Review: Jace – The Jace Tape

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Mike Will Made-It’s colossal 2014 mixtape “Ransom” featured a healthy spectrum of rappers from Atlanta, Georgia, the then and current center of the musical universe: it had ATL elder statesmen 2 Chainz, Future, and Gucci Mane, as well as the still up-and-coming Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, and the sadly since-deceased Bankroll Fresh – and that’s about one-third of the whole all-star lineup. One of the standout tracks on “Ransom” was track two, “Fuck U Expect,” by a relative newcomer called Jace. Floating over a pounding, synth-laden Mike Will track, Jace put out an amorphous, sort of mind-bending flow that succinctly pocked the beat’s peaks and valleys. It was a promising, if brief showcase for an artist that seemed to be on the verge of something big.  

Fast-forward to 2016, in its nascency already a year of massive, quality rap output, and we have Jace’s “The Jace Tape” vying – convincingly – for a space in that crowd. At 14 tracks, “The Jace Tape” is a work that finds Jace airing out bars over a diverse palette of production from the quickly-ascending likes of Ducko McFli, FKi, and Resource, to list a few. The overall sound of the mixtape straddles a familiar ATL trap wave as well as a boom-bap East coast nostalgia (industry legend Don Cannon pops up) that’s actually refreshing in a modern context.

The highlight of the tape, however, is of course Jace. The narcotics ballad “Designer Drugs” is a particularly impressive display of wordplay outlining an itinerary of substance abuse: “Bout that time / Sniff a xan, do a line / Roll up, that’s fine / Jack Dan, that’s mine / Do a bump, then grind / Said excuse me for being so Genuwine.” It’s that kind of rapid-fire, steamrolling delivery decorating Jace’s flow that makes him uniquely one to watch. On “Jesse Owens,” over an absurd beat by Syk Sense, Jace goes in again: “In my oldest ozzy bumping golden oldies / With a golden Rollie, kinda showy showy / But it’s dancing on me like it’s working fowlies / I meant to say Follies, but I’m fucking rolling.” The whole second verse of that track is worthy of transcription and it comes off utterly effortless.

A standout track on “The Jace Tape” is “J.A.N.,” a candid moment where Jace addresses America’s racial climate with a blunt earnestness: “Face it racist, you probably got a son like me / Or your daughters got one and he’s just like me / Probably pissed at how similar we just might be / Little Johnny probably a nigga, just like me.” It’s a song that poignantly ruminates on the shittiness of being boxed in and classified in this country, boasting a bleak, but real hook: “It doesn’t make a difference / At the end of day they’ll kill you, pull the trigger / It doesn’t make a difference / I am just another nigga / Go figure.”

As a debut solo effort, “The Jace Tape” is a well-rounded work that illustrates Jace’s future promise and should put him on a larger collective radar. It’s the type of mixtape that makes you excited for an eventual album – even if that’s an increasingly vague distinction – and there’s something thrilling about being at the ground floor of an artist’s career and looking up at the temporarily vacant floors above, imagining the inevitable successes to come. If “The Jace Tape” is that ground floor, it heralds some exciting and dope shit.  

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March Madness

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Future’s current run since the release of Monster in October of 2014 has been quite the marathon to behold. Following the success of Monster, his ensuing releases Beast Mode and 56 Nights –  mixtapes with almost zero features that were more complete and engrossing than most albums released in that time frame – served as landmarks that the rest of the rap world could use on their trail of catching the fuck up to Hendrix. Those three mixtapes alone, before the massive releases of DS2 and What a Time to Be Alive – an album that Future occasionally let Drake rap on – represent three acts of a largely one-man show telegraphing Future’s eventual position as the biggest rapper on earth.

While each of Future’s mixtapes in that era truly had gems, it was “March Madness” off of 56 Nights that became one of the paramount tracks in Future’s catalog, as well one of of the biggest singles of the year. The Tarantino-produced track is a lumbering force: a jarring baseline listing back-and-forth under what sounds like a codeine-soaked R2D2 – it’s a fitting bed for Future’s marching, savage warble.

Future’s writing on “March Madness” has an assured, authoritative voice. It’s clear he knows the direction he needs to go after some questionable past career movies and right off the jump, this is not Pop Star Future: “Dress it up and make it real for me / Whatever the fuck that means.” Over the course of the track, Future offers layered proclamations that while boastful, do convey an underlying recognition of a shitty reality: “I’m the one that’s living lavish / Like I’m playing for the Mavericks / I didn’t want to fuck the bitch / The molly made me fuck her even though she average.”

It’s that type of conflict and complexity that has made Future such an enigmatic star – there is a very real, relatable sadness to his music even though he can seem so, at times, (worth mentioning: self-described) alien. Future channeling that humanity also makes “March Madness” a richly layered, dope fucking song – he succinctly summarizes America in 2015: “We ballin’ like the March Madness / Cops shootin’ niggas, tragic” and succinctly summarizes Future in 2015 and beyond: “Fuck a cougar like she Halle Berry / Future Hendrix, dirty Sprite, legendary.”

“March Madness” – and Future’s current run in general – reminds me of an early, made-for-TV Spielberg film called DUEL (1971). It’s the story of a traveling salesman driving on a lonely patch of interstate who is stalked by a hulking 18-wheeler operated by some unseen, malevolent force. Try as the salesman may, he cannot shake the semi truck and it continues to overtake him and generally make his life an anxious hell. Well, to make a convoluted (and pretty contrived) comparison: Future is that truck and the travelling salesman is the endless stream of fuckshit coming out in an increasingly disposable era of music. Let’s pray he never (spoiler alert) goes off a cliff.