The first track off of Aceyalone’s new album, Leanin’ On Slick, is called “30 And Up.” Thanks to Aceyalone for explaining the audience for this album straight away. This album is not for hysterical preteens, hype-starving teens, pretentious hipsters, or any of the other current demographics that most music is aimed at. Ace successfully lets the listeners know what they’re getting in for within the first few seconds by setting a tone for the album both musically and lyrically. Thirty-something year olds love stability: job, apartment, a scheduled life with time on the weekends to get rowdy. This album stays within its old-school inspired tone and Ace never tries to do anything beyond his bounds.
Every drum track used for every song could easily be lifted and remastered from James Brown. These are hip-hop breaks like you’ve been hearing for decades don’t sound new or refreshing, yet their consistency is relaxing, you know, in a mature ‘30 and up’ kind of way.
Aceyalone feels very much like an MC on this record. Mic controller, move the crowd, master of ceremonies, whatever it stands for, it feels like Ace knows and is properly executing. Matched with traditional old school party rap, Ace sounds very much in control on tracks like “One Cup, Two Cup” and “I’m No Cassanova”. The drums are filled with the kind of snare ghost hits that define the ‘break’ type beat, which adds more flavor to a track than one would expect. “I’m No Cassanova” sounds particularly like The Bamboos, a modern funk band whose featured vocalists generally take a back seat to the instrumental. The beat to “Cassanova” is certainly more dynamic than Ace’s verse, with lyrics that don’t really try to wow the listeners: “I’m no Cassanova, I’m just glad to know ya/Playtime is over, remember what I told ya/I’m no Don Juan Demarco, I just go where my heart go.” While he does sound in control, that doesn’t there is anything too exciting here.
I’ll take any chance I can get to hear a Cee Lo guest spot, and Mr. Green appears on “Workin Man’s Blues”. He certainly fits into the genre this album is going for, yet that is not necessarily too exciting either. Not to mention I don’t believe a word of his lyrics: “I get up every morning bout a quarter to 5/Work a steady job just to stay alive/Get home and go to bed bout a quarter to 10/Gotta go through it all over again.” Not only will Cee Lo never have to work a steady job for the rest of his current life and the following one, but I have a hunch he doesn’t go to sleep until quarter to 5 most nights. I’m no stickler for lying rappers, it would be useless to hear Drake spit “Started from Degrassi now we here,” yet on an album that is going for such an authentic and finely aged sound, it doesn’t quite line up with Cee Lo’s real life persona.
This authentic and aged sound does indeed persist though, and what felt phony on the Cee Lo track feels warm and genuine on “Things Get Better” featuring crooner Daniel Merriweather. “Hard times don’t last forever/Things definitely get better/Through every rough storm that’s weathered/Things definitely get better.” This song conjures a music video of nice sweeping camera shots on a brightly colored soundstage, with Ace at the center in a purple suit. It’s a merry song, and I thought of that adjective before I even saw that Daniel Merriweather was on the track.
I’ve got to hand it to Aceyalone for making a tight album with an overarching sound bringing everything together. Yet, lyrically this album does not do it for me. It feels too simple and uninspired at points, leaving the instrumentals to take over. That’s not an issue for a listener like me, but it likely will be for more lyrically centered audiences.