On the cover of the December issue of popular hip-hop tome XXL magazine is a feature on the top ten MCs of 2009. They're being billed as "The 10 Freshmen" who are poised to lead hip-hop in a new direction. There are a couple of questionable selections in the mix (Asher Roth?), but the name that stands out most to me is Ace Hood, Broward County's most popular hip-hop figure since, well, ever.
The 20-year-old flame-throwing MC is in the midst of his official career launch to the world, and it appears he's getting cosigns galore. Anyone in ear range of WEDR-FM (99 Jamz) has been forced to listen to Hood 's first single, "Cash Flow," repeatedly since the beginning of the summer due to DJ Khaled's questionable ability to play music by artists he profits from. But with Hood's debut album, Gutta, being released just last week, the hip-hop world at large is now listening as well.
Getting the cover of XXL is a major step in the right direction and shows that big things are expected of the Deerfield Beach resident. So is his latest music video for the song "Ride," featuring every rap celebrity imaginable, from Busta Rhymes and Jadakiss to Rick Ross and Jim Jones, offering him their stamp of approval. Within the realm of national hip-hop, those guys are all superstars, and Hood (born Antoine McColister) is primed to become one of them in 2009, if things go according to plan. Judging by the music on Gutta, there's a good chance that rap's peanut gallery might accept him with open arms. He's got a rapid-fire flow and offers cut-throat lyrical content that makes him the perfect cross between Twista and Young Jeezy, with a dash of Tennessee's 8 Ball thrown in for good measure. It's a mix that's bringing the young MC loads of attention, and it's made him Def Jam Record's highest priority of the moment.
I recently chatted with Ace about his trajectory and his rhyming style, both of which are taking a lot of people by surprise these days.
"My rhyming style?" Hood pauses for a second. "I don't even know, man. I went for so long without being heard, it's like I gotta go hard. It's me wanting it so bad. I'm so happy about the position I'm in. I'm begging for people to respect me, of course, but it's like, well, if you don't believe I can really do this, now you gon' believe."
If it's hunger that you hear draped all over Ace's music, that's impressive at his age. Most 20-year-olds aren't making six figures (legally), and he's certainly worked hard to get where he is. But going "for so long without being heard" is questionable, since he's still considered an overnight sensation by anyone who's followed him.
At the local level, there was an initial backlash to his music from certain hip-hop figures who wondered just exactly who the hell Ace Hood was. He hadn't been cutting his teeth at local shows or paying dues like most other rappers via mixtapes and low-paying gigs — so why did Khaled single him out as his protégé? The answer has less to do with luck and more with seizing opportunity. While plenty of local up-and-coming rappers complain that Khaled and 99 Jamz don't support their music, Hood, at age 19, showed up to the radio station's office unannounced and rapped for Khaled on the spot. That's the type of hunger that would impress anyone. After jumping through a few more of Khaled's hurdles, the DJ signed Hood to his upstart label, We the Best, a subsidiary of Def Jam, and that brings us to where we are now: spectators waiting for the kid to ascend to greatness or crash and burn in front of America's eyes.
If I were a gambling man, I'd say both are inevitable. Ace, who clearly has loads of hip-hop talent, is best-served staying humble and riding his wave of success for as long as it lasts — and spending less of his money on diamond necklaces — but no rapper ever heeds that advice, so I'll keep it to myself. There are flashes of greatness on Gutta that would surprise the most seasoned rap veteran. On the album's title track, Ace holds his own with Miami's Trick Daddy, and depending upon whom you ask, he could be outshining his former idol. On "Can't See Y'all," Ace's clap-back anthem for the haters, Opa-locka rapper Brisco spits the hottest featured verse on the album. It's hard for anyone to bat clean-up behind Brisco, but Ace comes equally as hard. Cuts like "Get Him" and "Ghetto" are strong bangers that have the ability to satisfy both mainstream and street listeners, which is hard to do. There are snafus on the album, however, like the song "Stressin'," featuring Plies, that seemingly tries too hard to be gangster. But Ace claims he makes music for "ghettos all over the world," so some of this is to be expected. What shouldn't go unmentioned is that much of the album, roughly 95 percent, was recorded and mixed here in South Florida at Circle House Studios. And most of the producers (Cool and Dre, the Runners, Goldrush, Infamous, etc.) are here in Florida as well. Ace wants to put Broward County especially on his back, and despite living 25 minutes away from Miami, he doesn't claim it.
"That's not me," he says. "I want my city to be heard. That's where I'm from. I don't want to be the only person from Broward. I just want to make it easier for another cat to blow up." Before he can reach out and help pull someone else through the door, Ace deserves to enjoy his own laurels for awhile. I asked him what's the best gift he's been able to give his mother (Blondy McColister Williams, a longtime employee of Deerfield Beach High School) since all the rap success started coming his way, and his answer shocked even me.
"Just a vision and the feeling of change," Hood says excitedly. "Giving her the feeling that things are gonna be better from now on. Seeing her son as an accomplishment and making her proud. That's the best gift I can give her."
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