This Documentary Treats Masta Ace’s “Disposable Arts” Like The Masterpiece It Is (Video Premiere)
Fifteen years ago this October, Masta Ace released his sophomore solo album, Disposable Arts. The Jcor Records release marked the Brooklyn, New York MC’s first album after a six-year period. While signed to Big Beat/Atlantic Records, the Masta Ace Incorporated alum aimed to return to his solo catalog. The recordings Ace made were never released as intended.
As he tells it, the lyricist then reached a turning point in his career—which stems back to the late 1980s. The Hip-Hop sound was changing, and the music industry was adapting to the Internet. With a guarded concept in his mind and complete creative control Masta Ace surrounded himself with producers Filthy Ric and DJ Rob in a Queens, New York studio and plugged away at an album that would redefine his career.
Disposable Arts is one of the most revered albums of the 2000s. Included in Ambrosia For Heads’ “Finding The GOAT Album” bracket, the work would feature the likes of King T, Rah Digga, and Nice & Smooth’s Greg Nice. The LP was a strong launch-pad for the likes of Jean Grae, Tonedeff, and Punchline, Wordsworth, and Stricklin (who would form The eMC with Ace later in the decade). Due to a label that would fold less than a year after Disposable Arts released (to very favorable reviews), the album went quickly out of print.
The Netherlands’ Below System Records created a special edition re-release of Disposable Arts on CD. The 2013 reissue included a never-before-released DVD on the making of the album. Two hours long, the feature length documentary film features interviews with Ace, The eMC, Domingo, Filthy Rich, Rah Digga, DJ Rob, Koolade, Apocalypse, and HipHopDX’s E.I.C. Justin Hunte. Shot in New York, the film revisits the landmarks, artwork, and moments that led to this album. For fans of Vh1’s Behind The Music, or Unsung, this film—available for the first time online—is just as engaging and thorough. This film explores Ace’s ties to Eminem, a pre-9/11 vs. post-9/11 New York City Hip-Hop community, and just how methodical Masta Ace is about threading thematic narrative.
Ambrosia For Heads is proud to premiere this online documentary (with its bonus clips included). Read what Masta Ace had to say about it below.
Ambrosia For Heads: One thing that is remarkable about this film is how much it relates to New York City in 2001. You have this amazing crossroads studio in Queens, the photo-shoot in Williamsburg, the sessions in D&D Studios, and this image of you and Apocalypse riding around together listening to beats. As a Brownsville native, how much do you hear this album as a time piece for New York City and its Hip-Hop scene at the time?
Masta Ace: That was an interesting time in New York. That was the era of artists going in the studio recording 30-40 songs for an album and picking the best 12-14 to release—usually based more on the feature than how good the song was. So many “throw away” songs were being made. It was truly a time when music was becoming more “disposable.” Going out to 78/88 Studios in Queens I found a haven for creativity and artistry. The combination of those factors put me in the right mindset to make this album.
Ambrosia For Heads: In the DVD/film, there is a tone of provenance. You (and presumably Rich) photographed a lot of the sessions, collaborators, and moments in creating the album. Is that a part of who you are, or part of the premonition that this may be your last album, etc.?
Masta Ace: In my mind it was gonna probably be the last one but I didn’t have the foresight that the album would be so impactful to my career. Photos were always being taken because there was always somebody coming through there. You never knew who you might bump into. Once we started finishing the artwork we looked at what photos we had on collaborators and which ever ones we didn’t have we either had the artist send us a pic or we had them stop by to take one.
Ambrosia For Heads: It is interesting how email played a role in this album, based on the interviews. Yet, brick-and-mortar studios, shows, and physical elements were dominant. Looking back, how much of Disposable Arts was a pivot between the previous 10 years and the next 10 years?
Masta Ace: The album falls right in the middle of those transitions; from analog to digital, beat CDs to MP3s, album budgets to trades… It’s amazing how many things changed shortly after that album dropped.
Ambrosia For Heads: Given how hard you ruminate on ideas, concepts, and lyrics, was there ever a temptation to bring elements with you of the shelved Big Beat/Atlantic album? How much of a challenge was it to divorce those ideas, even without the public being able to receive/appreciate them?
Masta Ace: It wasn’t difficult at all. Half the stuff I recorded for Big Beat /Atlantic was tainted. I was making the music I felt would keep me signed. It wasn’t pure. The Bad Boy [Records] era was in full effect and dominated the airwaves. It was an “arms race” of artists trying to be the first to jack an ’80s hit and spit over it. Dudes were racing to get the “hot R&B cat” on their song and garner a radio hit. I never really went “all the way there,” which is why they probably didn’t wanna release it, but that music was made under duress in my opinion.
Ambrosia For Heads: I always thought it was cool, given the title/metaphor, that this album—being in demand—went quickly out of print (I know JCor was a factor in this too). At a time when music was starting to slow down, how did the cache of having a highly-in-demand indie album affect you—as I know that was a different experience coming from the major label system?
Masta Ace: JCor was MORE than a factor! [Label founder] Jay Ferris was the absolute captain of the ship and he ran it into an iceberg. Then he jumped in a one-man raft and paddled away leaving everybody else to fend for themselves. It was a disgrace that an album I considered my best work to date, never got a true chance to be heard by most fans. It’s a blessing that people still buy this album and many are still discovering it for the first time.
Ambrosia For Heads: This DVD is remarkable in its thoroughness. Even in the Reasonable Doubt documentary, not all the creators could/would participate. How is it a testament to you, and your reputation that nearly everybody involved comes back to support this album, and praise it—15 years later?
Masta Ace: Yeah, I wish we could have gotten more of the featured artists but it was great to reunite with these producers. I hadn’t seen some of them since the album dropped. It was interesting hearing their perspectives on some of the stories. I learned stuff i didn’t initially know when we were making the album. It was definitely a fun experience.
Below System also re-released Ace’s Long Hot Summer album.