Leading with that same simple swagger and calm sense of awareness and intelligence as rappers such as Homeboy Sandman, A.C.E introduces himself as a clearly capable and compelling new artist, with a classic musicality yet a conceptually fresh approach to writing. A Born Songsmith proves to be an appropriate name for this consistently impressive new project.
Retribution opens up the album and kicks in with a strong groove, simple and uplifting – alongside of which A.C.E’s smooth and rhythmically entrancing vocal offers a string of captivating, clever lyrical observations and thoughts on life. Very much present afterwards takes on a subtle jazz vibe, piano and hints of a horn in the distance back up that now familiar, quietly confident leading voice and a fresh story-line.
Self-Proclaimed switches the tone further and leads with a level of angst and slight volume. Personal reflections meet with widely accessible ideas about the world and the role of the self. A.C.E barely pauses to breathe throughout this piece, the mood is calm still but there’s an element of determination and drive that hits hard.
A Born Songsmith is something of a timeless collection to get lost within. Musical simplicity walks hand in hand with complex thought and long-form bars that provoke a deeper level of thinking within the listener. You can let this play in the backdrop to your day, and it works in calming the mood, but on the other hand – you can easily sit and listen intently to every line, every verse and every story, and let the project be the true depths of escapism we so often seek out in music.
Form Of Expression furthers that feeling of sinking into the moment and trusting in the songwriter to provide clever and quirky bars and intuitive, beautifully poetic references. Smacked with roses then turns back towards the literal story-telling, seeing the artist come outside of himself for a while and display a more detailed series of events. There’s an upbeat and soulful aura to this one, the performance varies and portrays a little more laid-back fun and simplicity.
Further into the album, Half Hearted is a definite stand-out and a personal favourite. The layout of the lines, the brief pauses, the rhythm, the ideas and the realism, the piano-led lightness of the backdrop – everything here just works beautifully in lifting the mood and offering a level of inspiration that hits with impact if you let it. The track also offers one of the most addictive and memorable hooks of the whole album. An absolute highlight and quite possibly one of the best hip hop tracks to emerge so far this year.
From Aftermath through 11:11 the story-telling pours through as smartly and hypnotically as ever, the tracks feel over and done with just as you’re getting into them, but that’s part of the blessing of this album – each song leads well into the next, and the overall mood is kept within a certain emotional range so that it feels like a consistent, almost cinematic experience. You learn plenty about the artist in these moments, but you’re also likely to learn a little about yourself, too. A rare and worthy trait that makes this an easy yes for the long-term playlist.
At the penultimate moment, Until Then appears as a heartfelt and passionate track, one with true struggle and pain at its core. Captivating lyrics hold tight to your attention, and ultimately there’s an energizing level of possibility and strength to the journey. Another highlight, a short but stunning piece of music and writing. B+ then injects a welcomed dash of brightness and positivity to bring the album to a colourful and quickly uplifting finish.
A single listen to this playlist is nowhere near enough to really appreciate every lyric and every idea A.C.E has skillfully incorporated. A Born Songsmith is a fantastic project – brilliant lyricism and a wonderfully humble presentation style; a real breath of fresh air amidst today’s hip hop landscape.
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