In the early 2000s, lots of attention was given to hip-hop’s glitzier aspects After the late 90s surge of Mafioso rap and shiny suit-ism made conspicuous consumption all the rage, materialistic assets like lavish homes, expensive cars, and flashy jewelry and clothing became centralized as hip-hop imagery. The preoccupation with money, clothes, violence, and lusty women made artists like Masta Ace, who were more concerned with artistry than imagery and radio fare, out of vogue.
Ace had been around since the 1980s, joining the Juice Crew following his big break after being discovered at a talent show by the legendary producer Marley Marl. Making his debut on the classic posse cut “The Symphony,” Ace would return with his solo album, Take a Look Around, but would see his biggest success with his group, Masta Ace Incorporated. But after releasing two buzzworthy albums with 1993’s SlaughtaHouse, and 1995’s Sittin’ on Chrome, Masta Ace would take a six year sabbatical from the music industry before returning in 2001 with his fourth studio album, Disposable Arts.
Released October 18, 2001, on JCOR Records, Disposable Arts came at a time when hip-hop had risen to the mainstream and the genre had gained an entirely new audience, many of them casual rap fans who never knew the name Masta Ace. The album would be centered around his experiences as an artist struggling for exposure and relevance in an ever-evolving culture; and few rappers had managed to present the narrative of the starving artist as bluntly or with more wit than Masta Ace. The album was widely hailed in indie rap circles, crowned one of the better indie albums of the year.
Disposable Arts would revive Masta Ace’s career and he followed it with three solo albums, as well as multiple collaborative efforts. In celebration of this cult classic and it’s 15th anniversary, we’ve selected the 5 best songs from one of rap’s most glorious comeback albums.
Mainstream hip-hop can sometimes make more humble spitters feel a bit inadequate, an angle that Masta Ace explores on “Nnuff,” another highlight on Disposable Arts that resonates highly. Rapping “Nowadays, Range ain’t big enough, Moschino ain’t jig enough/I’m kinda iced out, but my chain ain’t big enough” Masta Ace lists all of the reasons why he may not be seeing as much exposure as his more flashy counterparts he’s competing with for air-time. Featuring melodic guest vocals by Mr. Lee Gee, “Nnuff” is yet another winner that speaks to the average joe in hip-hop culture.
Luis “Sabor” Tineo helms the boards on the Disposable Arts heater, “Unfriendly Game,” which sees Masta Ace and Strick teaming up for one of the more hard-boiled cuts on the album. A conceptual record, which sees the two wordy lyricists infusing sports references into their wordplay, “Unfriendly Game” is a testament to Masta Ace’s lyrical wizardry.
One of the more convivial jams on Disposable Arts is the Greg Nice assisted standout, “Don’t Understand.” Produced by Paul Nice and featuring a sample of “Easier to Love” by Sister Sledge, the beat is quintessential boom-bap with a modern twist of twist up, in the vein of Fatman Scoop, whose high-octane vocals are mimicked in good nature, adding to its appeal.
An astute student of lyricism and an apt battle rapper with countless punchlines to slaughter the comp, Masta Ace comes for a few heads on the war-ready offering, “Acknowledge.” The song, which sees the usually mild-mannered Brooklyn rep catching wreck on a few of his detractors, is powered by dreary violins and steady kicks and snares, slapped together by Xplicit. Featuring vocal samples of the likes of Guru, Nas, and Fat Joe, “Acknowledge” shows that despite his distinction as one of the more unsung rappers of his era, Ace has the chops to tear off heads at will through rhyme.
Brilliant storytelling is displayed on “Block Episode,” one of the more superb compositions on Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts album. Featuring fellow true-school spitters Word & Punch, the track recounts a day in the hood from three different vantages points: the shooter, the intended target, and a casualty of the hood. Produced by Luis “Sabor” Tineo, who employs a sample of “Lo Mismo Que Tu” by Leonardo Favio, “Block Episode” is undoubtedly a gem in the Masta Ace catalog and is just a glimpse of the greatness that Disposable Arts has to offer.