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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Masta Ace won't reunite with Juice Crew at A3C Festival

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JUICE CREW ALL-STARS: One of hip-hop's earliest posse cuts, "The Symphony," was produced by Marley Marl, who constructed the beat around a poignant piano loop sampled from Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." Click here to listen to the original.

Ever since the organizers behind the highly anticipated A3C Festival announced that members of the legendary Juice Crew – including producer Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan and Craig G — would reunite for a performance on March 21, heads have been wondering why at least one name (in addition to Kool G. Rap) was conspicuously absent from the bill.

Turns out Masta Ace is not missing in action, but he will miss the reunion.

Though a veteran of New York’s legendary Juice Crew, Ace never became a household name like many of them. But he has still enjoyed a remarkable solo career, releasing five well-received solo albums, including 2004’s largely slept-on A Long Hot Summer.

Later this month, his new group eMC will release its first album, The Show. eMC also features Lyricist Lounge staples Wordsworth and Punchline, not to mention longtime Ace collaborator Sticklin.

We talked to Ace about the new group, the surprising story behind his inclusion on the classic Juice Crew posse cut “The Symphony,” and the reason he won’t be participating in the Juice Crew reunion concert at the A3C Festival this year.

So why aren’t you coming to Atlanta for the reunion?

It’s the exact same weekend that we’re promoting eMC in New York. We have a whole bunch of interviews set up, and release parties in Philly, New York and in Boston, all right around that weekend.

I had my stuff planned out already; when it’s a group effort, you have to sacrifice for the sake of the group. Cool V, who is Biz’s DJ, called me about a month ago, and mentioned [the reunion] to me, but we had already had this stuff planned. Our album comes out March 25, which is the Tuesday after [the A3C Festival], but that whole weekend building up to the 25th we’re going to be doing promo and shooting videos.

Are you disappointed?

A little bit. If I didn’t have anything to do I’d like to go down there and see everybody. It would be cool to see dudes, and to see dudes perform. I haven’t seen all these people perform in a long, long time. I feel like I’d be more a fan than a part of the show.

When’s the last time you guys got together?

In 1997 we all saw each other at a Will Smith video shoot, that’s the last time any number of us were all in the same place at the same time.

How did The Show come together? I hear there were some logistical snafus.

Some of it was recorded as far back as ’04, but primarily in ’05 and ’06. We recorded some stuff in ’07, but we had to rerecord some things when part of the album was lost when the studio’s hard drive went bad, right when we were trying to wrap it up.

We were supposed to be already in the mixing phases, and then this happened, and it set us back two months. It was a little bit of a downer, because the album had been expected to be out in the summer of 2006. Everybody was just deflated for a minute. But then everybody dusted themselves off and got their energy level back up. We had a tour in Canada that was planned, so, since we were all together, I brought the microphone and all of the equipment with me on the road, and we recorded in the hotel room.

You’ve said that you think your shot at big fame may have passed, but although you’re 41, you look as young as many of the guys on BET.

Hip-hop keeps you young. So does good living. I’ve avoided drugs and overuse of alcohol. I’ve never smoked weed — I tried it when I was 13 years old, twice, but then I never smoked it again. I’ve never even tried a cigarette. So, I guess as long as you don’t look like an old guy onstage with a mic, it still works. If you’re moving around really good up there, and you look like you still fit the part, maybe people are OK with it.

We’ll see where it goes.

Do you have any interesting Juice Crew anecdotes from back in the day?

One story that a lot of people aren’t aware of is how I ended up being on “The Symphony” record.

It was recorded in ’88 at Marley Marl’s townhouse in Astoria, Queens. Everybody assumed that it was planned out that the four of us [Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, and Ace] were going to be on it, and it was going to be a classic record. But MC Shan was actually supposed to be the fourth MC on that song. But since he was a bigger name at that time than all of us, he felt like it wasn’t a good career move for him to be on this record with a bunch of new artists.

It came about only by virtue of me wanting to tag along to the studio. I just wanted to see these guys record; I was just there to see the process. When it came time to get in the booth and rhyme, there was this big tug of war about who would go first. Nobody wanted to go first.

“You go first!”

“Nah, you go first.”

So Marley put me on the spot, and said, “Ace, you got something? Maybe if you warm the mic up these guys will stop being scared. Just go in there and do a little something.”

And I went in and did a verse off my mental Rolodex, something from my memory, and that became the verse that made it on the record. I don’t think he had any intention of keeping the verse originally, but after he heard the whole song together, he decided I did a good enough job on it to keep it. And the rest is history.

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