Masta Ace & MF Doom - MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne
M3 Records: 2012
To call this album a Masta Ace/MF Doom collaboration is slightly misleading. While both artists are involved,MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne is Ace’s album. It’s a rap concept album, a relative rarity in this industry, yet possibly the most traditional hip-hop album I’ve heard in a long time. Son of Yvonne tells the story of a young Masta Ace, from his early childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to his early career. Whether all of the events described over the course of the album are true is unclear. It is clear, however, that the album is meant to be autobiographical.
The album has all of the tropes of many New York hip-hop stories: a dangerous youth, the music of the ’70s, the big break, inexperienced touring, going to California. It even has a sleepy phone call mimicking Biggie’s “Going Back to Cali” intro. In short, the album’s plot has been done before. Thankfully, Ace does not skimp on the details. Listening to his Mom’s Parliament records becomes both a story about loving music and wanting to make it, as well as evidence of his character’s stubborn attitude in the face of his mom’s strict discipline. His rough project life becomes a story about a cast of unique characters. There’s a guy who has strict but mildly hypocritical dietary requirements and a man who, as Ace comments, needs to get a vasectomy before he accidentally ups his number of children to twelve. Ace’s first experiences touring are both the fulfillment of his dreams and highly humiliating. He gets to sleep with groupies, but not without being drugged and robbed.
Skits are scattered throughout the album, many of which feature a young Ace asserting himself in various colorful situations. He’s a spunky kid who likes to take people to task. He accosts some out-of-work winos as well as a foolish ticket scalper. The skits provide a thesis for the album itself: Ace’s initial defiance was molded by his experiences, leading to a present attitude of respect and humility. The album’s name shows his biggest influence. He is, even today, simply his mother’s son.
Ace approaches each subject with the wisdom of the an experienced man. While his flow, rhymes, or lyrical content aren’t particularly impressive, his skill for subtlety manifests itself in the rich stories that comprise the album. He’s not afraid to reveal the foolishness of his previous self.
The production by MF Doom is pure nostalgia, a set of very traditional boom-bap loops stemming from his Special Herbs series. They are hip-hop Wonder Bread and in many other cases they would be the backdrop for some of the most vapid, snooze-worthy true-school posturing. Here, however, the halcyon feel provides a sort of blank canvas for Masta Ace’s picaresque. It’s nice to hear someone doing boom-bap in a way that is neither self-righteous nor superficial. Son of Yvonne embodies an important element at the heart of good hip-hop storytelling. Sure, it doesn’t produce anything pulse-pounding or suspenseful–it has no “Gimme the Loot” or “Children’s Story”–but instead it has warm, relatable, and realistic narratives that entertain through vivid, well-selected details.