed me to those instrumentals. I drove around with them for about two months and started to really like a couple of them a lot and decided to start writing songs to them. I didn’t really plan for it to be an official album. It was going to be more like a mixtape or something to do just for fun, but it started to take shape and it seemed to me like it would make a good album. I just started to put it together that way and here we are.

Do you and MF Doom get along well?

The interesting thing is that it is not really a collaboration project because he had no idea that I was writing this album. He put those instrumentals out for the world to have and I discovered them. I wrote this music and in January, I started tweeting a little bit about it and people were showing a lot of interest. He found out about it kind of through the grape vine that I was doing this record. We wound up being on a show together in Switzerland and hung out. After the show, I went to his hotel room and actually played him the whole album. He had no idea about anything until that day when I sat there and played him the whole album. He was blown away.

You grew up in New York. How influential was the NYC scene on your music. Is it still impacting it now?

Definitely. New York City, Brooklyn in particular, influences me very much in terms of the way I was writing back then. There was a period where I moved out of Brooklyn and moved into Queens for a much quieter and laidback neighborhood. I feel like my writing was affected by that. As soon as I moved back to Brooklyn, I was around that tenseness. I found that my writing took on a different shape. So, it definitely makes a difference for me. You are on those subway trains and you are in those situations where things are a little dicey. There’s a lot of characters walking around, a lot of different people and how they are dressed. All that stuff comes out in my music. I feel like growing up in Brooklyn makes me write much more visually than if I was growing up in some place else.

And it still influences you now? Even on your upcoming album?

Absolutely. I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. I moved out to the suburbs in Jersey, but what I did on this record is that I really drew back to my childhood. That was where I kind of pulled from. A lot of memories being a young kid and growing up around hip hop and how things were, all of that stuff is here on this record.

How do you think the NYC music scene has changed since then?

When I first came up, there was literally a hip-hop party every night of the week. Monday through Sunday, there was something going on. You would go to these events and you would see pretty much the same people. It was like the who’s who of hip-hop. You would see Brand Nubians there. You would see X Clan there. You would see Salt n’ Pepa. Everybody would just hang out and party together. It isn’t like that anymore. It is kind of like a little bit more separated. The hip-hop events are real spread out and a little more trendy now. Back then everybody had the rope chains and everybody dressed a certain way. That’s what the scene was. Now, it is a little more fashion forward and everybody is kind of conscious of the way they dress and the way they look. It is a little different, but it was a lot more fun coming to a venue in the early 90s because people would come to these parties and literally dance till they sweat. That’s how I came up. I came up dancing to hip-hop. It isn’t quite that way anymore, but it takes a little bit getting used to.

What are some artists you listen to nowadays?

I listen to Elzhi. I like the new record they put out. Always a Big and Little Brother fan. I listen to Jean Grae. A new group out of LA, called Malcolm and Martin. They are really dope. When I am working on a new record, I don’t listen to as much of other people’s stuff as I do when I am done. I never want to get influenced by their music and what I am writing. So I would say for the last six, seven months, I haven’t been listening to a lot of stuff, but when I am listening to stuff, it is that kind of stuff.

How was it working with The Bundies on their upcoming album?

It was actually stress free because they are a self-contained production unit. They do all the music. They do all the writing. For a change, I didn’t have to be involved in the creative part. I could focus more on the artist development, on the visual and kind of being a stylist in a sense. I am making sure they look right and present themselves the right way. I would make certain suggestions about songs. Certain places where I think melodies might be better or harmonies might be better. They always listen to that stuff, but for the most part, they found their sound on their own. They created this music on their own. I am just proud and excited to be apart of it. I feel like it is the next generation of good music.

Are you excited to present The Bundies tonight and open up Conflict of Interest?

I am. I am super nervous.

You still get nervous?

Well, if it was my thing I don’t think I would this nervous. I am nervous because it is them and it is the first time people are kind of seeing them. People don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what to expect. It is all kind of brand new for them. For many years, Jamelle Bundy was a writer and a back up singer for other people. So, she has always been in the background and now, for the first time, she is kind of like the featured person. It is a little nerve-wracking for her, but she is looking forward to it and I think she is excited about it. I can’t wait to unveil their music and let people check it out.

Do The Bundies influence your music?

They don’t really influence my music because their sound is way to the left. I am pretty much pure, kind of boom bap hip-hop, right down in the middle. I don’t veer too much off that course. They don’t mind being different and weird. They don’t mind kind of touching on indie rock sounds. They are definitely not pure hip-hop. Some of their stuff is really far to the left and that’s what excites me with the potential that it can be.

What’s it like now looking back to when you first started out to now with having your own label, M3?

I feel like it’s the right order of things. I have been in this music industry over 20 years and at a certain point, you want to have your hand in other parts of the business, not just being an artist, not just performing and not just making music, but trying to guide the careers of new and up and coming cats. I can look at the industry through their eyes. It’s like, they are seeing it for the first time. Even though the industry is very different from what it was when I was coming up, I can still kind of guide them through the pitfalls of things and the mistakes I made when I was a young artist. They won’t have to make those same mistakes. If they are smart, they will listen to the old guy and take my advice.

Did you ever think you would want to have your own label when you first started?

That was definitely not even a thought of a possibility. When we were coming up, it was just about getting your record on the radio, doing a couple of shows, getting the girls and being the cool guy on the block. That was pretty much it. We didn’t really have that vision of a bigger picture. Like, wow maybe I should get my own label and get artists signed to my label. That stuff didn’t come till much later in hip-hop, like in the late 90s.

How do you think the music industry has changed throughout your career?

Well, it got to the point where it was making much, much more money than it was making when I came out. But now to see labels doing 360 deals with artists, where labels want a part of everything that the artists generates, is super different from when I was coming up. If you told an artist in 1991 that the label gets a portion of your performance, they would go crazy. That’s just unheard of back then, but that is just the new now industry. I think the digital thing is very different. When I came up, it was about the physical copies. It was about holding a CD, holding a piece of vinyl, being able to look at it, flip through the pages and read the booklet. It’s really a digital age now. We have to adjust.

You getting used to all the Twitter and Facebook crazes?

Twitter is cool because I don’t really feel like I am promoting myself. Even though there are all these people following me, I am just type train of though stuff or tell you what I am doing right now. People like it and that’s cool. I don’t feel like I am selling myself or pimping myself. I don’t use Twitter to say, go buy my record. I make people aware that it is coming out. I really don’t try to make it commercial.

Will you be playing new tracks off your album tonight at Conflict of Interest?

Ya, I am. DJ Aaron Lakrate, he should be pulling up here any minute. I’ve given him about four or five of the songs off of that album to just kind of mix in. I really don’t want to take the focus off The Bundies because it is kind of their night.

by Lonnie Nemiroff

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Masta Ace has unquestionably etched his tag in the talisman of Hip Hop. Since the late 1980s, the Brownsville, Brooklyn native journeyed from Juice Crew-member to pioneering lyricist with a flow many say inspired Eminem to launching his own record label (M3), gaining worldwide respect every bar along the way. The self-described “writer beyond rhymes” recently announced the re-release of his 2001 album, Disposable Arts - in celebration of the classic album’s 10-year anniversary and is in the final throws of his anticipated MF DOOM collaborative LP, MA DOOM: Son Of Yvonne. In this interview with HipHopDX following the listening session for his M3 label’s newest group, The Bundies, during CMJ’s annual Conflict Of Interest Party in New York City’s, Rebel NYC - Masta Ace details MA DOOM, Occupy Wall Street, his feelings on Lil Wayne 10 years after name-dropping him in a diss track, and more.

HipHopDX: You’ve been consistent about furthering your style and advancing lyrically. MF DOOM has some wide ranging, very off-kilter beats.

Masta Ace: Very off-kilter. It took me a while to really hone in on the ones I felt like I could mess with. A lot of it was way too left or too right or too unusual, but I found 10 that I was really excited about and liked and made me write. Those 10 are the songs that I wrote to.

Masta Ace Talks About Reuniting With Big Daddy Kane

DX: Are you holding MA DOOM down on your own or are there collaborations?

Masta Ace: I got one collab. That’s it. One collab.

DX: It seems like more artists are going back to that [structure].

Masta Ace: It just felt right. It’s such a personal record. It deals with me as a childhood from when I was 12 years old. There really wasn’t room for a feature. There wasn’t room for features. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to put people on a record just to put them on there. The writing felt like it needed to just be me.

DX: Who’s the guest appearance?

Masta Ace: Big Daddy Kane.

DX: Nice. Word up.

Masta Ace: I’m very excited about it. I’m excited about the record. I’m excited about what people’s reaction is going to be to it. I’m just excited to get back on the road because I know once this record comes out, the shows are going to roll in and we’re going to be right back out there, hitting them again’ in Europe and in Africa and Australia and hopefully Asia.

DX: You also made a lot of noise with the announcement that you’re recording for the 10th anniversary of Disposable Arts album. You’re doing it with a live band.

Masta Ace: Not the whole album, just a few choice songs. We redid “No Regrets” and we redid “Every Other Day” with a live band. And that’s just a cool different kind of rendition of those songs and that will be in a vinyl package on seven-inch that will come with it just as a collector’s thing. It was just fun to do, something different. The album is being remastered and we’re giving people all of the instrumentals, all the acapellas. So it’s going to be a nice little 10th anniversary package for people.

DX: That album has a cult following. With leak that happened and your label, Jcor, falling apart, the album had a shorter promotional push than it should have. But it still resonates 10 years later.

Masta Ace: Amazingly, I can’t even believe its been almost 10 years.

DX: Is “Acknowledge” going to be on the re-release?

Masta Ace: Oh, absolutely. That’s part of the records, it’s gotta be on there, without a doubt.

Masta Ace Explains His Line About "A Lil Wayne and Lil Zane Duet"

DX: “Acknowledge” clearly was super scathing. You went directly at Boogie Man and High & Mighty in response to their diss track towards you, “Ghetto Like.” But you drop a line I think is interesting in retrospect. You say, “I would rather hear a Lil Wayne/Lil Zane duet.” And at the time you said that, many felt the same way about Lil Zane and Lil Wayne. Are you surprised about where Lil Wayne is today as opposed to 10 years ago? That was one of “Acknowledge’” most telling bars about Boogie Man and High & Mighty.

Masta Ace: I feel like [Lil] Wayne’s come a long way lyrically and he put the work in and he’s a much better rapper than he was. That’s a testament to him. That’s a testament to him realizing, “If I want to be taken seriously; if I want to have some sort of creative merit, I got to really put my time in. I can’t just write whatever.” And he took his time and he went in and he came out and he was better. Every year after that he’s improved as a rapper. He has his lazy moments still where he just says whatever and you’re, “Like that metaphor was ridiculously wack.” There was a period of time where he really picked it up and I give him credit for picking it up. I didn’t think he was that good then. He got better and I like a lot of his music now.

DX: You did an interview in 2004 with RapReviews.com and they asked you where Hip Hop was headed. You said: “Towards a major change. I do not know for sure what the change will be but there will be a group, song, or album that will be so different than what’s out there, that will sell millions. At that point the major labels will shift their attack to chase a new trend.” You said that right at the time when Kanye West had just come out with College Dropout. Jay-Z’s The Black Album was just released. Here we are seven years after that statement. Do you feel as if it was accurate? Do you feel Hip Hop is in a very different place from where it was in 2004?

Masta Ace: Well, when you look at the success that Kanye [West] has had and when you look at artists like B.o.B., Wale, and a couple other names I can’t think of right now. But those guys are kind of in the realm. You are seeing labels gravitate to those types of artists now based on the success of what Kanye did and the amount of records that he sold. So yeah, I do think it’s accurate to a certain extent. When I said that we were kind of in that era of bling, bling, bling and jewelry and cars and champagne and all of that and I feel like that era is behind us and we are on to something different and better.

DX: Yeah, it seems like it’s closer to being talent based again.

Masta Ace: Yeah, it’s getting there. Definitely getting there.

DX: You kinda have to be nice.

Masta Ace: Yeah, you can’t just be saying whatever.

DX: You absolutely have to be nice if you expect to have longevity.

Masta Ace: Longevity is the key thing. 'Cause there are some cats that had some instant success but then couldn’t follow it up with anything. You’ve seen that since 2004. You have seen a few artists like that.

DX: You made an interesting comment in 2006 to RapTalk.net. You said, “Overall, New York has lost it’s identity. There’s no New York sound anymore. Most artists try to mesh with whatever’s hot. The dirty south is killing it right now so a lot of New York artists feel like they need to make those kinds of songs.” In your opinion, is New York coming back around again to having it’s own sound?

Masta Ace: I don’t see it yet. You’ve got to show me a sign because I don’t see it. I still see dudes being trend-followers and trying to figure out whatever [Funk Master Flex] is playing on the radio and follow that trend. I would love for New York to make a comeback in a real way, but it’s gonna take a real artist that has conviction and is about this sound and doesn’t care about what anything else sounds like. I don’t know who that is. I would love for that person to finally come out, but it’s not here now.

DX: Is that even possible in such a consolidated industry? There’s only a few major record labels. There’s only a few companies that own all of America’s mainstream radio stations. There’s even a lot less major banks and major media conglomerates. In that environment, is it still possible to make a splash by being unique?

Masta Ace: I think so. If Lady Gaga can do what she did - selling the records that she did in this atmosphere, in this climate - it’s absolutely possible for a rap artist to come out and make a big splash.

DX: You’ve mentioned previously that some of your rhymes are inspired by politics. Occupy Wall Street is now going into it’s 29th day. What are your thoughts on the movement and this example of people collectively speaking about their frustrations?

Masta Ace: I’m [glad] that more people care about it. I’m glad that more people want stuff to change. For too long it’s just been everyone going along with, “Well these are the rules. Let’s just play by them. Let’s just deal with it.” They say this is a democracy, so to me this is the ultimate display of democracy -- telling your government that, “You need to do better. You guys have screwed up and you need to do better.”

Masta Ace Discusses Gentrification In Brooklyn, Says Brownsville Is Immune

DX: You break down the hood on “Take A Walk.” You do it from a Brooklyn perspective while shouting out other hoods all across the country. Brooklyn is a lot different than it was in the 1980s and '90s. What would that joint sound like in the era of gentrified-Brooklyn? Would there be any different angles now considering Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, parts of Bed-Stuy have undergone such drastic changes?

Masta Ace: Wow. I’ve never thought about that one. I mean, Brownsville is still Brownsville, though. Ain’t much changed in Brownsville. That’s where I grew up. Ain’t no White folks moving there. Brownsville ain’t getting gentrified no time soon. Because on a lot of that song, I really did just draw from what I saw growing up in Brownsville. Picket Avenue. Belmont Avenue. All those housing projects in that area. And that’s still how it is. Nothing has changed there. It’s still wild and violent and crazy and dangerous, so downtown Brooklyn has changed a lot, but there’s a lot of other neighborhoods that have not improved at all.

DX: For 20-plus years now, you’ve been making music and pushing boundaries. You’ve traveled the world and rocked in front of audiences of all languages. You were on “The Symphony!” You’ve accomplished things that most artists only dream about. After all of that, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?

Masta Ace: It still surprises me that there are cats who don’t realize yet that this is not for them; that are 30 years old and 35 years old, still trying to chase that dream with no plan B, with no jobs, with no prospects. They might have two kids with two different chicks and don’t have any money to pay child support and they’re basically struggling and living hand-to-mouth and just existing barely for the sake of Hip Hop. It surprises me that there are still cats that haven’t grown up and realized that life is still life. You still have to live life. You still have to be a responsible adult and function that way. If you want to keep pursuing your dream, that’s cool. But be able to take care of yourself. Be able to pay what you need to pay. Pay your bills. Handle your business. Don’t be a bum because you’re trying to do Hip Hop. It’s got to be a way to do both.

DX: Be a man about it.

Masta Ace: Be a man about it.

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Guest 8BALL.

Masta Ace is one of my fav rappers. Along with Doom.

This is going to be BIG.

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