Amidst other luminaries from hip-hop’s Golden Age, rapper Masta Ace is sometimes sorely forgotten amidst some other names. He’s not considered as ground-breaking as Rakim or KRS-One, but the Brooklyn emcee is arguably just as good a rhyme-sayer, and his innovations to the genre were more subtle. Numerous big-name artists have called him a big influence on their craft, perhaps most notably Eminem who has said he really admired him as a storyteller. Case in point, his 1993 album SlaughtaHouse is one of the unsung classics of the 90s, and it is one of the few rap albums that is as accessible as it is experimental.
The first album the rapper put out under his group name Masta Ace Incorporated (also consisting of Lord Digga, Paula Perry, Eyceurokk and Leschea), SlaughtaHouse was very much a response to the dominance the West Coast had over hip-hop music at the time. The album utilized production that combined the grimy street sound of the East Coast with the G-Funk-esque sound that the West had introduced only a year or two earlier. It was a tactic that was unheard of for it’s time, and the album’s title track still stands as the most defining mesh between the two coasts.
Lyrics-wise, you can tell Masta Ace was also trying to communicate on his uneasiness with the proliferation of violent songs in rap music. Quite contrary to the album’s title, SlaughtaHouse is hardly a gangsta album with the rapper’s street narratives always being cautionary, and never hedonistic. On the album’s opening track, “A Walk Through the Valley”, Masta Ace describes the paranoia that circles urban-dwellers which often leads to deadly shoot-outs. Then, on the track “Jeep Ass N**guh” (which spawned the popular remix version “Born to Roll”) Masta Ace talks about his disgust towards police harassment, but does so in a more civilized manner than most of his brethren would. There’s even the track “Who U Jackin’” in which Masta Ace and female emcee Paula Perry play the roles of an assailant and his would-be victim respectively, which is a very empowering tirade to violence towards women.
While SlaughtaHouse may be a group project, Masta Ace is firmly the record’s pilot. He raps on every track, and produced a good chunk of it also. Take for example the song “The Big East”, which finds him in his most impeccable form, as he boasts and enlightens seemingly spontaneously. “Who is the man with the hats with the snaps/Droppin’ the raps with the truth, to the youth that’s bustin’ the caps?/ Who could it be? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a tree?/ No, it’s me. Capital A, capital S, Capitale-E.” It’s fully plausible that Masta Ace’s punch-line delivering style would influence later rappers like Big L, and like many other emcees of his era, he capitalizes on being a New Yorker. Despite the album’s experimentation with a West Coast sound, it really could only have been made by an emcee who resides in the Five Boroughs and not just because it has a song called “Saturday Night Live”. It just has that attitude and old-school value that made the foundation for hip-hop culture. Also, seeing that this album predates most of the debut albums from artists of the East Coast hardcore movement (i.e. The Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep), it has a really fun vibe throughout the 15 tracks, even on the most violent ones.
At 65-minutes in length, SlaughtaHouse is a long album for sure, but it miraculously lacks any filler. It’s a highly intelligent and conceptual album that is one of the most calling protests against violence that the hip-hop world has produced. Masta Ace would put out plenty other strong albums throughout his lengthy career, but this and his solo debut, Take a Look Around, are his most pivotal. If you’re a hip-hop head who somehow skipped past this album previously, now is the time to discover it!