*Credit to Starlight PR for the following press release*
There are a lot of stereotypes that come with being an African American boy growing up in New York, and Kenneth Medford has heard them all. So many times over the course of his career as a hip-hop artist, Ace of Spades – as he’s known throughout the world of rap – has been asked questions such as: “When were you in jail?” or “What was it like growing up in the hood?”
But none of those stereotypes apply to Medford. In his words, he was “lucky” – most specifically in the fact that he had a father who was very involved in his life and who became one of the most important people in his life. And it’s that relationship that Ace of Spades wants to honor with his most recent album, “III.” The title is a nod to the fact that Ace of Spades is actually Kenneth Everett Medford III, a name he shared with his beloved grandfather and father. And he’s proud of that heritage – so much so that he wants to share the depth of those relationships with his fans through this new album.
“He was my dude,” AOS said. “He was my soul. If no one else understood me on this planet, he did. He understood me. I never understood how important that outlet was until he was gone. It caused me to change my expectations of friendships and family – of things like loyalty and love. I was lucky to have a great relationship with my father. I got to sit around and play video games with my dad, and having those memories of the conversations we had – that’s what it’s all about right there.”
Sadly, Kenneth Everett Medford II passed away in 2009, which was less than a year after AOS’s grandfather – Kenneth Everett Medford – passed away. And as tragedies often come in threes, AOS not only found himself losing both his grandfather and father within a year’s time, but soon found himself losing the house that had been passed down to him from those two previous generations. And to make matters worse, the apartment he rented following that collapsed during a rainstorm! Sitting in his apartment one day, playing video games with friends while it rained outside, the roof suddenly collapsed on his head, causing neck and back injuries. The costs associated with repairs, among other things, eventually forced AOS out of New York altogether. He had to say goodbye to the place where so many memories had been made.
He needed an outlet for the storm of emotions that he was feeling. He needed a way to process the hurt and the mourning and the guilt and even the joyful memories. It wasn’t until he was invited to his uncle’s recording studio in Pennsylvania in late 2009 that he discovered that outlet through rap.
“It was the very first time he had ever invited me out to his studio, and it was right after my father had passed away,” AOS said. “He invited me out just to get away. When he showed me the studio, I told him I wrote a little bit of poetry and some raps because my friends back in New York had done some music. My friend Rook Nass – who is featured on one of the songs of my album – had been writing and performing and served as a big inspiration for me. So I spit for my uncle and he was like, ‘Yo, you can actually do this.’ He wanted to know if I was serious about it, and I told him it was the best I’d felt in a long time. He told me if I was serious, he’d help me put things in motion and try to make something happen. Within six months he was putting the LLC together for the record label and it was official. We’ve been going strong ever since.”
In the years since, Ace of Spades has been developing his fan base and working on the songs that would make up his album “III.” He’s performed live at a handful of venues, including some poetry slams in Fredricksburg, VA and Washington, D.C. He says the poetry slams help him find the rhythm and musicality that eventually go with his lyrics, and describes his style as somewhat of a storyteller.
“My lyrics and me as an individual lend themselves well to an acapella performance,” he said. “Whereas another person might need a beat or other things to make their songs work, I can do it without those things and it can often come across more powerful.”
AOS said as he looks back on it, he can see that a lifetime of music encouraged by his family put him on this career path long before he even realized what was happening. As a child, he said, it was perfectly natural for the home to be filled with music. In fact, many of his immediate family members were musicians. His father went to music and art high school in New York and sang opera at various times throughout his life. His mother was also an amazing vocalist and worked as a background singer for artists during the 1980s. His cousin is also a musician and at one point had a record deal under the name E.V. Mystique.
“Within my immediate family there was just a lot of music,” AOS said. “It was always something that was very important to me. When I hang around with people and I see a disconnect with their families, or if it’s quiet in their homes, it’s unusual to me because there’s no music. There was always music in my house.”
And so the new album “III” is the congruence of all those things – a musical family, a heritage of love, and experiences with tragedy that have elicited extreme emotions. That duality of heartache and joy, of longing and remembering, are apparent on all of the songs on AOS’s new album. From the opening lyrics of “Hello World” to the emotional conclusion found in the final song “It Isn’t Over,” AOS has found a way to connect with his fans on a deep level.
Some of the songs, he said, directly relate to the title of the album and the relationships he had with his father and grandfather. The singles “Doin’ Me,” “Nobody” and “Monopoly” are all very evident in their direct correlation to AOS’s life experiences, and they are clear representations of paying homage to his father. Others are merely inspired by those relationships. The singles “You Don’t Wanna Live This Life,” “We In Here” and “What Up” are more along the lines of taking concepts that were instilled in him by his father – ideas such as having respect for who you are and what you do, for being true to yourself and for putting your best foot forward.
And of course, the single “I Pray” was inspired by the immediate moments after AOS found out about the passing of his father.
“I’m not a religious person, but my father was,” AOS said. “He was a Christian and he lived his life in a way that was an example for others. So naturally when he passed there was a lot of talk about God. And that was one of the only times I’ve had discussion with God. I didn’t really say anything about it to anybody, but when I was with my uncle in his studio he came to me one day with a beat. It had a title written on it that said, ‘I Pray,’ and I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. As soon as I heard that beat, I knew this was the way to get this off my chest. I wrote that song in less than 24 hours.”
Within the diversity of the album, people will get to know who Kenneth Everett Medford III was, and who Ace of Spaces the artist is. They’ll learn how his upbringing and tragedy has helped him become the man and musician that he is today. The lessons from his father aren’t so forward that they dominate the lyrics, but they do serve as a common theme for the entire album.
“In every song, it’s in there,” AOS said. “Whether it was a conscious effort or not, it’s in there.”
Two singles from the album were released earlier this year, prior to the actual album release on May 31. “We In Here” and “Light It Up” have already received some air time on local radio stations, and the music videos for those singles have seen a number of hits on YouTube. AOS said those singles are “statement pieces” that help to establish the tone of the album.
“We were watching the direction that mainstream hip-hop was going in, and we wanted to release something that was kind of hard but had a conscious edge to it,” AOS said. “My uncle and I agreed that those two songs are the perfect statement pieces to start with.”
The album itself was released on May 31, which incidentally happened to be AOS’s 30th birthday. It was toward the end of that day, as he was driving back from North Carolina after spending the day with family, that he began to realize that the album was going to be a success. He and his girlfriend had just recorded a video to promote what would be coming soon on his YouTube channel, he had just finished a radio interview and as soon as they arrived home he had yet another radio interview.
“My birthday was poppin’!” he said. “That was when I knew it was happening. I’m doing this because I love it. I know hip-hop is an over-saturated market, but my music is unique. I’ve been a warehouse supervisor, an assistant manager, worked in retail – I’ve done a lot of things and they’re all cool in their own way, but this is the only thing that I truly enjoy. This is it. I cannot see myself doing anything else. If this doesn’t work, I literally have no idea what I’m going to do with my life.”
“I hope people hear my music and open themselves to the diversity that can take place in hip-hop music,” AOS said. “That’s something I bring to the table. I’m not just a street artist or a weed artist or a party artist. As an individual, I’m a little bit of everything. My father and I used to listen to all kinds of music together – from Japanese music to opera to symphonies to hip-hop and rock. We listened to everything together. I would hope that if he were to listen to a song on my album, like “What Up,” that he would recognize the research and hard work I put into it and be proud of me for representing the culture of hip-hop. Ultimately, that’s what I hope for this album – that it’s something my dad would have been proud of.”