If TV One’s “Unsung” was adapted for hip-hop, Aceyalone and the Freestyle Fellowship would deserve to be the first artists to feature. Mainstream recognition never came to Acey and his cohorts – and not that they ever attempted to compromise their music. Still, his influence and the respect he commands from the L.A. underground hip-hop faithful is immense. Emerging from the Good Life Café/Project Blowed in south central Los Angeles’ cultural hub Leimert Park in the late 80s-early 90s, Aceyalone and his partners-in-rhyme in the Freestyle Fellowship – Myka Nyne, P.E.A.C.E and Self-Jupiter – were the West Coast’s answer to A Tribe Called Quest and the Native Tongues, carrying on L.A.’s Central Avenue jazz tradition into hip-hop, the opposite of the gangsta rap sub-genre cultivated by N.W.A. at the time.
More than two decades since the release of Freestyle Fellowship’s debut album, Aceyalone releases his ninth album on Decon Records, Leanin’ On Slick. It’s an album for grown-up hip-hop heads and aging b-boys and b-girls, especially those with true affinity for jazz, funk and R&B—a fact made even more abundantly with album opener “30 And Up.”
The jazz and funk-inspired soundscapes on the 13-track Leanin’ On Slick are instant mood-boosters. Acey tackles mundane and relatable topics but with his voice being an instrument by itself, the tracks come alive. The album’s most intriguing collaboration, “Working Man’s Blues,” features a radio-ready chorus from Cee Lo Green, as Acey addresses what we all have to do day-in and day-out to make ends meet. The uplifting “Things Get Better,” featuring singer Daniel Merriweather, sounds like a song from Janelle Monae’s catalogue. It’s an homage to the swing era.
Musically speaking, Leanin’ On Slick is a superb album, the result of a strong chemistry between producer Bionik and Aceyalone. The simplicity and elegance of Acey’s rhymes are a double-edged sword, however, welcome for listeners familiar with his and Freestyle Fellowship music’s while coming across as too wholesome for others. For today’s swag-centered culture, Acey’s music offers a nice reprieve and in some ways, even a history lesson. However, its positivity and mundane topics make it the equivalent of a PG-13 rated art film.