MASTA ACE with MARVEL and DJ HANGMAN at the Comfort Zone (480 Spadina), Friday (August 9), $15. 416-760-3332.
Fifteen years into his career in a genre where longevity is measured in months, Brooklyn MC Masta Ace feels like he's at the top of his game.
Never mind that now Ace, who made his debut in 1988 alongside fellow legends Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap, can't get get a major-label deal, let alone a nod in the U.S. hiphop scene. In Europe, where Ace is spending more and more time these days, the fierce lyricist is regarded as royalty.
Masta Ace's new, independently released Disposable Arts album is hardly a big-budget affair and probably won't crack the consciousness of his home-town hiphop underground, but he's not concerned.
"I'm having more fun than I ever have with this music," Ace confirms from Berlin. "There's something about creative freedom and being appreciated that motivates you. For the first time in my life, no one's looking over my shoulder telling me what my rhymes should sound like or asking me to put Ja Rule in the hook.
"You might think that someone who's been around the business as long as I have wouldn't have to deal with that, but the industry doesn't work that way. What's great about right now is that it's just me. I know that no one in America will care about this record, but that doesn't bother me any more."
It wasn't always this way. Masta Ace's revealing 1999 cut Dear Diary dealt explicitly with the problem of an artist who can no longer get respect in his hometown and considers quitting the business entirely.
If nothing else, the struggles have made Ace that rarest of commodities, a modest MC.
"In 1998 I reached the point of wanting to get out of the game completely. I'd just done three albums for major labels, none of which ever came out. It made me hate the industry and want to be behind the scenes and not put my life and my personality on the line for some fool.
"What turned it around was going overseas to places like Scotland and Italy and meeting people who actually knew who I was and wanted to hear Masta Ace on a record. I don't get that feeling in the States.
"It took me years to get beyond the belief that you have to sell 500,000 records and get a gold plate. We've all got egos. Now, though, if all making a new record leads to is me doing two tours a year overseas, I'm cool with that."