In the early ’90s, L.A.’s underground hip-hop scene revolved around a little health food café in South Central called the Good Life where a weekly Thursday night open mic exploded. Groups like Jurassic 5, the Pharcyde and Freestyle Fellowship scored major label deals from executives coming down to check out the talent.
When that stopped, Aceyalone, one of the emcees in Freestyle Fellowship, co-founded Project Blowed with the purpose of carrying on the competitive, hip-hop open mic at a new location. He and Abstract Rude took the next generation of underground L.A. rappers and continued to carve out innovative West Coast hip-hop sounds. He was influential not only in leading this movement, but also with his fluid and mind-bending flow, his incorporation of double-time rap and his constant tinkering with styles and genres.
“At Project Blowed, the boundaries weren’t up,” Aceyalone says. “We had that competitive edge that we all used to take things to higher heights. That’s nothing new in musicianship … That’s what inspired us—the desire to hear new things.”
Over time Project Blowed became less of an open mic and more of a collective as well as a record label, with several cutting-edge underground L.A. rappers joining the ranks, including Busdriver, Dumbfounded and Awol One.
Project Blowed’s discography is like a journey through L.A.’s underground hip-hop scene over the last 20 years, and Aceyalone continues to be the major figurehead of the collective and CEO of the label.
“I’m extremely active in the branding of what we’re doing. It’s our union basically. It’s still something I represent,” he says.
During the formation of Project Blowed, Aceyalone’s group, the Freestyle Fellowship, went on a hiatus. He was able to score a record deal with Capitol for a solo album, 1995’s All Balls Don’t Bounce. The album didn’t sell as well as anticipated, and he was dropped, but it remains a classic example of ’90s West Coast hip-hop. It’s remarkably complex, with meticulously produced bouncy beats over which Aceyalone spits poetic (and rhythmically atypical) verses.
After his one major label album, Aceyalone sailed on as an independent artist. Rather than attempt to re-create All Balls Don’t Bounce, he continues to explore the soundscape, sometimes with left-field ideas like 2009’s Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones, a Phil Spector-inspired doo-wop hip-hop record, or 2013’s Leanin’ on Slick, which marries laid-back ’60s R&B jams and old-school late ’70s hip-hop.
“I’m trying to really have a rounded-out catalog,” he says. “I’m trying to say in a whole career statement that, ‘no you can’t put me in a box.’ I’m not backpack rap. I’m not conscious rap. I hate that shit. I’ll rap about eye surgery just as quick as I’ll rap about a party. You can see my growth and you can see my experimentation.”
If anything, Aceyalone’s urge to further push boundaries has only grown. He has a couple new projects on the horizon that continue into new territory. One is a live jazz/funk band called the Slippers, who have an album Get Your Ass to Mars scheduled for release, and he has another solo record in the works that he describes as “digital EDM stuff with hip-hop elements.”
“Hip-hop, it’s like a spice that goes with a lot of different food,” Aceyalone says. “You see it in a lot of modern-day pop music. There are so many places it can go.”
Though many rap fans can now appreciate what he’s done in the early part of his career, Aceyalone also confounds them by continually going off in new, sometimes odd, directions. Some, however, appreciate him in the face of other predictable artists whose work can seem stagnant.
“I lose fans because a lot of people say, ‘It’s not All Balls Don’t Bounce,’” he says. “I also gain people that say, ‘I like Aceyalone & the Lonely Ones.’ I just keep flowing. There’s people that have been loyal with me the whole journey. Those are the people I really want, people who see the artist and grow with the artist. That’s why I do whatever I want.
“For me to stop, the world has to unanimously pull the plug on me, and I’d be happy to walk away,” he says.
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