Duval Carter (aka Masta Ace) is one of those underrated MCs, who flies below the radar, but always embodying the latent capacity to surprise and amaze. Originally from Brownsville, Brooklyn, he’s also probably one of the few rappers to earn a college degree before his career kicked into full swing—graduating from the University of Rhode Island in 1988. While home from school on summer break in ‘87, he had the good fortune of meeting and impressing Marley Marl, which led to his appearance on the legendary posse cut, “The Symphony,” alongside Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, and Craig G. But being on one of the hottest tracks of its day set a high bar for Ace, who, it seems, has never been able to match his early successes despite consistently elevating his craft.
After releasing his first solo single, “Together” b/w “Letter to the Better” (1989) on the independent Prism imprint, his full-length debut, Take a Look Around (1990), produced by Marley Marl and Mista Cee, dropped on rap powerhouse Cold Chillin’. Two standout cuts instantly launched Ace into the public consciousness— “Music Man” and “Me and the Biz,” in which he salvaged a no-show studio session with Cold Chillin’ labelmate Biz Markie by impersonating the rap star.
By the time his second LP was ready, gangsta rap was ruling the airwaves, so Ace took the opportunity to spoof ‘studio gangsters’ on Slaughta House (Delicious Vinyl, 1993), his first conceptual album. He also introduced his extended crew, Masta Ace Incorporated, including MCs Eyecurokk, Lord Digga, Paula Perry, and R&B Vocalist Leschea, to whom he is currently married. Standout cuts like “Saturday Night Live,” “Jeep Ass Nigguh,” and the “Born to Roll (Remix)” extended his popularity. He also took the opportunity to participate in a group called Crooklyn Dodgers with Special Ed and Buckshot of Black Moon, contributing a track to the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn.
Ace expanded his resume to producing (as Ase One) on his next joint, Sittin’ on Chrome (Delicious Vinyl, 1995), his most commercially successful release, which cracked the top 20 of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums. Unfortunately, success came with complications contributing to the break-up of his crew. For the rest of the 90s he kept a low profile, only releasing several singles on various independent labels until the Disposable Arts LP (JCOR Entertainment) put him back in the game in 2001. Another concept album, in which Ace attends a trade school for hip-hop, this popular record introduced him to a whole new generation of fans, also allowing him to tour Europe and other markets outside the U.S.
Since then, Ace has favored concept albums including A Long Hot Summer (M3, 2004), a kind of prequel to Disposable Arts; MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne (Fatbeats, 2012), a tribute to his mother featuring beats produced by underground stalwart, MF DOOM; and The Falling Season (M3, 2016), an album based on his high school years. He has also collaborated with an international cast of MCs from Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden extending his reach and influence far beyond his humble origins in Brooklyn. For his non-stop hustle, tireless work ethic, and talent, many more should know his name, and for this reason he remains one of the unsung heroes of the golden era, who is still out there doing his thing.