Masta Ace & Marco Polo
A Breukelen Story
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Brooklyn’s contributions to hip-hop culture are immeasurable. Its distinct attitude and accent have inspired the lyrics of legendary emcees and fan favorites that date back to hip-hop’s infancy. As consumers, we’ve heard many tributes and vibed to countless anthems over the years, so another tale of the borough may not seem particularly interesting at first glance. That is, until you realize that the storyteller in question has spent more than 30 years proving he is smarter than your average emcee.
In recent years, non-NYC residents have heard some of the most famous Brooklynites such as Mike Tyson and Chris Rock give their perspective on the transformation of the borough that has been dubbed its own planet. Even the acclaimed film director Spike Lee has given his contemporary vantage point on the borough he has made home and used the topic of post-millennial migration to help drive the plots of his latest work.
Masta Ace, who hails from one of the most notorious neighborhoods within the borough, Brownsville, has teamed with Toronto native turned Brooklyn transplant Marco Polo for their collaborative concept album A Breukelen Story. The talented tag team effectively gives a fresh spin on the familiar tale of what it means to be a Brooklyn resident.
On the LP’s opening track “Kings,” Ace skillfully traverses Marco’s cinematic boom-bap orchestra, expressing how his Brooklynness originally made him an heir to emcee prominence. With his highly regarded pedigree, Ace also makes the case for his current relevance with the rhymes, “When my retirement is announced, the fans'll panic / cause that's one less soldier in the greatest fight / the love is heavy in my heart and the hate is light / then every other summer an up-and-comer / thinks he can jump right in my shoes if he plays his right / but these are Mutumbo-size in my humble eyes / and this is no small feat for these mumble guys.”
Masta Ace has long been acknowledged as a rapper’s rapper and proves his skills to be sharp enough to spar with some of the sport’s most feared lyricists. On the song “Corporal Punishment,” Elzhi formerly of the Detroit group Slum Village, joins the formidable list of emcees to publically recognize Ace’s musical impact when he cleverly delivers the lines, “I'm a student of Masta Ace, Pastor Ma$e / and a Killa Bee with the Casper face / give you a blessing right in a session / while I'm rolling up 'dro, loud as a ‘no’ in a room full of yes men.”
The song “God Bodies” balances some of the more up-tempo tracks while maintaining the album’s fluidity in being a collective homage to Ace and Polo’s native and adopted stomping grounds, respectively. Paying tribute to the Nation of Gods and Earths in the title and Brooklyn’s sizable West Indian demographic with the chorus by Trini Boys, Ace slides in affectionate lyrics that make this tribute more personal when he rhymes, “Thinkin' about those days out in the park are very sentimental / and they come to life whenever Marco's on the instrumental / and of course when your boy is on the pen and pencil / raps like this from day one have been essential.”
The album’s title song and lead single enlists the legendary duo Smif-N-Wessun who created a timeless anthem for the borough with “Bucktown” from the group’s 1995 debut LP Dah Shinin’. The beautiful ode highlights Marco’s depth as a musician, but Ace is not outdone with his sentimental and reverential lyrics that namecheck some of the most recognizable emcees to hail from Brooklyn.
A Breukelen Story sits high among the already acclaimed catalog of Masta Ace, who has amassed a body of work that squarely places him in the competitive list of the 50 greatest emcees of all time. The album reinforces Ace’s strengths as a master storyteller and one of the all-time greatest architects of hip hop concept albums. Assisted by Marco Polo in what may be the apex of his own standout career, Masta Ace delivers hip-hop’s equivalent of a 45 point game in what some may have considered to be the twilight of a Hall of Fame NBA career.
The LP is a perfect rallying cry for fans of adult contemporary hip-hop, who are interested in seeing a producer who can skillfully score the narration of a veteran emcee speaking on relevant issues with maturity and clarity. The story of Brooklyn has always been interesting to the masses, as it has stood as an example of cultural clashes and simultaneous cohesiveness as one of America’s most tightly condensed melting pots. With A Breukelen Story, Ace and Polo craft the musical equivalent of a screenplay or novel, by sharing their personal stories and memories reflective of life in one of America’s great microcosms.
Notable Tracks: "Breukelen (‘Brooklyn’)" | “Corporal Punishment” | "Count Em Up" | “Kings”