Few MCs, it seems, have been as prolific as Aceyalone. As a solo act, a part of Freestyle Fellowship, and various Project Blowed collaborations (such as Haiku d’Etat), Acey has frequently had new material on the shelves since ‘91. But the quantity hasn’t been marked by a lack in quality. He’s a fluid rhymer who’s never rushed to put out an album or relied on rehashing old techniques.
Acey has recently connected with producer Bionik for a genre-specific series of LPs. First up was the dancehall and Jamaican riddim-driven Lighting Strikes, and now he’s dropping a doo-wop and ‘60s-pop-inspired LP, Aceyalone & the Lonely Ones. Here, the MC talks about re-imagining these vintage sounds via hip-hop and how he avoids getting caught in a sonic rut.
You sound like you’re having a lot of fun on these new genre-themed albums. Can you talk about how you first wanted to take a stab at recreating these specific sounds?
You know that’s just natural progression, after doing so much of this and so much of that. I would say I never stopped doing the creative thing when it came to hip-hop. People stray away from that — being innovative. I kept that role in it. You look back to old hip-hop, there’s all kinds of songs, all kind of shit, man. They was doing more experimental things, and then it kind of leveled out. Just the last couple seasons, running across different beats Bionik was making, we was just talking about old music, like "Yo, we need to do something like this." Just to try and do something different and try to stay fresh in our own ear. That’s how it came about.
Bionik produced Lighting Strikes. Did he produce all of the new album, too?
Yeah, it was kind of a continuation of just working with him. I was like, "Yo, what’s up with you and some dancehall beats?" I experimented a little bit on that type of stuff, so we just went in song-for-song, like, "Yo, let’s just make this a project." And that’s how the other one came — it just kind of progressed from there. So with creative energy flowing, I ain’t gonna stop it, I’m just gonna roll with it.
Can you talk about the conversations you two had about doo-wop and the ’60s sounds?
If you listen to a lot of that old music, it was dope and a lot of stuff is happening, but creating those elements sonically now, you bringing the beats out. Them beats was swinging like that when you was there back in the day and it was live, but the fidelity wasn’t where it’s at now. Now, it’s all opened up. So you can hear the same beats banging as opposed to just the rhythm of ‘em. That was part of it — bringing that out.
I saw that you mentioned an influence from Phil Spector’s productions. Can you talk about his influence on you and Bionik?
That’s more Bionik’s thing. I kind of just hit it from the lyrical standpoint. But I knew what rhythms that I wanted to mess with. I knew what type of swing I wanted to deal with. We had a lot of [sounds] that came across and he’s like, "We can do one like this, one like this, one like this, one like that."
Can you talk about the Lonely Ones, getting the back-up vocal assistance? That’s something new for you, bringing in those harmonies like that.
Once again, it was kind of Bionik. He pretty much produced and made the backdrop for this whole thing. What I was doing was just filling in parts and making sure shit was cool. I wanted to do a duet song, that was kind of real basic and real traditional — real clean and simple. So we had to get the right chick. And then he pretty much grabbed her up since he works with a lot of different artists and he brought this other girl out for this other cut, “Power to the People.” But that was him putting it together and that’s a lot of his vocals too. He did the falsetto, the high falsetto parts.
Did he surprise you with that, when he started showing you his voice?
Yeah, he killed me with that. I was like, "Oh, shit," ’cause I would come back to the studio and we would talk about it like that cat back in the ’50 and ‘60s who sang the high-ass falsetto’s and we were like, "We need that!" I’d come back and then be like, "Aww, fuck! You did that shit?" And then I stood there long enough and I’d see him in the booth doing it and I was like, "OK."
Obviously the beats are some of the most upbeat stuff that you’ve worked with, but even from a lyrical standpoint it’s still upbeat. Would you say with songs like “Working Man’s Blues” that these songs are a more lively response to the times — to the hard times?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. There’s a lot of ways to say that same thing right there.
Can you talk about the writing process as far as just being influenced by what’s going on right now?
That’s always been in the writing you know? We keep that up-to-date. It’s always been over the years, so I had to balance it out. I don’t want to ever be too preachy and I don’t want to ever be self-righteous and shit — pushing it on people. But definitely keep a balance of the times and in my own way, put the little expression on it and separate that from just rap rap. I manage to get a little bit of that in.
And also with tracks like “Step Up” you’ve done what you’ve always done with the relationship songs.
To me, that’s just hip-hop, man. I come from that era, though. I still respect that era of the female song like that period.
I mean you’ve been doing that since “Annalillia,” so it’s been a while.
Yeah, that was on my first album. Usually that’s a reoccurring thing throughout my albums ‘cause that’s just what it is. You have one of those songs and I had one. You ain’t got to and I did some records where I didn’t do that, but that’s where it’s at.
What are your thoughts about West Coast hip-hop right now? You’ve been one of the most consistent, but a lot of people have fallen off, disappeared, or gone on to other things.
I got my eye on it a little bit, but really my crew — the (Project) Blowed crew — ‘cause we got a big collective. I keep my eye on those cats. It’s kind of like people surface up and then they pop back down and then they come back up. I watch a lot of that. But I think it’s still tight. You got cats they be battling everywhere. It’s definitely a whole lot of art going on in L.A. People are gettin’ it off.
So the whole Project Blowed movement is still pretty strong?
Yeah, it’s still moving along, and we three generations of hip-hop right there. We was the first, then the generation after that and then another generation. Ben Caldwell and Chaos — he’s still got the doors [at Project Blowed] open every Thursday night. So when he’s there, the workshop is still on the corner on 43rd. So that’s going on and it goes up and down and it’s on the building back up process with new cats. And then like I said, I keep my eye open for different people in the city, but there’s so much that you might miss a couple things. But if they blowin’ up, my ear is there. Keep myself in the cut.
You’ve worked with a lot of people, first within your own crew, then you branched out, and worked with RJD2 and others. Do you see yourself sticking with this series with Bionik or do you think you’re going to take a break and switch it up and come back to it at a later point?
Another one with Bionik? Nah, we gonna hold off for a minute. I’m just gonna go into something else like it’s nothing.
But the series is still going to keep going eventually?
Yeah, it’s gonna keep going. I wanna visit a complete jazz band and a spoken-word type thing. I just put together my ideas and try to run with ‘em at this point, because I’m creating my own lane and trying to keep forging through.
You know so many hip-hop acts have jumped on the electro thing. Do you see yourself getting involved in that, trying out the whole synth-centric sound?
I could, but I’m not big on following all the exact trends. But I’m wit it. All this stuff come across instrumentals all the time. I’m not gonna do a lot of separating when it comes to that. Or like, "Oh, they got dubstep out." You call it one thing, I call it choppy beats. And the same thing goes for electro. That shit reminds me of Egyptian Lover and early hip-hop and all those type of styles, which I would spit rhymes over all that too. I’m not biased to none of that.
And yeah, I bet you if I ran into a producer that really got it to me the right way and I was in the right scenario to do some stuff like that, I probably would do it. I think people put a whole lot on, "Oh, such and such is doing this." I’m trying to get people to see that, fuck, man, I’ll do anything. But not just throwing shit out there, but making music. I haven’t locked in a certain way of making music. I haven’t done that. Maybe that’s the default or some shit, but I ain’t that man.
So for now you just let the sounds come to you and not get bogged down by a certain sound?
Yeah, this is just one record right here. I still got dozens of songs that I recorded throughout the year and just tight shit. But this just happened to be a concentrated effort. We put a lot into it. It’s not just rhyming over a regular beat. We’re trying to make a statement.