[20 April 2009]
After Aceyalone’s disappointing take on reggae-blended hip-hop on 2007’s Lightning Strikes, it would be a lie to say fans and critics weren’t watching over Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones with skeptic eyes. And, frankly, that’s the unfortunate truth. Aceyalone, though certainly a revolutionary emcee in his own right, has released his fair share of inconsistent and disappointing albums. His record with RJD2 wasn’t terribly thrilling and, again, Lightning Strikes was just littered with duds. Perhaps it was simply a matter of Ace spreading himself too thin. As a Freestyle Fellowship alum, co-founder of Project Blowed, and member of several groups, the rapper likely never sleeps. And anyone who has heard A Human Book of Language or All Balls Don’t Bounce knows this word- and syllable-bending emcee has plenty of birth-given talent. And, through the use of doo-wop stylings and a live band, Ace shows flashes of brilliance across this fresh and undeniably fun collection of hip-hop drenched in ‘50s pop on Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones.
The prolific rapper and his gang of Lonely Ones have recreated a sound on here that is likely overlooked by many of his younger fans. How much do you want to bet their first doo-wop experience was when they saw Back to the Future? Lorraine and George’s pivotal scene at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance would not have been so moving without “Earth Angel”. Favorite movies aside, Ace’s take on the fun-loving, upbeat genre is done with both style and grace while not losing what makes him so unique. The oohs and ahhs, the finger-snaps, the cooing, it’s all here. But the emcee gets to shine just as much as his backing band and singers. Though he spends plenty of time bouncing across the tracks with a singsong delivery, there are also opportunities for him to bring straight-up fiery flow primed to melt the paint off your walls.
On The Lonely Ones, Ace spreads his lyrical wings across a wide variety of topics and musical backdrops that only falter when treading similar ground. For example, one of the weaker links, “Step Up”, is far too close to “The Lonely Ones”, a stronger and altogether better take on admiring the opposite sex. But for most of the 11 tracks, he and the production remain on-point. And the band makes its point known right from the get-go on the lovely title track, a retro jam that has Ace flexing his rapping muscles about the apple of his eye. The pace rarely slows, too. Even the lyrically and sonically solemn joints, like the beautifully-crafted and nostalgic “The Way It Was”, have a steady pulse. Their uptempo brethren steal the show, though, even if that particular song is one of the album’s finest. They excel with not-so-original content, too, like “To The Top (Remix)” and “Working Man’s Blues”, the latter of which seems suited for a Gnarls Barkley record. “To The Top” isn’t topically dull in its family-centric sentiments, but Ace hardly provides anything worth quoting. The same can be said for “Working Man’s Blues”, an idea that’s been done to death and back by every underground emcee on the planet. But the Cee-Lo-esque hook, horn stabs, grooving bass, and handclaps drive it over the top.
The group tackles more serious topics with equal success as well. “Power to the People” is a stellar Civil Rights-era anthem with gigantic percussion and an effective, simple hook. Ace’s socially aware lyrics are a nice change of pace from the more easily-swallowed thoughts on here. But, for the most part, this album is more of a chance for Ace to let his hair down, mellow out, and rhyme. That rings especially true on “On The 1”, which feels like record by the Roots. And it’s not just based on the live band behind him, though it certainly helps one draw that comparison. Ace’s flow is very reminiscent of Black Thought, or better yet Kool G Rap, over the horns and blistering drums heard on “On the 1”, one of The Lonely Ones’ best.
A few missteps aside, this record remains a refreshing and creative take on an experiment that could have easily failed. Some might find the doo-wop inflections corny or cheesy, but they also probably just don’t know how to have fun. Get on your dancing shoes, turn the speakers up, and get ready to sweat, because it’s hard to sit still when Ace and the Lonely Ones find their groove.