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Love And Hate
Red Urban

The West Coast is fading. With the exception of Dr. Dre's ominous radio presence and Snoop's new TV show, there isn't much to talk about from the left side of the map. Hieroglyphics are nowhere to be found. The Pharcyde killed the dream. Ice Cube is flossing in Hollywood. Del tha Funky Homosapien is probably wandering around a 7-11 as I write this. But, there's always Aceyalone. Ahh, Ace One. Like your Uncle Herman at those family gatherings, Aceyalone is always around, looking to tell you a funny, sometimes touching story.

Aceyalone, a charter member of the now-legendary Los Angeles hip-hop collective Freestyle Fellowship, is an MC with robust mic skills, an engaging voice and just the right amount of cockiness. His 1995 debut, the now out-of-print All Balls Don't Bounce, was an energetic shot in Cali's arm (hit up eBay for this near-classic, certainly important album). Opposing the gangsta ethos that had all but overrun mainstream hip-hop, Acey was unafraid to let his love drip on wax ("Makeba") without ignoring the narratives that ruled his crew's best albums ("Innercity Griots," "To Whom It May Concern").

Love and Hate, Acey's fifth official release, is a bit lighter on the storytelling. His previous records were so verbose and wrought with exciting language that the sonic backdrops didn't always match his intensity. Love and Hate flips that script. It's nice to see him seek stronger production; beatmeisters like RJD2 and Joey Chavez provide supple soundscapes for the Ace Man to rock over. But ol' reliable Acey kinda forgot what makes him one of the essential MCs of the last decade: ridiculous wordplay.

As on recent albums from fellow wordsmiths Common and MF Doom, Aceyalone takes fewer chances, lyrically, than on past albums. For the most part, it doesn't pay off. RJD2 supplies a bubbly blend of keyboards and guitar on "Lost Your Mind," further solidifying him as the most exciting hip-hop producer working today, but it sounds like Acey's talking down to his audience. He's got a familiar sarcastic tone, but lets weak metaphors cripple this otherwise hot jam. On the song's first verse he opines "Open up the candy store and give 'em a taste/ My name's Ace, homey you about to get laced/ Man!"

The title track, an abstract boomerang of a beat with a simmering sample from a blaxploitation flick, is downright feverish. But again, a somewhat oversimplified concept ("Love" is completely different from "Hate," yet somehow they're linked! That's crazy talk Ace!) bogs the song down. At this point it's clear this is Acey's biggest (albeit surely unsuccessful) bid to sell records. He hasn't sold out or anything, it's just a minor dumbing-down.

On "In Stereo" Acey offers this piece of hip-hop Kryptonite: "I can leap over a building with the greatest of ease/ Get up and rock the party like you wouldn't believe/ Get everybody goin' they'll be gone with the wind/ Go all around the world come back and do it again." This is not the worst 16 bars in Acey's career. It's not even the worst 16 bars of Love and Hate. It's just average. Anybody who knows Aceyalone should not settle for average.

Recent indie-hop whore El-P pops up on "City of Shit" to contribute a typical garage-door-opening beat, and actually comes correct on his verses. Widely praised as a "genius," El-P somewhat lives up to that billing here. His energy appears to have kick-started Aceyalone's engine, causing him to revert back to old form. Unfortunately, any momentum he's built up this late in the album is squashed with "Lights Out," a truly awful collaboration with Priest and Sayyid of the now-defunct Anti-Pop Consortium.

So, finally an Aceyalone album sounds hot through and through, and Uncle Ace appears to have smashed his cornerstone. Too bad. If only he'd rework 2001's sometimes brilliant Accepted Eclectic (a step in the right direction, musically) with some of these Love and Hate bangers, he'd be set to release the album he's been searching for ever since his disastrously boring concept album, "A Book of Human Language." If he can't do that, he might be stuck at his brother's house on Easter trying to tell his nephews about that time he almost dropped a classic.

by Sean Fennessey

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