It seems hard to believe that a legendary hip hop MC could be as accessible as Masta Ace was to fans at the Toronto show last friday night. His shows are like an all-access pass to chill with him for the evening, where feedback monitors are all that separate him from the true lovers of hip hop. This year his show was at Wrong Bar, last year around the same time it was hosted at El Mocambo. Both concert venues are intimate, which is part of the appeal. Ace doesn’t feature pyrotechnics, flashy stage design or an entourage of hype men to amp up his show unlike big-time commercial acts. He doesn’t need to and that’s what makes him so good at what he does. His shows are raw talent on display. As an excellent lyricist, each of his tracks tells a beautifully composed story and those in attendance are all lucky front-row listeners.
This time around, it’s the Son of Yvonne tour, and Ace tells stories that reflect on life as a child growing up, paying homage to the great influence his mother had on him and his emergence into music. This album is filled with nostalgia and backed by beats composed by MF Doom. In true Masta Ace style, this most recent album doesn’t disappoint – and his live performance only further enhances the feel-good vibes that radiate from his music. In addition, classic Ace goodies were mixed in with the new MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne tracks. Crooklyn, the title track to Spike Lee‘s 1994 film, and a favorite of mine, was a crowd pleaser, judging by the response. Brooklyn Masala was an unexpected surprise everyone was really into. He extended an invitation to fans to take part in a tour around Toronto by saying “Ok let’s take a walk…” cue track ‘Take a Walk‘ and massive crowd participation.
Masta Ace was not alone on stage, but backed by the talented Stricklin, whom he has collaborated with over the past decade. Both dressed in all-white ensembles they complemented each other stylistically not just in attire but in lyrical flow and energy as well. Stricklin is not a hype man but a counterpart in the equation bringing some of his own lyrics to the stage. Another collaborating artist was Wordsworth, a smooth-talking, solid lyricist whose charming appeal wasn’t lost on the females. He freely meandered through the crowd to find the ladies (few of them that there were in a male dominated crowd) and serenaded them with his boyish charm. The three talents mingled well together and sounded great, although it’s tough to pay attention to anyone else on stage when Masta Ace is present. Opening acts for the main event included Anonymous from Halifax with a great performance and Dilemmanade, a Scarborough MC. He brought a lot to the table and impressed the crowd with his mic skills. Next up were Vancouver’s Kids, a collective trio with huge stage presence and tons of energy. All very good lead-ups to Ace.
Ace closed the show with high fives and willingly signed anything brought to him by fans. He exited the stage and continued to mingle with the crowd who were still around to (if lucky) meet him and get a picture taken with him. What was remarkable to me was that every person who stayed around for this opportunity was granted it. Masta Ace took the time to speak to and listen to dozens of fans and accepted the demos of excited aspiring artists. I introduced myself to him and told him I was representing Bad Perm and we had our picture taken together. After he told me to check the photo to make sure it was a good one and that we could take another one if it wasn’t. He was in no hurry to get to the next place and I found him to be as kind and generous as he is talented, and that’s saying a lot. He’s on the grind and has been since 1988. He is the type that has always kept on creating and moving forward and I hope he will continue to do so and come back to Toronto with more fresh sounds for us. Until then I’ll keep his music blasting and re-visit his work as one of the last true luminaries of a hip hop era gone by.
The night came to a close and with that Ace walked out of the front the door of Wrong Bar solo, black and white checkerd backpack in tow, and disappeared on foot down Queen street.