Your album The Show is finally out. How does that feel?
Masta Ace: The response has been really positive so far, even with the album being leaked. That’s the one positive that’s come out of the album being leaked.
Most albums go online and hit retail stores at the same time, yet The Show was available online much earlier than physical copies hit retail. Why is that?
Masta Ace: It’s because of the leak. The original release date was March 25, but the album got into people’s hands in January. We were afraid that the time between when it would hit stores and when it was in people’s hands were too late. We wanted to at least take advantage of some of those sales before the March 25 date.
On the positive side of the album being leaked, it shows that people want to hear the album. Of course the bootlegging also affects album sales. Can you see both sides of that and not look at the leak as being completely negative?
Wordsworth: Yeah. The buzz of it has definitely been appreciated. It’s just the fact that you want to make sure the same people that are downloading it and are excited about it purchase it. That’s the main thing. A lot of people are checking out the internet and they say they love the album and that they’re still going to buy it. You don’t want the hype to fizzle out after awhile and then it can take so long to come out and they feel comfortable with having it already.
Do you think The Show will do better online or at retail stores?
Masta Ace: I don’t think it matters to us, man. We just want people to support it by buying it, whether it’s online or in stores or on vinyl. We just want people to purchase it because that’s what keeps us in business and that’s what keeps the label running and that’s what keeps mouths fed in each of our houses.
As a four man group, how did you guys balance who gets on what songs and making sure everyone has enough creative input?
Punchline: We went off the feel of the record. There are some records I’m not on and there’s some records Strick’s not on. We would come up with concepts and things would just fall a certain way.
Was that ever difficult?
Punchline: Nah, there were no major disagreements.
Wordsworth: The thing with the album as well, the thing about the song, no matter who’s on the song, we all put something in whether it was the hook or saying how long the verse should be or who should be on the song. It wasn’t anything as far as egos clashing because we just wanted what was best for the song. That’s why on the Little Brother record you have Punch and Ace on there with Little Brother and me and Ace contributed from an outside perspective. We get along so well and there’s no bickering or beef about getting a song done.
You’re all known for being lyrical MCs. Was that the main focus of The Show?
Masta Ace: It was one of the main focuses. I won’t even say it was a focus. We just knew that it was going to all come together naturally when everybody came together. It was more about making fun songs and good people that people could relate to and that people could have fun with. We want the people who listen to the album to feel like they’ve been entertained because it was an experience and it was a ride and it was a journey. That was more the main focus – entertaining people.
There’s not a lot of music made today where artists sound like they’re having fun. Why do you think that is?
Strickland: I think it’s just a machine now with the record companies where they’re just trying to put records out and have a couple of ringtone hits and a ghetto anthem and some snap music. Not much thought is being put into making a decent album. They’re doing an album just because and they’ll catch a couple of ringtone sales off of it. It would behoove more artists to sit down and make songs that would mean something to people. I think it’s more the record companies trying to get in and out, get a hit real quick and then throw them away and get somebody else.
Wordsworth: Yeah, and all of us know each other on a personal level as far as hanging out and touring together. There’s an advantage to collaborating via email, which we’ve used as well, but some of them never have the chemistry to put together anything. Some of it is just done to capitalize on the hype of it without caring about the quality of it.
Punchline, when I interviewed you two years ago, EMC had just come together. This album seems to have taken a long time to put together. Were you guys pretty meticulous making this album?
Punchline: Yeah. We just wanted to make sure everything was right on the music and business end of everything.
Masta Ace: There were also a few pitfalls along the way. We had a few studio and technical issues. We had a hard drive crash on us and we lost half the album and we had to rerecord it this summer. That’s one of the setbacks that made it take even longer.
What are your goals for The Show?
Wordsworth: I think one of the main goals is just the fact that we’re trying to show people that you can make quality albums and quality songs and not just one of those songs. Most of the times people try to make a good song and then they don’t pay attention to the album at all. I think we were able to show that we are able to make great songs and put them together on one album and have it be cohesive. There’s nothing that’s outlandish. Everything coincides with the album and it all works well together. I think that’s one of the goals, and to let people hear good music.
Punchline: Also, I would say that a goal for me is strength in numbers. There’s a lot of solo artists out and not too many groups. That adds something different to the game right now.
Ace, will you and Marley Marl get back together and work on some new music?
Masta Ace: I think anything is possible. I never close any doors. He had given me a couple of tracks two or three years ago that I liked, but we just never linked up to record them. It’s possible.
Your last solo album, A Long Hot Summer, was critically-acclaimed. Do you have a new solo album coming?
Masta Ace: Nah, I’m gonna leave the solo album thing alone. I’m going to focus on these collaboration albums and side projects. I’m not going to do anymore solo albums. I’m looking to collaborate with other artists and producers to form other groups.
What do you have in mind?
Masta Ace: Well, me and Edo G formed a group and we’re about 10 songs deep in the album, coming out probably later this year.
Wordsworth, Mirror Music dropped over two years ago as well. Are you working on a new solo project?
Wordsworth: That’s being worked on as well. That’s nearing the final stages. That should be done in a month or two. I’m doing another project that Prince Paul produced called Baby Loves Hip-Hop along with Ladybug Mecca, Chali 2na, Scratch from the Roots and Ursula Rucker on there. I’m just staying busy doing different projects like that, but the solo project is definitely in the works. I think it’s good that it’s coming after this project as well because I think the setup is having everything going in a great direction.
Are the fans ready for a new Words album?
Wordsworth: Yeah, definitely. When we go on the album and we go on these shows, the people definitely express that they want to hear another one. As far as myself, I like being prolific and putting out albums, but it’s hard to put things out with the way these distribution companies are that it’s not as easy as it once was to get these opportunities.
Punchline, are we going to see a solo album from you anytime soon?
Punchline: Yeah, I’m working on something. That should be out by the end of the year. I’m also working with Fokis on some stuff. We’re going to do a six song EP.
Strick, what are you working on?
Strickland: I’m basically in the same ballpark as Words and Punch. I’m trying to plug away on my solo album. I’m about five or six songs deep on it. One of the goals for me with this EMC album was for me to align myself with some people that definitely have major talent in the game so their fans will hear the album and ask who’s this Strick guy. And then when my album comes out, that’s even more people interested in picking up my album. Ace had a plan all along to set everybody’s solo careers up with the release of this album. I know Words has Mirror Music out, but even the fact that this EMC album came out will boost the sales of his next solo album. So many people are waiting on it and if people hear the new EMC album, they’ll be anticipating the Words album and hopefully the Punch and Strick album too.
Strickland, you’ve been working with Ace for a minute. What’s that been like for you?
Strickland: It’s been great. He’s like a big brother. We don’t even talk about all music. We talk a lot about life issues. We’re all friends and family before the music. With Ace being the big brother for me, that’s been a great ride. I just sit back and listen to everything he says and that’s been great.
Will we see another EMC album in the future?
Punchline: Yeah. After the solos and all of the other collaborations and all of that, you will see another EMC album.
You guys are always at grassroots events like Rocksteady. How does performing at events like that help your chemistry onstage?
Punchline: That’s what brought the group together in a way. It helped the chemistry and as we went overseas, that helped a lot.
Wordsworth: Yeah. And quality is very important for us. We rehearse. We don’t just pop up and do a couple of songs and walk off the stage and do a 20 minute set and get out of there. We actually sit down and calculate it. We got the illest show. You can’t mess with us! It’s EMC, baby!
Do artists not spend enough time making a good stage show?
Masta Ace: I need to get in on that one right there. I’m very discouraged by what I see from artists these days. I came up in an era where artists performed on the stage and they would try their best to outdo everybody else on the stage. That competition is what made everybody go extra-hard. The energy level was super-high and the transitions and all of those things were well thought out and well-executed by earlier artists. I got to watch Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie go back and forth at a lot of their shows. In the ‘90s, they were probably two of the best performers in hip-hop as far as their stage show and DJs and all of that. They were at a real high level. I watched those guys and learned from those guys and took elements from them and used it when I’m onstage and that has, in turn, impacted what happens with EMC onstage. We come from a good bloodline of performers. What we see out there nowadays is most artists getting onstage drunk and high and they bring 50 people onstage with them and they kind of ramble through the songs that everybody knows and they don’t expend any energy and they’re off the stage in 15 or 20 minutes. Busta is probably one of the only dudes left that really goes hard.
Punchline: Also a lot of artists don’t really know how to put together a show. There’s nobody to give them that guidance. I learned a lot from Ace about putting together a show. I think more people have to work together and learn from each other.
The thing that surprises me about the artists who get onstage drunk and high is that it’s not just the younger guys. I’ve been to shows with legends who have been drunk and mumbled through their set.
Masta Ace: You’re probably right. I did a show with veterans from the ‘90s and they were asleep backstage because they had drunk so much liquor. It definitely isn’t exclusive to this generation. It comes down to how seriously do you take this. How much does being onstage in front of the people who are buying your records mean to you? It’s important to us. When we’re onstage we want the people to go wild. I have to catch my breath. I don’t know how all of those guys did it for that long.
Do you think some artists are just losing their motivation in the game?
Masta Ace: I don’t know what it is. I don’t know. But I know that if they are, then they need to just stop making records. Stop performing. Find another profession. I think Fed Ex has good benefits. They need to go seek that out.
How do you guys stay motivated in a game where your material gets bootlegged and sales are at an all-time low?
Wordsworth: I think just by hearing up-and-coming artists and hearing other music. I like Kanye West. I like Common. Those people are representing good music and they’re putting out music that you can feel. When I feel an artist and the message that they’re trying to get across, it inspires me to want to make something great. It’s the same way, I think, as far as hearing people that came out before me as well. They inspired me and made me make sure that whatever I was doing was tight. I think that integrity and listening to other things helps out as well.