Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Aceyalone – “The Guidelines” from A Book of Human Language (1998 Project Blowed)


We’ve written about Aceyalone in an earlier Shuffler, but indirectly, while writing about DJ Mumbles. Now we finally get to give this gifted MC his due.

It’s a funny thing, but because of the popularity of G-Funk and gangster rap (I can’t bring myself to leave the word “gangsta” on my screen with anything approaching seriousness), it seems like most casual hip-hop fans are unaware of what a huge bohemian/avant-garde/alternative hip-hop scene the West Coast produced in the nineties, specifically the Los Angeles area. People think LA hip-hop from that era, they think Dre, Snoop, Ice Cube (but never his weirdo cousin Del), etc. When people think bohemian/whatever hip-hop, maybe they think New York: Digable Planets, Tribe, De La Soul, etc. Or maybe that’s just my perception of how people think.

At any rate, I have to wonder if Aceyalone wouldn’t be more of a household name if he hadn’t existed in the long shadow of the corporate gangster rap machine that dominated the West Coast at the time.

But then I remember that mainstream culture doesn’t always vaunt brilliance the way we wish it would, which is why, I suppose, the National Endowment for the Arts tapped me to start this blog.

Okay, maybe that’s not how it went down, but it should, just like we should all recognize Aceyalone’s genius.

It’s a genius that almost shouldn’t work. His music is super jazzy, very much a part of the nineties coffee shop cool that may have existed more strongly in our collective will than it ever did in actuality, but in Aceyalone’s case, he really was that cool, which is part of the attraction. His flow is very much influenced by spoken word, too, which (and I’m really putting myself out there now) for me means that it has a high likelihood of being unbearably annoying, insufferable.

But somehow it’s not. And I suppose that’s because Big Ace (as he calls himself in this track) spent a ton of time honing his craft. He first came out of LA’s Good Life Cafe open mic scene (the importance of which, I’m given to believe, can’t be overstated), which is where the Ace’s first group, the Freestyle Fellowship came together. Their deal, as you might imagine, was freestyle rap. I’ll tell you that their 1991 album To Whom it May Concern… is a must-have, and then I’ll let you sit with this rather laudatory Wikipedia statement:

Freestyle Fellowship’s vocal techniques focusing on the method of freestyle rap and their successful infusion of hip hop and jazz established the group as forerunners in the subgenre of jazz rap and placed them amongst prominent West Coast underground hip hop acts of the early 1990s such as Hieroglyphics and The Pharcyde.

Aceyalone was also part of the Project Blowed collective, which began as a freestyle rap/open-mic workshop (also centered around the Good Life Cafe) and then ballooned into something more: a rap crew, a label, two releases (2005’s Project Blowed: 10th Anniversary is a pretty instructive glimpse into this world). He’s also been involved in two other groups, the A-Team and the brilliantly-named Haiku D’Etat, but not knowing anything about either one, I’ll beg off any further explanation.

So when Aceyalone finally begins laying down the guidelines, it is with both a greeting of peace and a certain well-earned boastfulness:

Asalaam alaikum, people of good will
I offer you the greeting of thought manifested skill

And that really sets the tone for what’s to come in the rest of the song, a lot of braggadocio. And I know, it’s tempting to write that off as a tired trope for the genre, but good god if Aceyalone doesn’t pull it off like a goddamn master, because he is.