In my Style Master Generals 4 parter that I posted last month I included a cat that got me more than a few e-mails for his inclusion in my list. The fact remains that while there have been bilingual emcees through the entire history of Hip Hop in English and Spanish, the overwhelming majority of the were either nice in English and okay in Spanish or nice in Spanish and just mediocre when they rhymed in English. Mellow Man Ace was the first to be nice in both. Not only that, but he was versatile, he could spit a battle rhyme, a party rhyme, construct a song complete with a hook, he could ghostwrite and he was a ladies man...kinda like the Latino LL Cool J making joints for the ladies. This lead to him getting a single deal on Delicious Vinyl that blew up on the Left Coast. Then Capitol Records approached him with a contract shortly thereafter. In 1989, Mellow Man Ace released his solo LP “Escape From Havana”.
At the time, Hip Hop had just really broken through the glass ceiling. No one was taking it for a here today gone tomorrow fad like they did in the past. It had been around in record form for 10 years now and it was making major headway into popular culture. Mellow Man Ace’s album was recorded in both English and Spanish and features early production by the Dust Brothers (‘Hip Hop Creature”) that also became famous for crafting tracks for his new labelmates The Beastie Boys. Mario C. also engineered two songs, “Hip Hop Creature” and “Mas Pingon”, a song regarded as the first great all Spanish Hip Hop joint (and the B side to his 1st single "Rhyme Fighter (above)). Five of the twelve tracks were produced by West Coast legend Tony G (remember KDAY?) and Grandmixer Muggs fresh off of his stint with 7A3 produced the funky “River Cubano”. Def Jef hopped behind the boards and provided the track “En La Casa” for his boy’s album and Mellow even co-produced one track with Tony G. called “Talkapella”.
The bigger part of this story is that this album would indirectly jump off a wave of successes from Latino and Chicano emcees such as Kid Frost ("La Raza" single below), ALT, Powerule and later on down the road his younger brother and childhood best friends careers as Cypress Hill. His circle of friends also included cats like Tony G, Sioux Chief (later known as Cheif T and then as Tomahawk Funk), J Sun (later known as Son Doobie), Raph M The Mexican, members of Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate (especially Everlast), Grandmixer Muggs (later known as DJ Muggs), his younger brother Sen Stiff (later known as Sen Dog) and his childhood best friend B-Real. These cats would later become the core of a legendary crew known as the Soul Assassins (Cypress Hill, House Of Pain & Funkdoobiest). The beginnings of this crew were all by products of the success of this album.
His first single was the Tony G produced “Rhyme Fighter”. This song is notable not because it managed to get some radio airplay or because it had a low budget video that aired on BET’s Rap City from time to time but because he flat out dissed Eazy E in it. People couldn’t understand why this no name cat would diss the star of N.W.A. If they wanted answers all they had to do was look in his album liner notes. Right there in black and white it says: Management: Morey Alexander & Jerry Heller....does that name sound familiar to any of you Hip Hop fans out there? Jerry Heller pretty much managed or co-managed ALL of the top rappers on the West Coast during the 80’s and early 90’s because he was the top agent in town...However, Jerry Heller and Eazy E were both in bed together with Ruthless Records. Heller didn’t manage Mellow Man Ace for much longer, though.
Mellow Man Ace’s songs “Mas Pingon” and “Hip Hop Creature” were getting spins on the radio but it wasn’t until he release of the single and video for “Mentirosa” that his album really got hot. “Mentirosa” was a half English half Spanish song that became a huge hit. The video played simultaneously on Yo! MTV Raps, MTV Latino (back when Daisy Fuentes was the host) and BET’s Rap City. In the Summer of 1990, the single was certified Gold by the RIAA (only the 10th Hip Hop single to do so at the time) and he was invited to perform it on the Arsenio Hall Show in front of a live TV audience. After that, he became a star and Mellow Man Ace was acknowledged as the “Godfather Of Latin Hip Hop”.
This didn’t really sit well with his homie Kid Frost, who was the pioneer of Chicano Rap and was recording 12”s on Electro Beat with West Coast legends Ice T and King T back in the early 80’s. While they did collaborate on the 1991 LP “Latin Alliance” (above) their relationship was strained (Tony G was in the middle since he was the main producer for the both of them). Right around the time Mellow would drop his 2nd and last major label LP “The Brother With Two Tounges” they’d have a falling out that forced Mellow Man Ace to record the diss song “Silly Rabbit” in retalliation to some of Frost actions supposedly out of jealousy that audiences preferred Mellow to Frost.
This album does have it’s forays into the cornfield like “B-Boy In Love”, “Enquentren Amor” (I’m almost sure it’s supposed to be a “c”) and “If You Were Mine”, but his album blew up in Latin America so I guess he knew what he was doing, huh? Check this album out..it’s the very same CD my big sister bought back in 1989 when his album first dropped, too.
Mellow Man Ace-Escape From Havana (1989)