Kanye West’s Graduation vs. Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
As Masta Ace carved a new chapter (and character) in his career with Disposable Arts, Kanye West closed out a series with Graduation. Commercially and stylistically, these albums do not have much in common. That said, both artists were at the top of their craft mid-stream into their careers. The dues were paid, and they proved that only they could poke fun at themselves. These works established the visionary qualities of both MCs, beyond the crews with whom they garnered fame. For Kanye, he famously bested 50 Cent in a hyped 9/11/2007 sales battle, ultimately reaching double-platinum. After six years of label woes, Masta Ace signed to Jcor, an imprint that would suddenly close its doors shortly after the critically-lauded album, ultimately limiting its initial reach. Without videos in his resource pool, Masta Ace still made cinema, with his songwriting and imagination. On this stage, anything is possible. So which work stands taller? (click one then click “vote”).
Graduation by Kanye West
After 2005’s Late Registration, Kanye West’s fame, personality, and musical respect started to orbit. The new face of Roc-A-Fella Records began to take on the public persona of a frowning outspoken celebrity who shunned media, and wanted a legacy that eclipsed Rap’s confines. With that, his move into the second half of the decade dismissed the Soul samples that helped introduce him. ‘Ye was also at a reported distance from mentor Jay Z, and being tested to hold the wall himself. Graduation furthered the academic-themed series, with Kanye West stepping out into the world, diploma in hand, with only the contents of his imagination to hold him together.
Graduation splashed neon on Kanye’s wild world. The album had an Electro undertone, from the fuzziness of the bassline on “Big Brother” to the charged Daft Punk backbone of “Stronger.” Once crisp and soulful, ‘Ye entered a cosmos of stadium-sounds, and booming bass hits. This album was part New Wave, part European strip club, and part orchestra on acid. Lyrically, Kanye’s themes became grandiose and personal. “Everything I Am” was unapologetic, and yet universal. “Homecoming” was West’s update on his curious relationship with Chicago, at a time when he was globetrotting with models and moguls. However, for all of the self-awareness, Kanye West was moving ahead with his own joyride. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” created a rags-to-riches anthem, while “Stronger” celebrated life’s bumps on the head with pure stuntery. “Good Life” bottled ecstasy, with a T-Pain Auto-Tune and a minced Michael Jackson sample. Graduation is unquestionably Kanye’s happiest, most hopeful album. In many ways, the “wait-til’-I-show-you” theme of the third album casts the widest net of accessibility. With DJ Toomp, Nottz, Mike Dean, and Jon Brion on hand, ‘Ye successfully transitioned into a new era of his production and album-making. Although the “school daze” nostalgia of “Chipmunk Soul” gave way to thumping, elaborate arrangements, nobody was complaining. Kanye’s artistic manifestation reached a deeper level on Graduation. It contends as not only his most cohesive work, but a testament to what makes West’s albums so satisfying, no matter the tone or theme.
Album Number: 3
Released: September 11, 2007
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, October 2007; certified platinum, October 2007; certified 2x platinum, October 2007)
Song Guests: Mos Def, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Dwele, DJ Premier, Chris Martin, Connie Mitchell, Tanya Herron, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Jalil Williams, Jehireh Williams, Daphne Chen, Eric Gorfain, Luigi Mazzocchi, Charles Parker, Igor Szwec, Emma Kummrow, Olga Konopelsky, Gloria Justen, Peter Nocella, Leah Katz, Alexandra Leem, Alma Fernandez, Mike Dean, Darryl Beaton, Andy Chatterly, Chris Rob, Richard Dodd, John Krovoza, Jennie Lorenzo, Tim Ressler, Omar Edwards, Eric Hudson
Song Producers: (self), Nottz, DJ Toomp, Mike Dean, Plain Pat, Gee Roberson, Jon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Brian Miller, Tommy D
Disposable Arts by Masta Ace
Few artists follow up their debut solo album 11 years later. Between 1990 and post-9/11 2001, the world had changed, and with it, Hip-Hop. Masta Ace, who was hardly docile in the 1990s with his Masta Ace Incorporated group, proved to be one of the genre’s most durable, and timeless voices. In the ’80s, he was running alongside Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. In the early 2000s, he stood proudly as a deeply significant Eminem influence, and an artist who massively influenced the entire Underground Hip-Hop movement. Disposable Arts was the Brooklyn, New Yorker coming to collect his props, and figure out what exactly they meant in the grand scheme. A linear concept LP, Ace injected strong theatrics into his first release in six years. The wait proved to be worth it, as Duval Clear had a chip on his shoulder, and new flows, characters, and styles to showcase.
In many ways, Disposal Arts is a cynical and deeply prophetic look at the changing climate for a skill-based MC. Like Louis CK or Richard Pryor, Ace was a master of self-deprecation. “Too Long” set things off in style, with the Juice Crew alum using a prison sentence to equate music industry politricks. “Dear Diary” was self-hate done brilliantly. Ace said anything a hater could call, in advance—and in the midst of a liquid-like flow. Hanging it up was heavy on Masta’s mind, indicative of cathartic closer, “No Regrets.” Masta Ace knew he (and those like him) were likely losing an industry battle, but courageous enough to gain a new career pathway simply through speaking his mind bluntly. Ace was also not defeated. For an MC not known for chippy tactics, the BK veteran Timberland-stomped on Rawkus’ The High & Mighty, Nottz, and Boogieman on “Acknowledge.” The vet walked victorious, with a surgical response to his transgressors. Equally, for an East Coast MC known for favoring West Coast beats in his Masta Ace Inc. days, he revived the funky style on the Likwit Crew on “P.T.A.” “Take A Walk” was introspective observation from an artist who had watched his Brooklyn change greatly over the course of his career. No matter the guests, the song’s theme, or the type of beat, the Brownsville artist made it all work together. Ace was supreme at sequence and tone, and Disposable Arts played like an album that ought not be skipped. However, underneath the characters, skits, and pageantry were all metaphors and allegories for one of Hip-Hop’s most formidable comeback kings.
Album Number: 2 (solo)
Released: October 16, 2001
Label: Jcor Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): N/A
Song Guests: Punch & Words (Punchline & Wordsworth), Stricklin, Greg Nice, King T, J-Ro, Tonedeff, Rah Digga, Young Zee, Leschea, Apocalypse, Jean Grae, Sas, Mr. Gee Lucas, Jane Doe, Tonny Hanna, MC Paul Barman, Jugga The Bully, Blaise Dupuy, DJ Uneek, Chyrisse Turner
Song Producers: (self), Domingo, Paul Nice, Ayatollah, Xplicit, DJ Rob, Deacon The Villain, Koolade, The Courts Production Company (DJ A.Vee & DJ 3D), Rodney Hunter, Gerrard C. Baker, Luis “Sabor” Tineo
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums