Masta Ace Opens Up About His Battle With MS & How He Fights Back
This month, Masta Ace and longtime collaborating producer Marco Polo released A Breukelen Story. The Fat Beats LP, embedded below, examines the New York City borough that Ace (a Brownsville native) and Marco Polo (a Fort Greene resident) hold so dear. This week, Ambrosia For Heads’ founder Reggie Williams visited Marco’s Brooklyn studio for an in-depth conversation with the two Hip-Hop artists ahead of their European tour. During the video chat, Ace opened up about living with multiple sclerosis, and how he adjusted his lifestyle to fight back. That subject makes its way onto the album, as they also discuss. Both artists also address the changes that they have witnessed in both Brooklyn and Hip-Hop.
When speaking on the theme of A Breuklen Story, Ace states that this album retraces Marco’s real-life journey 18 years ago. The skits follow the former Rawkus Records artist’s journey from Toronto, Ontario to live in the place that birthed his favorite brand of Hip-Hop. That relocation included sleeping on couches, sacrificed relationships, and interning at the Cutting Room Studios long before he was making songs for Ace, Pharoahe Monch, Large Professor, and Phonte, just to name a few.
On the LP’s opening track “Kings,” Ace spits “Since Malcolm and Martin / We’ve been marching for a better nation / Is this a big melting pot / Or is it separation? / I’m breaking bread with the tribes, no reservations / Yo, we gotta make it as a federation / Are we living together, or is it segregation?”
“Brooklyn [is] super diverse. New York City [is] super diverse, but there are lines. There are neighborhood lines. Not that you can’t cross those lines, but you just know that when you cross a certain street, everything is going to start to look different. The people are gonna look different. The houses, the homes are gonna look different, and in some instances, you may not feel as welcomed in certain neighborhoods. That’s just part of the dynamic of New York City, but that is also the dynamic of America in general,” admits the MC who addresses the racism he experienced taking buses to different parts of the city of 2016’s The Falling Season. “As diverse as New York is, you just have to realize that with all these different ethnicities and religions and backgrounds, that there’s gonna be a little bit of exchange of cultures. But there is also gonna be a little bit of intolerance to certain things as well. That’s what kinda what I’m talking about on that record.“
At 5:55, Ace and Marco address the borough’s evolution over recent decades. “Yes, it’s less dangerous. It’s definitely more gentrified,” Ace admits. “My only issue is the people are getting forced out of Fort Greene and other neighborhoods. Where are they getting pushed to? ‘Cause obviously there has to be a way to make room for this new influx of other nationalities coming in. Where are those people going? That’s really the problem.”
“There’s definitely pros and cons to it.“ Marco adds, “[Although we now have a plethora of] coffee shops, there are also people that have lived in this neighborhood their whole lives that clearly can’t afford the rise in rent. Then you get a bunch of people from out of the state or the country moving in with more money, and they can afford to be here, and then they push everybody out. There’s got to be a way to find a balance and have some type of protection for people that have been in the neighborhood most of their lives.“
Just after the 36:00 mark, Ace is asked about a line that he spit on the song “Sunken Place” where he says, “Look how they wanna kill us with the food.” In unpacking the line, Ace touches upon his multiple sclerosis. “I was diagnosed with MS back in 2000, and for those first couple of years I was trying to process the diagnoses and wondering, ‘Where did I get this from? Where did this come from? How did this happen?’ I didn’t make a connection with my diet and my health and well-being. Like most people don’t. It’s just not taught. So I started doing research, reading, Googling, reading tons of articles, watching articles on YouTube and just trying to absorb as much information that I could,” he says. Ace kept the diagnosis private until a 2013 interview with HipHopDX‘s Soren Baker. “It became my focus and once I kinda figured out what the blueprint was. I started to eliminate certain foods from my diet. I still have MS, and I know I still have it because there are moments where I’m reminded that I have it. But because of those diet changes and dietary restrictions that I put on myself, I feel like it’s prolonged and extended my health and well-being.”
Ace and Marco reached out for help from Pharoahe Monch to help describe life with MS. “The Fight Song” finds the longtime Marco collaborator portraying the disease and Ace being the patient dealing with the pain. These two heralded MCs provide a visual sense of the daily battle. When asked on why was Monch was chosen for the track Marco states, “You know that was a real intense record for both of us. Especially Ace and we needed somebody to become multiple scoliosis. It’s not an easy task. You just can’t call up any MC to do that. It had to be somebody special, and you know that got it.“