Ace Henderson
at
Beats N Bars

Ace Henderson is a New York-born Hip-Hop artist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He took the stage to perform during Durham’s premier Hip-Hop festival – Beats N Bars – towards the end of a humid NC August. Lyrically talented and introspective, his musical universe explores maturity, relationships, and the importance of places (cities and neighborhoods) in one’s holistic identity. He blends colorfully rapped rhymes with smooth vocal harmonies (which he sings).

We dipped behind stage for an interview after his set at Beats N Bars.

Although we had just met, his words and gestures toward me were those of a longtime friend, as if we had known each other for years.

Ace Henderson Beats N Bars 2018

Andrew Cheek: So you just performed here at Beats N Bars. How was your set?

Ace Henderson: It was fun, and it’s been awesome to say that after taking a little bit of time off to just get better physically, and, getting prepared. It felt really good – one of my favorite shows, honestly.

Cheek: Do you perform frequently?

Henderson: I go through little spurts. There will be three or four months where I’ll do a bunch of shows, try music, get new music out there. I don’t really like to take breaks, because I really like performing and it’s one of my favorite things. Like playing basketball. But for the last two months I tapered it back so I could work on new music, some that I was able to do tonight. And it went well so now I’m super excited.

Cheek: How would you say being on stage differs from being in the studio?

Henderson: For me, honestly, it doesn’t really differ. The same way I am on the stage is practically how I am in the studio except there are more concentrated moments where I have to sit still and record. But for the most part I’m pacing back and forth, going through ideas in my head. It honestly resembles – I don’t know if you’re a big sports guy – but there’s a lot of preparation that goes into a week of football. They have meetings all week, a Saturday practice, and then Sunday is the day. I try to keep that mentality in my brain because that helps me keep focused. So in studio, I’m usually just working towards personal benchmarks like “Okay, I haven’t been doing well with harmonies for the last couple weeks, let’s focus on these for these two or three days.” And then I find something else within that. It’s a super explorative process. Just like with shows. I don’t know who’s going to be out there, and when they show up I take what they give me and I’ve gotta give it all back.

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Cheek: Do you have any songs that you perform exclusively live?

Henderson: I do. There’s one song called “M.I.A.” It’s a story about one of my close-close-close friends and how we started making music. Most nights, I begin my set with that song to give an introduction. But tonight was different because… I don’t know… I wanted to try something new. It still felt familiar, but I tried to at least have a moment where I’m performing something that’s familiar to me, and it may be new to other people, but it kind of gives me that totem. Have you seen the movie Inception?

Cheek: I have, yeah.

Henderson: In it they have little totems that keep them grounded. So there’s always one song in my set that keeps me level. And tonight it was a new song that I did last.

Cheek: I liked that song a lot.

Henderson: Thank you, thank you.

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Cheek: What stories are you telling through your music? And how does that relate to who you are? One of your albums is called “Analog Youth: Yesterday’s Over,” and I actually got a sense for that idea in your last song… of family, of growing up, youth.

Henderson: Every day we change as people. Every day. No matter if you think you’re the same person last week and today: you’re not. And understanding that change doesn’t always mean it’s bad. I’m from New York, and moving to the South –  growing and being in these neighborhoods – they weren’t used to seeing black people in a suburban neighborhood.

So, learning those balances, I tell those stories in my music, and how that has allowed me to experience relationships with people in a different way.

I don’t really look at people for where they’re from. I’m like “Where are you at?” We’re all here right now, we’re meant to be here. In my music, I try to just keep that same feeling of that first kiss or hanging out with your friends after school or after work. Bending the rules a little bit, but still enjoying life and learning a lesson from it. You know you’re not going to go to the store to steal anything because, you don’t do that. But you might stay out at a party a little too late, but not because you’re mischievous, you’re just with friends.

And when I’m on stage I feel that way. Midway through a song I’m like “I don’t wanna leaveee! I don’t wanna be done.” I’d perform for twelve hours if I could. But I can’t. {Laughs}

That’s what I try to give into my music – that passion for what it is that you love about life…. And that doesn’t matter to anybody else. It doesn’t matter. If you love it and it comes from an intentional place of good, put it out to the world.

Cheek: There’s a quote by the pianist Evgeny Kissin from an interview where he was asked who the most inspirational or influential person was to him. He answered “Whomever I’m with.” I really like that.

Henderson: That’s real. I like that. Are you from the South originally?

Cheek: Not really. I was born in New York, but raised in North Carolina most of my life.

Henderson: I grew up in New York, and was born in Brooklyn. Then lived outside of the city before eventually moving down to the South. To your point about being inspired by whomever you’re around – in the city there are so many people. So many people! And I’m inspired by that. When I do shows it kind of reminds me of being on the subway. On the subway, there’s no contact with the outside world. You’re with the people you’re around and you either know where you’re going or you don’t. And if you know where you’re going, you get off at that stop and go and experience that. With shows I try to do that. We’re all hopping in this together. If you want to leave the train midway through, that’s fine. But I’m telling you for sure, we’re going to get to super high speeds – it’s gonna get super intense. If you hop out now, I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re going to listen to for the rest of my set {laughs, leaning back}.

I try to do my best to give people that moment of community. I love that. I love community. Putting that into the music.

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Cheek: How does being in Durham/Raleigh and in the Triangle as a whole influence your music and vice versa? Because it’s kind of an interplay.

Henderson: Being in the South, in North Carolina, you have to be patient. There’s so much space. Down here is where I really get to chill. In the South there’s a little more patience, everyone’s nicer, everything is slower. A perfect example: the project that I recently put out, “Free Nights and Weekends,” I listened to that whole project in New York and I hated it. I was like “I don’t know what I’m doing, this shit sucks.” I think Drake had just put out his new project and I listened to that and was thinking “Oh my gosh, what the hell I’m doing all these slow, melancholy songs.” And then I got back down here. And the snow was just about to start melting, and I was driving through the back roads of Wake Forest, North Carolina. And I was listening to my music and I realized “Oh… oh it sounds like this… it sounds like 7:45 driving down I-40 you see the sun coming down.” Either you’re coming home from work or you’re on the way to something else, but you’re just like “I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

I hope for my music to feel like when you’re going home and you get to your neighborhood and you make that turn in and you know you’re almost there. You go through the door, you smell the house, and you think about everything that’s happened good or bad and are just like, “Damn, I’m just happy to have this roof over my head.” That’s where it comes from. Gratitude for the simple things.

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Ace Henderson at Beats N Bars Festival 2018, photo by Andrew Cheek

Cheek: Absolutely. So what is the coolest, or wildest, thing you’ve seen in music this year?

Henderson: This year? Every day, dude. Every day. Everything all the time freaks me out. I wake up and I look at Spotify and think “What is Happening?” I think the thing that’s really tripped me out the most is that it seems like there’s an explosion of art. I think we’re in a really crazy time. It’s not a Renaissance but more of a re-acclimation with what we already know. I think the coolest thing I’ve seen is just the appreciation for artistry. And that allows me to have a conversation with you, and that allows you to do what you do because…

Cheek: There’s an appreciation of artistry, yea.

Henderson: Follow that full circle. Have you seen that Doja Cat “Mooo!” video?

Cheek: No.

Henderson: It’s literally a female artist singing about being a cow. I can’t make it up! I’m so serious she’s just singing about being a cow… it’s a green screen video and she’s wearing a cow costume while rapping about milk and burgers and cheese.

Cheek: Was it in advocacy for veganism?

Henderson: I highly doubt it. I highly doubt it. Haha. I think it was just… I don’t know. It had like five million views in four days. But she’s really talented! And now I feel like making a song about cows. And I’m thinking, “All right, cool.” So this means that when I want to make a song about things like chairs… yeah.

I’ve made songs about things like going to eat, but when you say it right and spell it out correctly, people will know that feeling. That’s what I’m going for. That’s what drives me. Making the simple things grand. You’ve gotta enjoy the small things. That’s the essence of life.

beats and bars 2018-5

Cheek: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Henderson: Yeah this new project… You asked a lot about north and south so I’ll explain it. {He points to his shirt.} These two addresses – 3704 and 2211 – are the two street numbers where I lived when I moved here. 2930 and 5411 are the two places I lived as like, my first adulthood places… I had finished school, moved out, and I was grateful just to have two apartments, ever, one after the other. I was like I don’t know what I’m doing – I was twenty. In these two places, I created most of the music I’ve been doing today. These two places {points to 37012211} are where I got my foundation. And so I’ve blended the two names together: Blue Hill Blossom.

From all this, hopefully, something grows. I’m just honestly grateful to be here. A year ago I didn’t know if I was going to be making music or doing any of this. To have the opportunity is humbling. This is probably the most cathartic experience I’ve had in a while. It was awesome. To sit back and hear musicians play music that I wrote – yeah –  that freaks me out! And to just… see people move. Then talking to you is icing on the cake. So, I’m very happy.

Cheek: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Henderson: Thank you, thank you.

[end]

 

This interview has been edited lightly for punctuation and clarity.

 

 

Andrew Cheek

Andrew Cheek is the Head Writer and Content Coordinator for Beaumonde Arts Agency. He graduated from North Carolina State University and is in process of polishing the manuscript for his children’s novella. With a background in literature and film, and a taste for half-marathons, Andrew’s inspirations range from Virginia Woolf to Wes Anderson to his Adidas running shoes.

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