ACEYALONE with RJD2 at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (February 25), 5:30 pm. $24.50. All ages. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Although the East-meets-West concept behind Aceyalone's new Magnificent City (Project Blowed/Defcon) disc -- on which L.A.'s verbose vanquisher throws down with geek-hop beatmaker deluxe RJD2 -- is an unconventional pairing, it's not entirely shocking.
Now if Aceyalone hooked up with a booty-obsessed playa like Ant Banks, Dirty South supremo Mannie Fresh or crunk king Lil Jon, well, that would be a real surprise, but working with RJD2 isn't really a stretch for Acey, as their brief hookup for the Love & Hate sessions back in 2003 has already shown.
Consequently, the track-by-track jump in musical creativity that RJD2 brings to Magnificent City may well be appreciated by Aceyalone's sizable following, but it's doubtful whether the association will help Aceyalone reach the hiphop audience who don't wear backpacks. Apparently that wasn't a big concern for Aceyalone, who looked at the rematch as way of taking care of some unfinished business.
"After we did the tracks for Love & Hate," explains Acey over his cell, "we both knew we were capable of doing so much more. When the concept of recording a whole album together came up in conversation, we agreed that it was a great idea and started working on making it happen.
"We didn't want to repeat what we'd done before, so we went in with a blank canvas. Of course, I had some lines in my head, and I think RJ had some skeletal beat structures, but we basically started from scratch and let it happen."
Clearly the mixtape format has had an impact on Aceyalone's album concept since each track sounds as though it could've been created by a different producer with styles ranging from bangin' party rockers to sweeping cinematic soundscapes, proving that hiring a creative beat scientist like RJD2 can be both artistically fulfilling and cost-effective. Nothing was too strange for a mic master like Aceyalone to handle.
"We definitely wanted to approach each song differently -- that's one thing we agreed on before we even started. I think the reason we've got a good chemistry is that we both like to try different things and experiment. Whatever he'd come up with, I'd just find my way into it and try to make my rhymes fit while maintaining who I am. It was just as simple as it sounds.
"As far as the stylistic variety, I wanted to keep a balance of all that I do. At a lot of my shows, there'll be people sitting there wanting me to rap, rap, rap and rap. Now and then it's good to have a party jam to get people up dancing. I kinda miss that part of hiphop."
Perhaps the most interesting development on the new disc is the image makeover. Some long-time Aceyalone fans may be caught off-guard by the sleeve of Magnificent City, for which the typically baseball-capped rapper is posing GQ-style in a tailored suit -- a surefire controversy starter.
"That was strictly for the cover shoot," laughs Acey. "I just did that so you guys in the media would have something to talk about. You think I walk around all day in a suit like that? Are you crazy?"
An image change right about now might not be such a bad idea for Aceyalone -- it could help rid him of the limiting "backpack" tag.
"Do a show in a suit? You think so? Actually I've thought about performing in a suit someday, but maybe you're right. I'm gonna think about that. Too many people have strict guidelines about how you should look if you're into a certain kind of music just so they can feel secure about being in with the crowd. That's not what hiphop's about."