In a industry that is ever changing and seldom kind to it’s pioneers and innovators, few Hip-Hop artists have managed to remain both as lyrically consistent and perpetually relevant as Masta Ace. Since first appearing on the classic 1988 posse cut ‘The Symphony’ with the legendary Juice Crew nearly thirty years ago, over the course of seven solo albums, several collaboration projects and a robust collage of guest appearances on dozens of other artists track’s throughout the years; the Brooklyn native has proven himself to be one of the most resilient and versatile emcees within the genre. On top of forging a lasting a legacy that quite literally speaks for itself, few emcees have managed to both re-invent themselves and remain both as potent and lyrically sharp as Ace in a industry that continuously seems to both favor younger artists and lower the bar, continually pushing increasingly dumbed down and tired subject matter and cliches. Needless to say, through his drive, dedication and willingness to grow, evolve and change with the times; over the course of the past three decades the original Crooklyn Dodger has rightfully earned the reputation of being one of the great, uncompromising, raw emcees of New York. Naturally, A Breukelen Story, Masta Ace’s first full length project since 2016’s The Falling Season, is the latest installment is this extensive and lavish legacy of ambitious projects Masta Ace has released over the years, further pushing the creative boundaries in which the Brooklyn wordsmith has forged in his long and storied career.
Since the early days of his career, Masta Ace’s projects with their encompassing concepts and complex, engaging storylines have been long hailed as some of the best examples of the ‘concept album’ ever executed in the genre. With their heavy use of dialogue and exposition to bridge songs and create engaging, captivating narratives Ace’s albums have often times been likened to practically being films on wax, going far beyond the expectations of most ordinary albums, Hip-Hop or otherwise. Continuing on in the same vein as Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer and The Falling Season; A Breukelen Story is no exception to this long standing tradition of ambitious, cinematic concept albums. Like a Spike Lee film, most of Ace’s past albums and their storylines have taken place in the borough of Brooklyn. With the city serving as the story’s backdrop, a canvas which serves as both the character’s home and environment in which they thrive and explore, the borough has long served as the New York veteran’s home base and creative epicenter from which he draws much of his inspiration. While most past album’s storylines have largely centered around Ace himself in this context, usually directly recounting his memories and experiences growing up in New York or at the very least serving as loose inspiration for fictional elements with a given story; A Breukelen Story takes a slight detour on narrative side of things instead opting to largely focus on Marco’s journey from Toronto, Canada to Brooklyn New York. Chronicling his early days interning as a sound engineer in the city and his eventual meeting with Ace, a specific instance that is recreated on the album itself during one of the album’s various narrative driving interludes.
It’s an understatement that a project like A Breukelen Story have been in the makings for a very long time. The two first collaborated nearly fourteen years ago on Masta Ace’s acclaimed underground classic A Long Hot Summer on the track ‘Do It Man’ with Big Noyd and later, once again collaborating on Marco Polo’s debut studio album Port Authority for the track ‘Nostalgia’ (which has become a undisputed underground classic in and of itself) as well as on Port Authority 2: Directors Cut in 2013 respectively. Over the years both Masta Ace and Marco Polo have forged a long standing relationship and friendship that has truly manifested into a musical match made in heaven. With Marco Polo’s classic, unmistakable Boom Bap inspired production lacing Ace’s no holds barred delivery, and New York style the two compliment one another unlike any other parings in recent memory. On A Breukelen Story, the pair literally recount the beginnings of this unlikely friendship, with Marco’s journey in Brooklyn intertwined with Ace’s stories and tales in New York. On A Breukelen Story, the veteran wordsmith discusses a whole range of topics ranging from gentrification, police brutality, mass incarceration, relationships, the struggle of being a aging emcee in a ever changing Hop-Hop scene among many others which fleshes itself out to be a compelling and very timely narrative. Likewise, accompanying Masta Ace and Marco Polo, A Breukelen Story features an extensive rap sheet of who’s who making guest appearances on the album’s runtime. Featuring the likes of Smif ’N’ Wessun, Styles P, Elzhi, Lil Fame of M.O.P., eMC and Pharoahe Monch; the album is a living, breathing testament to fellow New York vets who like Ace have not only managed to keep their pens razor sharp over the years, but grown and expand their craft as well.
On the album’s opening track, ‘Breukelen “Brooklyn”’ Ace pens a heartfelt ode to his own home borough. Celebrating everything from the city’s most minute, trivial features and attributes i.e. “the dude on the corner with the white tee” and “the girl off the block with the attitude”; to the most prominent figures the borough ever produced from The Notorious B.I.G., Gang Starr, Jay-Z, Big Daddy Kane and dozens of others who call Brooklyn home. Shouting out various neighborhoods, dozens of musical cohorts and the character of the city itself ‘Breukelen’ is a loving tribute not only to the borough itself but, the people and communities all over the city which give it, its own unique, one of kind style and flare which are now known the world over. Another highlight found on A Breukelen Story is ‘Still Love Her’. Serving as direct sequel to the track ‘Hold U’ which served a metaphor for the microphone and Ace’s love/relationship to Hip-Hop, the song was featured on Ace’s comeback album Disposable Arts nearly seventeen years prior in 2001 and has come to be recognized as one of the album’s stand out cuts. Once again, Ace takes the time to reminisce about his love of Hip-Hop through the context of a romantic relationship, detailing the ups and downs of that said connection. Ace laments about the changes Hip-Hop has grown through the over the decades whether for better or worse. From the influence of southern artists on the genre, petty superfluous excess, and materialism, as well as the rise of a dangerous drug culture which unfortunately has come to be synonymous with certain pockets of the genre. While Ace admits he is not thrilled about many of the changes and deviations the genre has taken in recent years, he does take into account that as much as he loves the art form it was never his to own and in spite of it all he still loves it just as much as when he was kid. On the track ‘Count ‘Em Up’ featuring Lil Fame of M.O.P., Ace tackles the issue of mass incarceration and the so-called war on drugs. Detailing the course of a fictional drug raid, subsequent false arrest that results in incarceration on Riker’s Island. Here, both Ace and Fame detail the phenomenon of militarized, excessive policing that takes place every day not only in New York City but in Black and Brown communities all across the country from coast to coast. If there is is a standout track to be heard on A Breukelen Story, that title without a doubt goes to ‘American Me’. Featuring crisp, pounding drums and stoic piano sample expertly selected by Marco Polo, on ‘American Me’, Ace continues on making social commentary tackling the issue of institutional racism and police brutality here within the United States. In what is perhaps one of his most overtly political songs yet released, Ace laments the misdeeds and failings of a hopelessly broken criminal justice system that is rigged to intentionally target Black, Brown and low-income communities throughout the nation. Ace even name drops specific victims of these injustices such as Kalief Browder, a twenty-two-year-old African-American man who was falsely imprisoned on Riker’s Island for three years and spent that time almost exclusively in solitary confinement. Browder killed himself several years after his release from prison, many saying his suicide was the result of mental and physical abuse that he sustained in prison. Here Ace passionately laments, about what has happened, what continues to take place and what can we collectively do right these wrongs in place that we call home, yet continues to treat much of its population as suspects and second-class citizens. The song’s final musical track, ‘Fight Song’ features none other than fellow New York veteran Pharoahe Monch, who offers what is perhaps the best feature on the album’s tracklisting. Here, the two New York legends go toe to toe trading some of the best bars to be heard on A Breukelen Story. The track is a fitting ending for the album, featuring two industry veterans that have managed to not only forage successful careers but, also remain timely and relevant while many from the same era have faded not obscurity or hung up the craft altogether. All in the, it’s a solid conclusion to superbly executed album by both Masta Ace and Marco Polo.
It is an understatement to say that Masta Ace is by far one of the most consistent and illest lyricists in the industry dropping full and complete albums. In a time where the genre is filled with artists that constantly spew nonsense and tired cliched material, Ace always has something to say worth listening to and A Breukelen Story is yet another testament to this long, and lavish legacy Masta Ace has meticulously crafted for himself. With dope, classic production supplied by Marco Polo and content flawlessly executed by Masta Ace himself, A Breukelen Story is easily worthy of the album of the year status in an already stellar year for music and Hip-Hop as a whole. Much like many other of his musical cohorts and New York-based peers, while Masta may not be the most lauded or widely recognized emcee in the game, or even amongst his own underground contemporaries. But, with his long line of projects that go far beyond and exceed the basic requirements of a standard album Ace has proven himself to be by far the one of most consistent and resilient artists ever to hold the mic. At just under the length of fifty-five minutes, A Breukelen Story is yet another testament that Masta Ace has not only maintained his creative and lyrical abilities over the course of his thirty-year career; but continues to push the envelope and re-invent his on style and concepts while still remaining true to himself. It can’t be understated that in era where joint collaboration albums between emcees and producers has resulted in oversaturated market of lazy, uninspired projects, both Masta Ace and Marco Polo manage to deliver a solid, engaging, timeless project that distinguishes themselves and their work from a plethora of other artists dull, boring, receptive artists within the genre. With more than thirty years in the game and no sign yet of slowing down in sight, Masta Ace has yet again proven he is still a force to be reckoned with and will remain to be so for the foreseeable sure. If one thing is sure, its that A Breukelen Story will be far from the last story we hear from the inquisitive and insightful mind of Masta Ace.
A Breukelen Story is available now to stream on all digital platforms, with CD and special vinyl copies available through Fat Beats Records.
Full Album Track Listing & Credits