Tomorrow, Tuesday April 7, sees the release of longtime Los Angeles rap innovator Aceyalone’s new album Action, his 11th album — 17th, if you include his work with landmark groups Freestyle Fellowship and Haiku D’Etat. Acey’s prolificacy has been celebrated for how vastly different each of his projects are from one another. From reggae-tinged tracks to a tribute to '50s doo-wop, no two Aceyalone albums sound alike.
As for his latest release, Acey says, “It’s just kind of how I feel. I’m all over the place. It’s Action time.”
The album is entirely produced by longtime collaborator Bionik, who’s contributed to some of Acey’s most ambitious concept albums. “A good friend of mine, Black Silver of the Analog Brothers, introduced us about 10 years ago,” Bionik says, explaining how they first met. “We did a song called ‘Do Unto Others’ that was on the Project Blowed: 10th Anniversary [compilation] and that was the start of our musical relationship.”
“We have a good working relationship, that’s the whole thing,” Acey adds, emphasizing Bionik’s strengths: “Some people can’t produce. It’s not just a matter of making beats. It comes down to if I’m working and Bionik’s working, and he can work at my pace, and we got the same idea. I just do what I believe in.”
Aceyalone doesn’t have a particular songwriting ritual; the rhymes just come to him. “Sometimes, if I’m walking down the street and doing regular tasks, I got rhymes going around in my head. Or, if I find the right beat, ooooh, that’s right, it hits it right on the nose. Or, if I hear the ring track, it’s a tingler, I tailor the body to the track.”
Ultimately, however, his main concern in the studio is how it will translate on stage. “I’m always thinking live, because I’m an MC. I come from party-rocking MCing, which people don’t do no more. I’m up there, live vocals from the get. Live has always been my perspective on how this is going to come off.”
Some of Acey's contemporaries who’ve dabbled in concept album territory have come off as gimmicky, but his stylistically themed records have just happened organically. He uses his doo-wop/Motown-inspired 2009 album, Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones, as an example: “It wasn’t designed to completely be like that. It ended up being like that because my study and understanding and love of music and the influence that’s in my passion, I’m not letting that go. I pay homage [to] it in my career with the doo-wop. It’s still urban music coming from the same place, just redesigned.... We’re exploring the other side of the funk, where the original breaks were created. There’s a purpose for everything.”
Sometimes those purposes have lead to television exposure, as Acey’s 2006 collaboration with RJD2, “A Beautiful Mine,” wound up being the opening theme for AMC’s Mad Men. “After shopping the record around after it came out, they liked that song. But. they took the break with the vocals off of it, so it’s like I’m at a distance with it a little bit.
"Not everyone knows it’s my song," he adds. "People who love RJD2’s music, and [then] hear my vocals on it, are like, ‘He fucked the song up!’ You can’t be too certain. Did I get new fans from that? Not necessarily. Are people totally confused about that being my song? Totally. But yeah, that’s my song, the lyrics had a point to them and a foundation.”
Action arrives 20 years after Acey’s beloved debut album, All Balls Don’t Bounce, which he recalls as being a vastly different experience. “I was a young person in the industry with my solo deal off the heels of my group deal. It was short-lived; I think I was on Capitol/Mercury a year and a half and the whole department closed down."
He's happier where he's at now. "The difference is, I like my art and what I do, and in the saturation of all these artists out here, I like to maintain my shit. The difference is more freedom to do what I want to. It’s a different state of mind.”
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Acey's released hundreds of songs, but he doesn’t try to play favorites or cite some of his work as hidden gems. “The way I picture music, I’ve given up on going psychotic trying to figure out what people like, what people won’t, what’s hot, who validates who. I really enjoy doing my music, and that’s all I can know. When it comes back so randomly, I’m always surprised: ‘You liked this?’ Back in the day I used to take a song and say, ‘This is the one.’ I don’t do that. I just try to get the full expression for that song, that little piece, and then we out. I look at it all the same.”