At times, Ace Hood’s career seemed like a punchline. Back in 2009, his most memorable moment was arguably #uknowuAceHoodwhen—a Twitter hashtag which everyone and their mother used to make fun of his shortcomings as a rapper. As mean-spirited as it was, there was no denying that he had shortcomings. His first two albums, 2008’s Gutta and 2009’s Ruthless, didn’t spawn any major hits and didn’t sell particularly well.
What fans who were quick to crack wise didn’t know was that after his second album, the 23-year-old rapper was struggling financially, professionally, and personally. But as a firm believer in positive thinking, he didn’t let it get him down. He cut himself off from the world and hit the studio. After about a year, he came back with “Hustle Hard”—the biggest song of his career and one of the best songs of this year so far.
With what he promises will be his most personal album to date, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, dropping on August 9, we got on the horn with Ace and had him tell the story of how he made it back and how he’s living proof that closed mouths don't get fed on this boulevard.
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
The low point
"The low point of my career was after my second album dropped. My second project wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. Nothing went wrong [with my situation]. But it was a little rushed and it just kinda happened.
"I was going through a lot of personal issues and financial issues. I was feeling fine, but being in that star light, people don’t like to admit to the struggle. It was definitely a huge struggle for me at that time. It was a struggle not having a record out, not being played on radio, and not doing as many shows as I’d like to.
"My family going through things, dealing with eviction notices. I got an eviction notice at my condo. My girl called me and she was upset telling me what happened. I was trying to work it out with the landlord to get an extension and pay everything off.
"We ended up moving out to a townhouse and stayed there for a while. After I stayed there for a while, we ended up moving to an even bigger condo after "Hustle Hard." I found a way. I don’t make excuses. But these were things I was actually introduced to at a young time in my career.
"I didn’t [feel like I failed], but I felt upset. It was something new for me. I was nervous. I felt like things were maybe going in a downhill aspect. But I never like to claim any failure or any type of downfall. I always practice positive thinking because you don’t want to think negative and speak it into existence."On top of that, my mom was in and out of the hospital because she had a blood clot. Thank God she’s through it now. And I lost a great friend of mine who I grew up with. It was an emotional rollercoaster for me. I was going through a lot, It got extremely tough for me. All that aside, I had to stay focused and try to put my best foot forward and say, 'I have to put my pain and what I’m going through into this music.'I got an eviction notice at my condo. My girl called me and she was upset telling me what happened. I was trying to work it out with the landlord to get an extension and pay everything off.
"It was the breaking point for me because I really had to figure out all that stuff like, 'Is this really what I’m going to do? Is this really what’s going to carry me to the next level?' I’ve got a family to feed. I’m the youngest boy in the family, but I’m definitely the breadwinner. And my team is also counting on me too.
"It’s do or die. Like, 'Okay, Ace, you done put out two albums. They did okay. But what’s it going to be this third time around? And if it’s not anything that’s bigger than big, this could be the last album you put out.' I always kept that in the back of my mind."
Taking time away
“I took off time so I could find my sound and my niche. I didn’t want to come back with a third project unless it was nothing less than huge. I took time off, stayed in the lab, and recorded. I didn’t travel anywhere, wasn’t going to any clubs, or anything like that. All I wanted to do was record and get my sound right.
“That was totally me [putting myself in the studio]. The label wasn’t calling me or nothing. I would just wake up every day and be like, ‘I need to do this for myself, I have to find that sound.’ I knew what my circumstances was. I felt like, ‘I’ve gotta get my shit together.’
“I’m not saying I was doing anything wrong but it’s a business and if you’re not producing the right amount numbers...I knew that things for me at that point were on the edge. It wasn’t no secret about that. A lot of people may have counted me out.
DJ Khaled's Role In His Comeback
“Khaled is not only a CEO, we’re brothers. Khaled’s always been there to mentor me. When I was like 17 years old I jumped into this music business so I had to go get all this artist development. Khaled’s been there every step of the way giving me nothing, but the best advice.
“He understood that it was tough times. He was just like, ‘You’ve got to go out there and find that record.’ Any CEO would be like that. The label definitely always believes in me, but Khaled has always been that extra force, always letting them know that, ‘Ace is going to be the future.’
“[But through that period] Khaled would tell me, ‘Yo Ace, this is that time.’ Khaled, being my CEO, he cannot carry me throughout my career. There is always a point in time where you have to be your own artist.[I’m thankful for] Khaled’s help but he always helped me pick beats and find producers. But [being alone] gave me the time to actually mold myself into the artist that I truly want to be.
“Khaled’s always believed and he’s continued to always be there for me. But Khaled was always on the road doing his thing. I was always at home just trying to think about the next best move and what’s really going to get the fans behind me and to really understand my story.
“Every single day, I was solely on my own. I was in the studio working my ass off. I was like, ‘One way or another, I’ve gotta make this shit shake because this is what I feel like I’m destined to do.’
“I would do shows here and there, but I was literally in beast mode. That’s why people nowadays say, ‘Yo Ace, I can hear the aggression in your voice.’ You can hear the hunger and what I’ve been through. I was in that booth damn near growing a beard. I revolted back to my old roots, went back to the beginning of Ace Hood. I treated myself as a new artist. I was like, ‘I have to recreate myself.’
“It made me a bigger man because I jumped in the game premature. [I’m thankful for] Khaled’s help but he always helped me pick beats and find producers. But [being alone] gave me the time to actually mold myself into the artist that I truly want to be.
“I woke up every day and called DJs and reached out to producers to send instrumentals. I would be in the studio writing music over and over again. I had to find that sound for me to reinvent myself.”
The turning point
“The turning point for me was when I started putting out mixtapes. I put out like maybe six mixtapes within like five or six months. My mixtapes started growing on people. The turning point for me was when I put out my official mixtape, The Statement—that’s the one that had ‘Hustle Hard’ on it.
“I shot a video that I did a freestyle to and people responded so well that I dropped the mixtape right after that. As soon as I dropped the mixtape, that had to be the turning point in which I was like, ‘This could be my reinvention of myself. This could be my time to come back into the game.’"
The making of “Hustle Hard”
“‘Hustle Hard’ is definitely the biggest record of my career. It felt good to see that on the charts. It was produced by Lex Luger. I reached out to him, he sent me the beat and I sat on it for three months. I had all the verses, but I didn’t have a hook.
“The hook was truly my circumstances. Anybody who knows me, knows I’m a family-oriented guy. I always speak about my mother because she’s definitely part of my motivation and I always had dreams of putting her in a house. And at that time, my girl was pregnant with twins. So I decided to incorporate my life into that hook. It came out phenomenal. I put it on the mixtape and it ended up being a fucking smash.
“If I didn’t come back and make a statement with a record such as ‘Hustle Hard,’ there maybe wouldn’t have been an album. Even when I came back there wasn’t even talk of an album. At the beginning, I just wanted to do a single deal. That’s what I was doing, just really trying to get a single to pop. But ‘Hustle Hard’ ended up being so big that the label was like, ‘You know what, we decided to do an album.’
“But it’s all about how you market everything and timing nowadays. I had the records before, but maybe the timing wasn’t perfect at that time. But for me to have my market sense like I do now, I’m kind of showing the people that Khaled was right.
“Dropping the record after being gone for like a year and then coming back into the game with my first Top 10 record was the highpoint of my career. That and being able to be back on the scene and get the respect that I truly feel I deserve for this music."[After ‘Hustle Hard’] a lot of people know that Ace Hood is on his own now. He created this record on his own. And look at the hunger and the starvation—that’s what ‘Hustle Hard’ is explaining.I never read any comments. I never listened to the outside criticisms. I always knew what I was capable of as an artist. I knew that regardless of maybe not being the hottest at that point in time, I knew that I was a force to be reckoned with.
“The music that I’ve been dropping lately has to do with me opening up people’s eyes. When I was coming into the game, a lot of people wondered what my story was, where did I come from? And it took people by storm because it’s hard to respect the situation where you don’t know the roots.
“I didn’t really expect to jump out in the game at the beginning and have everybody love me because I didn’t have the hugest streak going like other rappers. But now there’s more groundwork, so people respect it because they see that, ‘Okay, he dropped two previous albums, he’s been gone, and he came back with this record ‘Hustle Hard.’’ So people have definitely got their eyes on me.”
The making of “Hustle Hard (Remix)”
“For the remix, I went to his Rick Ross’ crib and I was just talking about the record. He hadn't previously heard it so I told about the record and that I wanted him to be a part of it. Ross has always supported me throughout my whole entire career, which is dope.
“I ended up seeing Wayne when he had recently got out of jail. Wayne would always be at club Liv and he would always be rapping the record for me. He would be in different cities, requesting the record. He told me one day, ‘Yo, I would really like to be a part of that record.’ And you know I’ve always been a big Wayne fan. So I felt like that was definitely an honor for me to work with him.
“I ended up sending it to him and he sent me back the record like three days later. Ross’ version leaked and that’s the only reason the remix came so soon. I was like, ‘Since Ross’ version leaked, I might as well leak the whole entire remix.’ So I ended up putting a whole new verse on it, attaching Wayne’s verse, got it mixed, and then we put it out.”
The future for Ace Hood
“My main thing is knowing where I want to be in life. Knowing there are people that are counting on me. I used to wake up every single day and just be like, ‘I can’t let the people around me down.’ Not only that, but also wanting to be back on the music scene. Every artist wants to be on top and have that record. That was mainly [my motivation]. I had little girls on the way so that was extra motivation.
“I never read any comments. I never listened to the outside criticisms. I always knew what I was capable of as an artist. I knew that regardless of maybe not being the hottest at that point in time, I knew that I was a force to be reckoned with. I kept that mentality and continued to stay humble. I let my music and my grind speak.
“It’s been a long road and it’s only going to get longer. Everything that I’ve been through, I don’t regret it. I love that I was able to drop two albums. I definitely feel good about my career, I had my ups and downs. I definitely have my share of bad criticism throughout it. That’s sort of like a gift and a curse, but I made it fuel.
“I’m a firm believer in God. That’s how I live my life. I believe without him nothing is possible. If I keep positive thoughts and keep moving, there’s no way I can lose. You have to always think of what’s a fact. If you’re hot you’re hot, if you’re not you’re not. That’s just really what it is.”