In 2008, when New Times first chatted with Ace Hood, he was an ambitious 20-year-old rookie poised to dominate DJ Khaled’s We The Best label. Born Antoine McColister, the Deerfield Beach native possessed the ingredients for a rising hip-hop star: insatiable drive, dynamic bars, and stamps of approval from some of the genre’s greatest talents, including Jadakiss, Rick Ross, and Busta Rhymes.
In 2016, the protégé’s trajectory took an unexpected turn when he resolved to depart from Khaled’s roster and continue his career as an independent artist. Since then, Hood has embarked on a journey of self-discovery that led the former high-school athlete to renew his passion for health and fitness with his 30-day-challenge fitness program, #Shredded, as well as tie the knot with longtime girlfriend, Shelah Marie, in February. At 32, the father of two and newlywed has come a long way as the kid who seemed to come out of nowhere with no holds barred. Twenty-one mixtapes and four albums later, he’s arrived at his fifth full-length, Mr. Hood, all grown up.
“When I started embarking on my independent career, I said, ‘You know what? I need to understand who I am as a person and bring the best version of myself out,'” Hood says of his start in 2007. “I went on a journey of just trusting the process of understanding who I am, my surroundings, my environment, and doing a lot of deep work behind the scenes.”
Hood defines the 14-track album, released May 29, as a “project” and not entirely his standard for an album. Mr. Hood kicks off with the intro, “We Ball,” and exudes his inner revelation. Shedding his mug for a debonair presence, he leans into his comfort as a lyrical vet before catapulting into a fiery flow.
“I’ve always wanted to start a project powerful. I wanted to go right into it with a bang. And I felt like this is the newer version of who I am, and this is also somebody that’s new to people,” Hood says.
He brings that energy to other tracks like “Say Less” featuring Slim Diesel and “Casino” featuring Alexdynamix and O.z. Both songs display his signature grit over trunk-rattling beats. “Big Fish,” the first single, dials down Hood’s power to amplify his lavish lifestyle.
He switches gears once again on “12 o’Clock” featuring Jacquees. Sampling Usher’s “Nice & Slow,” the sexy slow jam is an after-dark ode to his wife — who’s also the muse for Mr. Hood‘s other melodic tracks, “Sexy Mufugga” and “Trampoline.”
“For the most part people have always gotten ‘Hustle Hard’ and the overcoming and the drive and that type of music, which is great,” he explains. “But I wanted to show a sexier side of who I am and grow in that a little bit.”
Showing that kind of vulnerability about a spouse is usually a foreign concept to most rappers, but Ace says he’s not bothered about that ruining his credentials. In fact, it’s the opposite.
“A part of it is being grown and knowing what you want. I’m more hungry and inspired than I’ve ever been,” Hood admits. “I want young black men and women to see this is possible. You can have healthy relationships and find a man or woman that loves you and will sacrifice for you.”
Self Preservation, the EP released on May 1 to tease the album, touched on similar themes. After the pandemic pushed back Mr. Hood‘s release date, he recorded the three-track EP to give fans a taste of what to expect. Cuts like “Tap’n” and “Finding My Way” express his restlessness and the journey in finding himself, serving as an apt segue way into the more polished tracks on the album.
Beyond the pandemic, Hood recognizes the anger spilling out on American streets. Recently, he dropped a visual project on social media for his song “Remember Nights,” in which he uses the current protests in response to the death of George Floyd and other black victims of police violence as the prelude.
“I felt the anger; I felt the frustration, but I also felt the change,” he says regarding his participation in a protest in Fort Lauderdale.
But his evolution as not just Ace Hood but Antoine McColister has been worth the adversities.
“I am now in that transitional part of coming out of the cocoon into a butterfly,” Hood says. “Self-work will always be the greatest work you do.”