Ten solo releases deep and still working, Aceyalone solidifies his status as a titan of underground hip-hop with his new album, Leanin’ On Slick. Looking back to the rhythm and blues standards of the past, the record has already been praised for Aceyalone’s ability “to combine pop savvy with social commentary. You know – like shit used to do back in the day.” Soulful and funky beats support Aceyalone’s signature tight rhymes and bouncing-ball flow. Features appear from Daniel Merriweather and Cee-Lo Green, artists who share Aceyalone’s respect for the history of R&B and talent for reminding audiences of its relevance by augmenting it with modern flavor. The title track is a light-hearted exploration of what someone would do in pursuit of the “superbad.” Like the Blaxploitation era it references, the track is fun, powerful, and undeniably badass.
Aceyalone began his career at the Good Life Café of South Central Los Angeles. Opened in 1989, the spot quickly became the epicenter of a massive hip-hop movement that spawned Freestyle Fellowship, Jurassic 5 and myriad others. As a member of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone helped craft four albums, including 1993’s classic Innercity Griots. Since then, the prolific emcee has been a co-founder of the storied Project Blowed Collective, Haiku D’Etat (with Mikah 9 and Abstract Rude) and the A-Team (with Abstract Rude.) In 1995, the emcee released his debut solo album All Balls Don’t Bounce, earning massive critical acclaim and Allmusic.com declaring Aceyalone “one of the greatest lyricists the West Coast has ever produced” and Bounce “a spectacular lyrical milestone.” The longevity of his career now speaks volumes about his lyrical gift. “You might say I’m prolific,” says Aceyalone, “but I’m still a work in progress. I’m just a conveyer of what’s already out there and people just don’t see it. I just interpret it.” 2009 saw the release of Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones; an album that draws on Phil Spector, 60s girl groups, the J.B.s and a slew of raw, dirty funk for sonic inspiration. After indulging his love of Jamaican music for 2007’s Lightning Strikes, the musically diverse emcee brought his admiration for doo-wop, blues and funk to the forefront. On the title track, finger snaps, falsetto choruses and Rickenbacker guitar dominate the production; a sound closer to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound than today’s by-the-numbers beats. And like most classic hip-hop albums, Acey doesn’t need 74 minutes, insufferable skits and guest stars you don’t care about to fill time.
To achieve this sound, Acey could’ve copped a bunch of samples from the treasure trove of available music. But he’s never been one to take the easy way out. Along with Bionik, each song was painstakingly produced to re-create the sound and feel of a long-gone era, augmented with modern flourishes. “What it Wuz” looks towards Motown and Holland/Dozier/Holland production to emulate and update classic soul groups like Martha & the Vandellas. “Can’t Hold Back” is pure grimy funk and, in true James Brown form, the emcee genially barks instructions to his band and engages the crowd in a rowdy call-and-response. “I’m not from that era, but this is my ode to it,” says the emcee of the album’s feel. “I’m just putting myself into that character as a showman and bandleader. But I can still rhyme with the best of them.” And so it is with Leanin’ On Slick, an entire album thick with tracks that artfully engage his showman side. Listen, and you’ll hear how this guy consistently brings the soul of James Brown and the flow of the Amazon River to every track he jumps on.