Masta Ace: Living with Multiple Sclerosis

The legendary Brooklyn MC opens up about his diagnosis and forthcoming new album

Masta Ace
Masta Ace
Mar 1, 2016 · 6 min read

By Masta Ace | with Matteo Urella

When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I actually didn’t tell anybody other than my wife and one or two really, really close friends. I didn’t tell any of my other friends. I held onto that up until the time that I made the announcement in 2013. I held onto that information for roughly fifteen years.

The reason that I did that is because I didn’t want anybody to treat me any differently based on the diagnosis. I wanted to know that any love I was getting, any lookouts that I was getting, was purely based on my own merits and not based on somebody feeling sorry for me or feeling bad that I had this disease.

So it was something that I kind of just pushed into the background, and I went on about my business as an artist, as a person. I wanted people to just deal with me on a regular, normal level. And that’s pretty much what happened.

After being diagnosed, my wife was very nonchalant about it — and that’s how she is with stuff. What I mean by that is she was very quick to be like, “That ain’t no big deal. That ain’t stopping nothing. Just keep doing what you doing.

I asked her opinion on if I should share it with the world or not — she was like, “When you feel like it’s time, that’s when you do it. If you don’t feel like it’s time right now, then you wait.” She just supported me in those kinds of decisions and just definitely always kept an upbeat attitude about it like it’s not the end of the world.

That’s just how she is, though. You could have something worse than that and she’d be like, “Whatever. We good. We gonna get it through it.

When I did share it with my friends, it was accidental. I was on tour with Stricklin and Marco Polo in Europe, we got pulled over in the Czech Republic. They basically searched the entire car and pulled everything out of every suitcase and they pulled my medicine out.

After everything was over, the question kind of was brought up like, “What was that stuff?” It definitely wasn’t on the terms that I wanted to tell them, but I told Strick, Marco Polo and the tour manager. I asked them to keep it under wraps, and they respected my wishes.

I made dramatic changes over the last ten years in the food that I ate, the amount of exercise that I was getting. I used to think that me being on stage — that was enough cardio; that was enough working out because I would give it my all.

But to be honest, that’s not a lot of days in the 365-day calendar year. It’s not like I’m on stage 300 days out of the year, so I have to do more and I started to realize that. I knew that if I was able to get myself to an optimum fitness level where I had endurance, it was going to make the live shows even better. And it definitely has.

It’s actually made the shows better: it’s given me more endurance on stage, allowed me to perform longer with the same amount of energy or more energy. I made dramatic changes in my diet that have helped me to get where I’m at right now.

In 2002, a couple years after the diagnosis, I started coaching football. Part of it was the diagnosis just kind of making me feel like anything that I’ve ever thought about doing and wanting to do, I should do it. And I always wanted to give back to young people — I wanted to get into coaching in some way — and it kind of pushed me in that direction.

I’m glad that I did that. I coached for eleven years—nine years in Brooklyn, two years in Jersey. I stopped coaching a few years ago, about three years ago. But I wouldn’t take back any of those years. The young men that I was able to influence, able to mentor, able to coach and have a great time on the football field with — those memories are forever.

Right now we’re mixing my new album, The Falling Season. All of my verses are recorded, and all the tracks are recorded. We’re at that point in that stage where we’re just fine-tuning the songs, adding little bits and pieces here and there musically and vocally with other people; bringing other people in. The record is almost done.

It’s an album that takes you back to my high school years. I go back to the first day that I walked into my high school in Brooklyn, New York — Sheepshead Bay High School — as a freshman. And the album ends with me at graduation. I take you all the way through what was going on in my life, in the neighborhood, stuff around me; just trying to tell a story through music.

One of the other cool things about the album: I’m into telling the story through skits along with the music. I couldn’t play myself as a high school kid — my voice wouldn’t make sense. So I went back and got guys that I played high school football with — I got their sons to actually play us at that age back then. So I have the sons of three of my high school teammates on the album playing us as kids.

I’m really proud of the record. I was super proud to have Chuck D be on the album with me; he doesn’t rap, but he does a really great poem at the end of one of the songs. I also have Cormega, A.G. from Showbiz & A.G., Stricklin, Wordsworth, Queen Heroin from the Juggernauts and Pearl Gates on the album.

This kid named KIC Beats, who nobody knows right now but they’re going to know, produced the whole entire thing. Once they hear this record, people are going to want to know who the hell this guy is. I just connected with his music; it spoke to me. For the most part, the songs wrote themselves. Hearing his music, I immediately got ideas for songs and I wrote them down. I’m just really proud of this album.

As far as how the diagnosis has affected my creative process, I don’t draw back on it, but it definitely refocused me. It put me in a mindset that: everything that I do going forward, I want it to be the absolute best that it could be. I want to make sure that I leave my mark as an MC, as an artist, as a performer.

I want to leave my mark on the game.

So the determination is in me. And each project, I don’t reach back to the diagnosis but I’m just determined to make sure that whatever I do is going to be great and that people are going to love it.

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Read Matteo Urella’s extended interview with Masta Ace below.

Top photo: Alexander Vlad

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Masta Ace

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Masta Ace Label: New solo album The Falling Season coming in 2016! IG: @mastaacepics



Medium’s Premier Music Publication: An ear for the new, a heart for the classics

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