While golden state hip-hoppers Dilated Peoples are considered the headliners of the Fresh Rhymes and Videotape show this Sunday, I was more compelled to interview another act on the packed show--Decon labelmate and fellow Californian Aceyalone.
The thirtysomething South Central-born Aceyalone (who also goes by Eddie Hayes, or "Eddie Haze") has had a special place in the hip-hop side of my heart ever since I listened to his 2006 album Magnificent City, which had the deep-voiced MC rapping stream-of-consciousness alongside beats assembled by that wacky DJ/instrumentalist Rjd2. With the duo joining forces, City was a gloriously relentless union between two unpredictable, experimental entities--and the lack of attention it received kinda pissed me off. But Aceyalone (Acey, to his friends) is well aware he's an acquired taste.
"I never had super-hit records anyway," Aceyalone says over the phone from somewhere in Arizona, not worrying about City flying under the press' radar. "I don't know, you can say that about a lot of my projects."
Unless you're well-versed in West Coast, underground hip-hop, Aceyalone may not be that recognizable a name. But the man is a vet. Way before he started dropping solo albums, starting with All Balls Don't Bounce in 1995, he was one of the founding members of Freestyle Fellowship, the L.A. collective that hit the scene with the classic 1991 album To Whom It May Concern ...
The way Aceyalone talks, he's almost relieved to be on the fringe. If he were more mainstream, he probably couldn't have worked on his latest album Lightning Strikes, released in October of last year. Just as Rjd2 "accompanied" him on City, Acey collaborated with another producer exclusively this go-around for Lightning--L.A. beat man Bionik. Like most inspired albums, Lightning was an accident.
"I set out to record some new material," he explains, "and I knew I wanted to touch on some of the dancehall-type rhythms. As a lyricist, I'm just looking at it beat-wise. I know most of the dancehall, Jamaican reggae music is known for using that beat and those type of rhythms.
"No hip-hop artists were really doing it like that. Instead of making one song like that or just experimenting with a couple of songs like that, one just led to another. And it was like, you know what? I'm just gonna do a whole project like this and see how it sounds."
Together Aceyalone and Bionik went for a rap/reggae fusion with Lightning, melding the rapper's heavy vocals with Bionik's electro dancehall grooves. You can pretty much call Lightning Aceyalone's "party record"--an energetic, extroverted and entertaining album that's geared more to getting the crowd jumping than dropping knowledge (although he does that on a couple tracks). And that's the vibe Acey says he was looking for.
"Part of my goal as an artist is to make a well-rounded catalog," he says. "I don't make albums like that all the time, and I won't. That was just another hill or a mountain that we climb to get to somewhere else. I don't mind having a catalog that has some songs that do this, some songs that have jazz, some songs that are all lyrical, some songs that have simple lyrics, some songs that have upbeat, downbeat, slow. I just like it like that. I've always been like that. It's just the type of artist I'm aspiring to be."
When Lightning dropped, Acey said it's one of many albums he's releasing to give a nod to a black-music genre other than rap--and another one is already on the way. On The Lonely Ones--due out this summer--Acey teams up again with Bionik for an album which has him saluting 20th-century soul, from swing to doo-wop to '70s-style R&B. By creating contemporary black music that pays tribute to other forms of black music, Aceyalone hopes he'll amass a catalog of proud albums that'll be appreciated for generations to come.
"I always say, 50 years, 100 years down the line, I want them to be able to listen to my music and say, 'Okay, this guy was onto something,'" he says. "I don't wanna be ashamed of my music when I look back: 'Oh, I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I put that message out in the world.' I wanna filter it. I wanna leave back some good shit."