Aceyalone - Biography
The best-known contributions Los Angeles made to the hip-hop scene of the early ‘90s were the violent tales of gang-life coming out of infamous areas like South Central and Compton. However, at the same time there was another Los Angeles-based movement within hip-hop, which was purely interested in creating extemporaneous lyrical narratives. Leading this charge was freestyle rap legend Aceyalone, a true B-boy who has continually raised the bar on the craft of MC-ing. Always bringing unorthodox polysyllabic rhymes into his progressively rhythmic tempests, Aceyalone has been a huge force in the daunting task of bringing underground hip-hop to the masses.
South Central Los Angeles is usually presented in a negative context, shrouded in the violence and drugs that have long plagued the area. However, amidst the problems of South Central stands The Good Life Café, a health food store that began to host regular events for DJs, poets, MCs, and other aspiring hip-hop artists. By the early ‘90s, crowds flocked to the café to hear the freestyle prowess of soon-to-be prominent West Coast hip-hop artists like Jurassic 5, Pharcyde, and Busdriver. Born Eddie Hayes, Aceyalone began to flex his lyrical muscle at the legendary Good Life open-mic events. Having an interest in rhyming since high school, Aceyalone was originally in a group called MC Aces with another Los Angeles-born rapper named Myka 9, who he has collaborated with frequently throughout his career. While attending The Good Life open-mic nights, Aceyalone and Myka 9 would link up with other aspiring MCs, P.E.A.C.E. and Self Jupiter. Named after their fondness for spontaneous rhyme creation, the crew dubbed themselves Freestyle Fellowship. The crew’s ability to create cohesive lyrical narratives on the spot began to earn them a following and their regular performances at the Café would make them living legends. Over jazz-inspired beats, the crew vividly spat stream-of-conscious Afro-centric ideologies as well as tales of life in South Central Los Angeles.
Freestyle Fellowship soon released To Whom It May Concern… (Beats & Rhymes) in 1991. While To Whom It May Concern… is a low-tech and fairly ragtag album, it is held with remarkably high regard and considered a pivotal album in the LA underground hip-hop movement. The act of freestyling began to show obvious parallels to free jazz as both subgenres were based on instantaneous musical creations. The crew’s fascination with jazz shines through on the album, especially on the track “Convolutions,” which hears the members of Freestyle Fellowship freestyling over a Miles Davis recording. Many hip-hop purists appreciated the album’s positive message and intelligence, as they felt it was a perfect foil to the gritty and often violent lyrics of many of their contemporaries. Aceyalone and his Freestyle Fellowship continued to nourish LA’s growing underground hip-hop scene and they released their second highly-lauded album, Innercity Griots (4th & B'way/Island), in 1993. With tracks like “Hot Potato” and “Bullies of the Block,” the album remains one of the most beloved in hip-hop. Although the Fellowship’s lyrical dexterity didn’t infiltrate the mainstream, Innercity Griots would become immensely influential. When the Fellowship’s well-received sophomore album dropped, the group joined Pharcyde, Del the Funkee Homosapien, and Souls of Mischief in establishing the West Coast as a hotbed for emerging progressive hip-hop. While the group’s collective skills were certainly recognized, the sleek delivery of Aceyalone distinguished him from the others. After Innercity Griots, the quartet decided to split up to pursue solo ventures. Now on his own, Aceyalone’s quick-witted rhymes would truly begin to sparkle.
Inking a deal with Capitol, Aceyalone released All Balls Don't Bounce in 1995. Again reinforcing Aceyalone as one of the icons of the LA underground, his solo debut was wildly popular among hip-hop enthusiasts. Songs like “Deep and Wide” and “B-Boy Kingdom” showcased Aceyalone’s fluid and literate introspections. However, the forward-thinking Aceyalone would again fail at reaching a mainstream audience. While All Balls Don't Bounce was a critical success, the album’s meager commercial presence caused Aceyalone to be dropped from the label and his debut solo album sadly went out of print for close to a decade. Fortunately, it was re-released in 2004 on Project Blowed Records.
Aceyalone returned in 1998 on an independent label with A Book of Human Language (NuGruv Alliance). Perhaps Aceyalone’s most esoteric effort, the album was entirely produced by Mumbles who had contributed several productions to Aceyalone’s previous album. Again tapping into Aceyalone’s bent for sliding his lyricals over jazz-inspired beats, Mumbles mined artists like Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane for samples. Unlike All Balls Don’t Bounce, which had several collaborations with Aceyalone’s former Freestyle Fellow ship band mates, A Book of Human Language didn’t contain any guest appearances.
Aceyalone then began to involve himself in several collaborations, linking up with Mikah 9 as well as Goodlife alumnus Abstract Rude to form the group Haiku D'Etat. The name — a combination of the words “haiku” and “coup et’ tat” — was meant to mean that they were championing a poetic takeover. Through their own imprint, Project Blowed, the trio released Haiku D'Etat in 1999. Aceyalone and Abstract Rude also worked on their own side-project, calling their collective union The A-Team in another display of the pair’s freestyle gems. The A-Team went on to release Who Framed the A-Team? (Meanstreet) in 2000.
Aceyalone returned to his solo work in 2001 and released his third solo album, Accepted Eclectic (Ground Control Records). Another testament to Aceyalone’s loyalty to concise and intelligent hip-hop, Accepted Eclectic again drew heavy critical praise. The production was now handled by several producers, including Evidence of Dilated Peoples fame. Musically, Accepted Eclectic is perhaps a bit more playful than Aceyalone’s past efforts, as can be heard on the title track as well as “B-Boy Real McCoy” and “Rappers Rappers Rappers.” Later in 2001, Freestyle Fellowship reunited and released Temptations ( Ground Control), which was not as well-received as Inner City Griots.
Aceyalone continued his prolific output, yielding albums like Hip Hop And The World We Live In (Project Blowed) in 2002 and the experimental Love & Hate (2003 Decon) the following year. Love & Hate earned notoriety for its rather obscure sound as well as the track “Ms. Amerikkka,” which features a guest-spot from experimental hip-hop pioneer El-P. In 2004, Haiku D’Etat released their second album, Coup de Theatre (Project Blowed), featuring collaborations with many West Coast underground mainstays such as Busdriver and Oakland’s Blackalicious, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Lyrics Born. These guest appearances were significant evidence of the strength of the West Coast underground hip-hop scene that Aceyalone helped create.
In 2006, Aceyalone collaborated with Ohio-based producer RJD2 who had built a reputation for creating brooding and dark musical soundscapes. Their album, the highly regarded Magnificent City (2006 Decon), reveals RJD2’s deep, electronica-inspired compositions complimenting Aceyalone’s smooth rhymes. While Aceyalone’s lyrics often dominate the spotlight, Magnificent City received equal acclaim for RJD2’s production. Hence, an entirely instrumental version was also released. Later that year, Aceyalone dropped Grand Imperial (2006 Decon), another album that suggests Aceyalone has an endless vocabulary.
Delving further into experimentation, Aceyalone began working on a project entirely inspired by roots reggae titled Lighting Strikes (2007 Decon). The album proved to be critically controversial, with some claiming that Aceyalone should stick to his hip-hop roots while others appreciated his straying into new musical territory. Once again, Aceyalone swerved into new genres with his album The Lonely Ones (Decon), released in 2009. The album’s production utilizes the sounds from the big band/swing era as the basis for Aceyalone’s brilliant lyrics. This time, his daring genre-swinging was heavily praised and has been another brick in his lyrical legacy.
Aceyalone has established himself as one of the premiere lyricists of the West Coast. By intelligently projecting knowledge that he spontaneously brews off the top of his head, his contributions to hip-hop shall be part of the genre’s lore for generations to come. Aceyalone’s freestyles can go toe-to-toe with virtually any written concoctions.