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.