“Listen closely, so your attention’s undivided
Many in the past have tried to do what I did
Just the way I came off then, I’m gonna come off
Stronger and longer, even with the drum off”
Masta Ace’s first lines of The Symphony
Marley Marl & The Juice Crew
A couple of months ago, I noticed a small, on-line flier, announcing a Record Store Day event at Records and Rarities, followed by a concert at Union Stage. The picture, and accompanying text, explained that Masta Ace and Marco Polo would be appearing at both locations, in support of their A Breukelen Story album.
Immediately, I began making some mental plans to get to one of the locations to meet another original member of the storied Juice Crew (I’ve met Roxanne Shanté, Craig G, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Biz Markie).
To be honest, I had to put a lot of this on the back burner, and had some doubts that I would be able to find time to make any original artwork for the event. That being said, I had the Madina Golden Era ‘Stamp’ poster beckoning from the wall of my studio, and Chuck D’s This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History book, to bring along. I would have plenty to get in front of the Brooklyn-born MC. In the meantime, I had many responsibilities at work, keeping my schedule full.
As the date approached, I made some attempt to gather materials; including some Prismacolor colored pencils and a new 16″ x 20″ wood panel. If I could find several hours over the subsequent few weeks, I might be able to pull something together.
In researching the imagery for the new piece, I found a beautiful photographic portrait from which to work. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, one of my new friends, and fellow mADurgency artists, Confuse Art, had recently rendered a stunning digital version of the same picture. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to tackle the same image. He had knocked it out of the park, and there was nothing left for me to say. He had said it all.
Beautiful, right? Following that act would be futile, but I still wanted to give it my best.
After some searching, I landed on an album cover-art photograph that had striking blues, oranges, and dynamic light and shadow. I was in business.
Each night of the week leading up to the event at the record store, I carved out a few hours to get some work done. It began to come together nicely, and I was feeling good about finishing it up in time. Everything was in order.
Record Store Day arrived, and I plugged the coordinates for Records and Rarities into my GPS. I wanted to get there early, and check out the vinyl, as well as the lay of the land. Although the event was in northern Virginia, I had plenty of time to get there. I was hoping Malcolm and Myron would meet up with me, but I wasn’t sure of their plans.
I got to Springfield Mall around 11:30 am, not too long before Marco and Ace were scheduled to appear. I found the store on the second floor, and wandered around a bit; eventually purchasing the special 7″ record that they were there to promote.
I texted Malcolm and Myron, both, and I suggested I wait for them to show up, before getting into any kind of line. While there was evidence of an earlier crowd – a tray of mini cinnamon rolls, coffee, and a sectioned off area out front for lining people up, the young guy behind the counter told me “That was for when we opened this morning.” After all, it was Record Store Day – There were all kinds of special releases and sales.
Malcolm and Myron texted me back individually, both letting me know they would be here closer to 1:00 pm. I’d have to wait awhile. I asked the employee, “Where is everyone? You’d think they’d be lining up to meet Masta Ace!” He replied, “Yeah, we’ve been promoting it all week. We said ‘Masta Ace!’ So people will be here”. I walked out to get a bite to eat, and looked back over my shoulder to make sure they weren’t arriving as I was leaving. It was pretty quiet, so even if they showed up while I was gone, I would be able to get close again quickly.
At around 12:30, I walked back over to the store, and got a surprise text from Malcolm – “Parking now”. He was earlier than he thought he’d be – great! I looked through the plate glass window, and once again, saw that Ace and Marco weren’t there. I guessed that it’s a lot like a live show – sometimes the talent arrives a bit late (so you’ll buy more drinks or merch). I’m not a fan of waiting, but it’s part of the mission.
I was waiting for Malcolm outside the store; I wanted to greet him when he came around the corner, so we could go in together. About 10 minutes went by, and I was wondering what was taking him so long to walk in from the parking lot, when my phone vibrated. It was Malcolm – “Where are you?” I replied – “I’m standing right out front of the store.”
Malcolm – “They’re here. Where are you? I’m looking right at them.”
Me – “What?” – (sinking feeling)
Malcolm – “What mall are you at?”
Me- …(Um) “Springfield”…
Malcolm – “We’re at Tyson’s”
Me- “Where’s that!?” – (F**K!)
Even though I knew the answer, I went back into the store. I went straight up to a guy I assumed was the manager. Pointing to all of the posters announcing the Masta Ace and Marco Polo event, I inadvertently interrupted the moment he popped a whole mini cinnamon roll in his mouth. “Excuse me, is there another Records and Rarities?!” I knew the answer, but stood there watching him chew just enough to mumble out a crumb-spewing “Tyson’s”. I spun on my heels and started for the car. I left the dude chomping on his cinnamon roll, in a cloud of profanity-laced disappointment. Not my finest moment. I probably owe him an apology.
I had to get over to Tyson’s Corner mall, and I didn’t know how far, or how difficult it would be to get there. The 495 beltway around DC is notorious for its traffic and overall unpredictability.
Although in hindsight I made incredible time, the next 15 to 25 minute drive seemed like an eternity. I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t know if they would stick around long enough for me to make all of this running around worthwhile.
To break up my mad dash from Springfield to Tyson’s, I hit the Bluetooth phone option in my car – “Call Malcolm Riddle!” – The disembodied voice calmly replied “Calling Malcolm Riddle”. After a few rings, it went to voicemail. “FU*K!” I imagined Malcolm chilling with Ace, and the phone ringing silently in his pocket. “FU*K!” I waited a few minutes before trying again, but ultimately I got the same result.
Little did I know that those phone calls were, in fact, interrupting Malcolm getting his photo taken with Masta Ace and Marco Polo. Our good friend Saleem was holding the phone, and declining the call each time. While Saleem was focused on snapping a good flick, the phone would vibrate and the name “Grandmaster Katz” would fill the screen. Malcolm has called me this for awhile now, but Saleem thought he was declining calls from Hip-Hop legend Grandmaster Caz. He said, “Malcolm, Why is Caz calling you!?” I’m sure everyone was disappointed to know that it was just me calling to confirm my idiocy.
Mercifully, Malcolm called me back. He was quiet and calm, and explained “You’re good. They knew you were coming, so they’re gonna wait for you.” I was closing in on the mall, and not-so-quickly, found a parking spot. I sprinted through the garage, with my portfolio case and heavy backpack in tow. I wasn’t sure if the entrance I was using was even remotely close to the store. I guess I got lucky, as the store came into sight. I was huffing and puffing, and I’m sure I looked a bit disheveled. When I came through the door, I received a Bronx cheer, and heard a few people laugh and call out my name. In the middle of the small group, I saw Saleem. He was laughing at me, but offered a handshake and a hug. “I know, I know, I’m an idiot” – I said. Malcolm sidled up next to me, and was all ready for pix. I’m pretty sure he explained to everyone that I was on my way. He made it happen. I think he was prepared to make sure they wouldn’t leave before I arrived.
“Move as a team, never move alone” – Public Enemy (and now mADurgency’s motto)
Deep breath. OK, I got there. I pulled out the ‘Golden Era’ poster, and opened my portfolio to reveal the new colored-pencil piece. Marco came over and immediately started taking pictures of the work, and offered to snap a few of me with Ace. I was settling in quickly, and the duo was making me feel right at home. Surrounded by people who really look out for me, I felt incredibly fortunate, and began to relax.
Ace asked if I would step behind the table so we could get some picture of the two of us with the artwork. He could tell that I was excited to meet him, but he was soft-spoken and totally focused on the moment. He asked me questions about the media and the surface. I thanked him for his time and attention, and explained my attempts to get the work, not only signed, but tagged with lyrics. I produced a small card from my pocket. On it, I had written a short line from The Symphony – “There’s a sign at the door: No bitin’ allowed”. – To be sure, a classic lyric. I said, “If I’m really lucky, you’ll sign the artwork, but also add some lyrics. I brought this one with me.” He read the card, and said “Would you mind if I wrote a different one?” “Ha! No I don’t mind a bit! I’d love that! Thank you!”
You see, that’s the connection. It’s so much more authentic if the artist is thoughtful about the collaborative nature of the exchange. I was thrilled. I wanted to take a video of the signing, and by the time I had focused my camera, Ace was seated and contemplating what he would be adding to the piece.
He chose the opening bars from The Story of Me, a beautiful, personal, and introspective track.
It took me 15 years to understand my worth
It was 1988 when Marley planned my birth
Had to get my feet up out of the sand and surf
Never thought that my rap lines would span the earth
I continued to thank Ace, although I felt he understood, perhaps more than others, just how much this experience meant to me. We exchanged handshakes and promised to stay connected. Malcolm and I also began to explain the mADurgency endeavor. He signed Chuck’s book, Madina’s poster, and even helped us record a video shoutout for the mADurgency artists’ collective. It was time to leave this guy alone.
Malcolm, Myron, and I went to sit down just outside the storefront. I collapsed into my chair, as the adrenaline of the drive and the meeting was wearing off. We had a good conversation about the day, and began to strategize about other ‘missions’. We were there for an additional 45 minutes, when we looked up, and saw Ace walking out of the store. He waved to us, and we said our thanks again. We marveled at how this Hip-Hop legend could navigate the crowded mall with nary a raised eyebrow. He wordlessly walked out of sight, unbothered by the passersby.
Thanks for waiting for me, Masta Ace. You made it an incredible experience. – AK