More Reasons Why Being Deaf Sucks/Rocks – Resolution: Week 4

The album this week is Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts. In many ways this album really showcases how great hip-hop could be. It’s a concept album about a guy who gets out of jail and tries to go to school and get his life back together. It’s really a remarkable album.

Looking back I see why I overlooked this album. At the time when it came out, 2001, I wasn’t really into “albums”—just dope songs. So if an album had a bunch of dope songs I was cool, but listening to an entire album and digesting everything wasn’t really my thing, and this is an album that needs to be digested.

It’s really hard to find a standout track, because it really is an album that has a story. Few tracks are really that strong outside of the narrative of the album, but “Acknowledge” does stand out, because it’s not really part of the story; it’s just Ace venting. But it also stands out as a particularly ruthless dis record. Ace really rips his targets up. In this day it’s kind of refreshing because he’s attacking them lyrically and not really talking about “murdering” or “killing”—his targets literally get sonned.

Other highlights of the album include every time Punch and Words appear and Jean Grae’s spotlight on “Hold U.” Beatwise everything is at least solid with a few beats really catching the ear (“Dear Diary” and “Take a Walk” utilize great vocal samples). “Alphabet Soup” is such a conceptual masterpiece, it begs to be kept on repeat.

Even the skits are worth listening to. As much as I dig MC Paul Barman, he’s much more tolerable in small, skit-size doses.

If there’s one downside to the album, it’s that the influence of Slim Shady is way too prevalent. The flow that Em popularized can be heard throughout the album, and from this vantage point, years later, it’s glaring. Ace even bites one of Em’s lines to start off “Don’t Undersand”. Yeah, it’s a minor flaw, but given that no one uses that flow anymore it’s über-apparent.

Listening to this album kind of makes me sad because it raises so many questions. Why isn’t Jean Grae a huge star? Why aren’t Punchline and/or Wordsworth household names? Will this album forever be the lithmus test for hip-hop fans; those who dig it know their stuff and those who don’t are white suburban kids? And what other MCs, like Masta Ace—whose heyday is thought to be behind them—have classics like this that they’d like to release?