By Masta Ace
When I was asked to write this list for ego trip I thought it would be easy to write. When you ask most people to identify songs that have had great importance in their lives, the average person could easily rattle off 10-20 without thinking very hard. What most people will do is start naming all of their “favorite” songs or the ones that are attached to strong childhood memories. They are quick to name songs that were playing in the background during their formative years. Statements like, “My mother used to play that song all the time when I was little,” are common when this subject is broached initially. We all have those connections to music in that way. But when asked to name five songs that “changed your life” we are forced to dig a bit deeper. These aren’t just songs that made us feel a certain way, they are songs that caused us to adopt some changes in lifestyle, behavior, or circumstance. When we think of the first time we heard these songs we recall a definitive shift in our life’s trajectory from that point forward. So it took me some time to populate my list with five songs that truly “changed my life.”
The deluxe re-issue of Masta Ace’s A Long Hot Summer LP (2004) (with two bonus cuts) is out now . Ace is also dropping his new solo album this year.
1. Sugar Hill Gang — "Rapper's Delight" (Sugarhill, 1979)
Masta Ace: In 1979 my best friend’s older sister had a Sweet 16 party in their apartment. It was one of those typical house parties. All the living room furniture was moved into a back bedroom. There was a wooden stereo system and automatic turntable set up to play the music for the night. Back then after each song played, the music stopped, the turntable arm would automatically lift and go back to the beginning of the record and play it again, but usually someone would change the record each time. In the late ’70s, disco was king! After an hour or so of Donna Summer, MFSB and Chic records, my friend’s sister decided to play this new record she had just bought. It started off “I said a Hip-Hop a Hibby..” and the whole party was in an uproar! I was amazed and excited at this new sound. Other than “King Tim III,” I had never heard anybody rap on a record before. “King Tim” was cool, but this was different. The rappers were telling stories and bragging about how cool they were! We must have let that record start over 10 times before somebody finally said, “Can we change the damn record please?!” I didn’t realize it at the time but this was the beginning of a new genre in music, one in which I eventually aspired to be part of.
2. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – "Planet Rock" (Tommy Boy, 1982)
Masta Ace: By the summer of 1982 I was going into my junior year in high school and already a competitive rapper in my neighborhood. I was also dancing. The Electric Boogie, or “Poppin'” as we called it, was the way we expressed ourselves on the dance floor. During the summer, the DJs from my ‘hood would bring their systems outside and play music in the park. “Planet Rock” was the record we all danced to. When we heard “Party People… Party People…y’all wanna get funky…?” that meant it was time to make that circle and get busy! The excitement this song created reinforced my commitment to the culture of hip-hop. I started dabbling in graffiti the same year. I was “all in!”
3. Eric B. & Rakim — "Eric B. Is President" (Zakia, 1986)
Masta Ace: I don’t remember where I was when I first heard most hip-hop classics, but this song is an exception. One of my neighborhood associates had his one speaker radio on blast in front of 270 Stone Ave. in Brooklyn back in 1986. He was playing a radio show he had taped on cassette the night before. At this point I was in my second year of college and thought myself to be a pretty talented MC. Back then the standard way almost everybody rapped was in rhyme patterns in which the last word of every two bars rhymed. It was all about the lyrics between those two rhyming words that made you stand out. And then Rakim said, “I came in the DOOR, I said it BEFORE, I never let the mic magnetize me no MORE, ‘Cause it’s BITIN’ ME, FIGHTING ME, INVITING ME to RHYME, I can’t hold it back, I’m looking for the LINE..” My brain almost exploded! Suddenly the possibilities of how a verse could be structured became endless. This was the Holy Grail for me. A door was opened and I walked into it with all new raps and an eagerness to unleash them on rappers everywhere.
4. Doug E. Fresh & M. C. Ricky D (Slick Rick) — "La-Di-Da-Di" (Reality, 1985)
Masta Ace: With this popular “tape,” Slick Rick brought dirty story raps to the forefront. Hearing this rhyme as it was originally recorded in front of a live audience had a huge influence on me. It inspired me to write a dirty story rap of my own, full of crazy punchlines and a surprise ending. In December of 1986, I decided to spit that rhyme in front of a live audience in Queens during a rap contest at United Skates of America. I ended up winning the contest based on that rhyme. First prize was six hours of studio time with legendary producer Marley Marl. Life changing indeed.
5. Marley Marl ft. Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap & Big Daddy Kane — "The Symphony" (Cold Chillin', 1988)
Masta Ace: This song is the reason anybody knows the name Masta Ace. Winning that contest in ’86 led directly to me being a part of arguably the best posse cut in hip-hop history. It changed my life in a profound way. It ignited a career for me as a recording artist that has lasted for over 25 years. Adding this song to my list was perhaps the easiest choice of the five.