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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Ace Ha
Monday, March 15, 2010

Real hip-hop has an ace in the hole and his name is Ace Ha. I was introduced to the producer extraordinaire (pictured above w/ girlfriend Brooke Allison) over half a decade ago through a mutual friend, Black Jesus, who many of you might remember from the BET Uncut classic “What That Thang Smell Like,” and ever since we’ve exchanged our views on hip-hop and working out (he's actually the reason I have my abs. Thanks again, man!). Ace Ha is always busy, which is why this Artist Of The Week feature has been so long in the making, but the good news is it was totally worth the wait. An incredibly engaging and intelligent individual, Ace Ha pulled no punches regarding his controversial view on what ruined mainstream hip-hop, which artists he feels could eat some of the old school greats, and why he feels ditching the bulk of his production equipment has actually made him a better producer. He's living proof that the people behind the boards can have just as much to say as those on the mic.

Adam Bernard: I know you have quite the history in the game. Hit everyone with the Cliff’s Notes version of that history, including what you’ve done, who you’ve worked with, and what you’ve been a part of.
Ace Ha: Sammy B and I did a concept album back in '97 called Summer of '77. It was a thematic tribute to the original Star Wars trilogy. It wasn't on that corny Bent Frame shit (Star Wars Gangsta Rap). In fact, that kid literally stole the idea from us after talking to us at a house party. Anyway, we placed really high in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest based on it and through Machiavellian machinations on the part of our manager landed a deal with an EMI affiliate called 2KSounds. They stuck their disgusting, middle-aged, hands in our project and the MaddWest album was birthed, much to our chagrin. Sam then bounced back to Indiana and I've been doing freelance, and ghost, production work out here in L.A. ever since. I've worked on a couple of soundtracks and I landed a gig doing drum programming for a production team that has songs on the radio these days. I’m also working with a crew up in Canada called the Scale Breakers, I’m working with Black Jesus, and I just got down with a cat named Joey Ocean, a real old school rap head.

Adam Bernard: How have your recent musical endeavors have helped you expand artistically.
Ace Ha: The drum programming gig has helped me artistically more than anything in recent years. Doing programming for a variety of genres gives you interesting insight into them. I've really come to realize that a banging drum track with everything else suspect will beat a great track with wack drums. Look at “Lip Gloss.” It’s wack, but it’s BANGING. That has been a really relevant revelation for me.

Adam Bernard: You have a theory that men catering to “the average woman” has ruined a large segment of hip-hop. Since I know you love the ladies, please clarify this for everyone.
Ace Ha: {laughs} Yeahhh, man. I’ve been catching mad flak for that particular statement, but you know what, fuck it, I stand by it. Basically, I'm sayin, by and large, most women don't care about the essence and truth of hip-hop. I know there are notable exceptions, but before you hate: out of all the women you know, how many of them know who Kool Herc is? LL said something along the lines of, "make songs that women like and the fellas will follow." Then he went from being a straight Queens b-boy to licking his lips and pouring water on himself. And of course the ladies loved it, ladies love Cool James, after all, and of course those wack songs were hits, and of course the principle has been accepted. That means that a GRIP of rappers, and their sell-out producers, have been crafting hip-hop for a segment of the population that, by and large, doesn't give a fuck about hip-hop as an art form. The house-based rap on the radio right now is the logical progression. Now, since stating that opinion I have heard from lots of women and they have brought up two very good points that I would like to express for the sake of fairness. One - there are, in fact, quite a few women, mostly those involved in rap, that do know the history and do have love for the culture of hip-hop. EVERY SINGLE one of the women that had beef with me, minus my girl, is involved in rap in one way or another, and, by the way, don't feel pop rap at all, so it kind of makes my point. Two - I understand that there are A LOT of factors that have contributed to what I think of as the degradation of the art form, at least where the radio is concerned. Of course, if a lot of those songs hadn't been written, then the co-opting of hip-hop by major corporations may not have ever occurred, people only in it for the money would have chosen something else to do, etc, etc.

Adam Bernard: OK, so who do you think is getting it right in terms of making music?
Ace Ha: There are a lot of cats getting it right, they just don't get the shine that they deserve. Homeboy Sandman and Tone Deff come to mind immediately. I’m also feeling Apathy, Paradime, Jonathan Toth, Rhymefest. The crazy thing is, the production skills and lyrical skills have never been better, it's just that they’re only available in the underground. We're talking about cats that came up listening to the golden age of rap and have continued to push the boundaries in that direction. You can't tell me that Homeboy Sandman wouldn't have eaten Rakim in a time-machine battle. He's continued in the tradition where the greats of yesterday left off, just as Rakim did with, say, The Furious Five. Unfortunately, hip-hop has become just another commodity in the minds of the average listener and because of this they tend to go with whatever is hot at the moment. Rap now is less about art and more about image, and kids want to fit in, so offer them the choice between Tone Deff and Soulja Boy and it's no contest at all.

Adam Bernard: Having such strong views on lyrical content, how come you’ve never picked up the mic and tried your hand at being an emcee?
Ace Ha: I used to rap, but Sammy B got way better than me at the same time that I took a real shine to Paul's Boutique and Fear of a Black Planet production-wise, so I just bowed out and let him do his thang.

Adam Bernard: Other than those albums, what originally inspired you to get into hip-hop production?
Ace Ha: My jumping into production was a matter of necessity. The cat that did our beats went off to school so I had to step up or quit, so I stepped up. Pops co-signed for an EPS sampler and I worked all summer at Rally's to pay it off.

Adam Bernard: How do you keep up with all the new production equipment that comes out on what seems like a daily basis?
Ace Ha: Funny you should ask! Like many other producers I know, I used to be on that gear-chase. My apartments have always looked like used gear shops and I've always spent MAD skrilla on the newest shit. At some point I realized: I'm switching gear so fast that I never fully learn or understand what I have! I used that old EPS for like seven years and I knew it like the back of my hand. I never got the chance to learn a piece of equipment like that since, so about three years ago I decided to get clean of the addiction. I chose Propellerhead Reason and I ain't looked back since. I came up on stand-alone hardware and I'm used to that sound, so I make Reason do it. My boys Mac and Sub say, "ears not gears!" and I am a believer. It really ain't about what you use to program, it's your heart. Look at Premier, that dude used an SP, or some damn thing, for the longest! On a side-note, Brooke is a lot happier with my stripped-down set-up. Lots more room to do what she wants with the spot!

Adam Bernard: Keeping the lady happy is VERY good thing! It sounds like kicking your gear addiction was a pretty tough hurdle for you. With that in mind, what do you think has been the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome, either in your career, or life in general, and what’s the next one you’re looking to get over.
Ace Ha: The death of my pops was the hardest thing, in terms of both my career and life. When he passed I didn't really feel like doing beats, or much of anything. He was instrumental in me getting to the point that I was in my career and was always crazy supportive. It still seems weird that I'll never play him another beat, but after a while you start thinking, "is this what he would want for you?" After that I kinda shook out of it and got back to work. The whole 2KSounds debacle was no picnic either. I think that my next hurdle will be figuring out how to stay relevant in a very changed music world. Back in the day you had to have a burning desire to do hip-hop because it required significant financial sacrifice to own the equipment. Now any kid with a computer and pirated software can do “a beat.” With that kind of glut of amateur material it becomes very easy to get disgusted and let the world pass you by. I've let a lot of money go because I felt like it was my way or the highway. I'm starting to see that you have to be less self-involved if you want to communicate with listeners.

Related Links

MySpace: myspace.com/aceha
Soundclick: soundclick.com/alistproductions


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:30 AM  
  • At 7:18 PM, Blogger JIM said…

    Ace's shit is for real. he works hard and deserves to be on top. ON TOP!!

  • At 10:02 PM, Blogger James said…

    Great interview from both sides.
    Def worth the time you said it took.

  • At 6:34 PM, Blogger Ramon said…

    Much respect Ace, one of the greatest producers I know! Keep it crackin' fam!


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