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Masta Ace
Walk Thru the Valley
Some cats have flows, but no concepts. Other cats got concepts but they're too pretentious. Ace is that rare combination of unassuming style, sharp wit, and straight-up heart that never comes off as flashy, cor..
Masta Ace: Walk Thru the Valley      by DJ VERB

Slaughtahouse revealed...



           Master Ace is one of the most underrated. I say that with confidence because I'm often the one doing the underrating. I forget all about him until I happen to hear one of his songs, and then of reminded of not only his lyrical skill, but his conviction and his compositional scope. Some cats have flows, but no concepts. Other cats got concepts but they're too pretentious. Ace is that rare combination of unassuming style, sharp wit, and straight-up heart that never comes off as flashy, corny, or overly-preachy. That, and he can never be accused of haphazardly throwing songs together and calling it an album. While I'm opposed to using the phrase "concept album" in relation to his work, his full-length efforts have a guiding theme that causes his songs to make sense with one another, more so than many similar efforts of the day.

This is not to say that Ace has a Prince Paul-esque knack for rap-opera orchestration. The concept of Slaughtahouse is loose at best. There are no characters, no third-act twists, no redemptions or deus ex machina. There are hardly even skits. Ostensibly the album deals with a fictional place concerned with the slaughtering of frontin'-ass MC's. That theme, however, only manifests itself on a couple of tracks. The title track lampoons the cartoonish buffoonery of the fake gangsta ("chainsaw in my holster/barbed wire rope/I'll hang ya like a poster"), while "Boom Bashin'" is a semi-ode to headflyin'. What could and probably should be construed as the album's theme, Ace's growing animosity towards the rap game and its negative effect on the black community, is mostly dealt with in a less overt and theatrical manner.

He discusses black-on-black crime a number of times, most effectively on the ill spoken-word intro "A Walk Thru the Valley," but also on "Late Model Sedan," which finds Ace stating "It's bad enough that if I walk through a white neighborhood/that I gotta be prepared for fight/why should I be scared of the dark skin on a brother that be lurkin' in the park?/I oughta be safe in a black neighborhood." "Who U Jackin?" deals with a similar theme but with a more light-hearted tone, with I.N.C. crew member Paula Perry playing a female mark who Ace (playing the jacker) has got his eye on. He talks shit about Perry getting got, but in the end she whoops his ass and sends him packing.

This is a year before Biggie Smalls would provide further exposition on armed robbery with "Gimme the Loot," albeit with a darker twist. I gotta give props to whoever thought to cut a sample of the phrase "stick-up kids" and follow with the line, "...in the world today, takes everything you got" from the theme from the TV show Cheers. That's the best thing I've heard in a while. For at least one verse, "The Big East" returns to the subject of the black community's self-destructive mindset, with Ace asking, "We talk about justice, and how little we get/but black men be killin' black men for talkin' shit."

Aside from those tracks, and a number of concise, effective interludes, Slaughtahouse rarely adheres to any sort of main theme, focusing mainly on funky styles and punchlines, often regarding less serious topics. "Jack B. Nimble" is a story rap about a kid getting chased by the cops, but then you have the classic "Jeep Ass Niguh," which is mainly about...well, you guessed it. Sure, the song's later verses address inter-racial politics as related to music, but mostly the song is for boomin' in one's ride of choice. "Ain't U Da Masta?" expresses Ace's frustration with the rap game, but it soon turns into a bout of shit-talking.

The beatin' "Rollin' with Umdada" doesn't aspire to be anything more than a tale of chillin' in the club with some bonus "freestyles" at the end, while "Saturday Nite Live" and "Crazy Drunken Style" are simply on some posse cut shit, with nice verses from I.N.C. crew member Lord Digga. This is actually more of a blessing than a curse. Too much social commentary can get to be a little much, but Ace is adept at wrapping plenty of hard battle rhymes and clever punchlines around it so it never feels like you're at church.

I often hear talk about how the production on this album is notable for fusing west coast styled beats with harder, east coast sounds. This might have been the case with Ace's next album, Sittin' On Chrome, but I'm not hearing it here. Slaughtahouse is more of an exercise in early 90's east-coast hardcore, brought to us courtesy of Uneek, the Bluez Brothas, and Ace himself under his early graf tag "ASE ONE." "Jeep Ass Niguh" couldn't be more different from its later iteration, "Born to Roll," what with the huge drums, jazz horns, and upright bass loops. "Late Model Sedan," "Mad Wunz," and the massive "…Umdada" also bring heavy jazz vibe. If there's any west coast flavor to be found it's in some of the slower tracks, which have a smoked-out style reminiscent of early Cypress Hill. The ironically titled "Big East" is most similar to the blunted Californians, revolving around a gritty, languid guitar loop. I can also picture B-Real bustin' nasal rhymes over the whimsical, almost goofy organ bits on the Muggs-esque "Who U Jackin'."

While it's not the brilliant concept album or east/west fusion album some folks make it out to be, you still can't go wrong with Slaughtahouse. The beats are heavy, and Ace doesn't disappoint on the mic, making it deserving of multiple, end-to-end listens. As the digital age continues to erode and make obsolete the idea of an album, substantial full-length efforts like this become more and more rare. The same goes for artists who are able to create such works. We may underrate him now, but in years to come we'll be seriously checking for this (and his renowned 2001 opus Disposable Arts) for a true hip-hop experience.

 

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