Local rapper tackles social justice, life-work balance, trying to stay optimistic and embracing uncertainty
When Bay Area hip-hop artist Call Me Ace (Ace Patterson) titled his early 2020 project “Working From Home,” he couldn’t have known how prescient that name would become almost immediately following its release. The title was originally a play on the corporate term for a flexible schedule. The project deals with Ace’s busy double life — working a white-collar Silicon Valley day job while also leading a flourishing music career.
With the onset of COVID-19, a months-long shelter-in-place mandate and an uprising of social unrest due to police brutality and racism, the title took on new resonance. Inspired by current events, Ace has created a new project: “Working From Home: Extended,” a five-song collection that he wrote and recorded over the past few weeks, which explores his attempts to address urgent issues, battle through feelings of hopelessness and burnout and continue inspiring and encouraging others. It’s his most vulnerable project yet.
“The first time I dropped ‘Working From Home’ people were like, “Oh my gosh, how did he know?’ I had no idea,” he said, laughing. “This time I very much know. This one is, like, you have both of these brands but you also have a social calling that is so much deeper than your corporate job or the fact that you’re a rapper — that higher calling, while still having to work from home and also losing your mind,” he said.
“It’s both a play on the fact that the working-from-home order has been continually extended and the theme of life in the past two months in particular; the burden and the weight of a global pandemic, the constant police brutality and racial injustice … my whole life I’ve known and I’ve experienced it but to see it where it is right now has been a lot.”
Currently available for pre-order and set to be released June 26, all proceeds from the pre-order (which also includes merchandise featuring artwork by Ace) will be donated to Live Free, a nonprofit working to address gun violence, mass incarceration and Black community development.
“The responsibility I feel is to generate more access and opportunity, especially for folks from the types of communities I’m from, to achieve the same richness in life that I’ve achieved,” he said. “I’m very thankful for the support I’ve gotten across my life — I don’t take that for granted — but those aren’t long-lasting fixes to systemic issues. I know what it is to be wrongly profiled and stopped by a police officer because I’m matching the description.”
Ace grew up the son of Jamaican immigrants in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he said his mother nurtured a love of the arts from a young age — a penchant for drawing, acting, writing poetry and, eventually, making music, that was shared by his siblings. His childhood also helped set the foundation for his intense work ethic and desire to uplift others. He recalled when the family was living in a homeless shelter and he would crack jokes to make his mother laugh. This optimistic attitude is part of his survival tactic; being a positive, encouraging figure of success has been a hallmark of his brand. On “Working From Home: Extended,” though, he surprised himself by letting his guard down.
“A lot of folks from the outside might just think, ‘He’s always happy, always joyful, as if I can’t cry too,” he said, reflecting on listening back to his latest tracks. “I didn’t realize how exhausted I was while I was making these songs. The light (at the end of the tunnel) is there but it’s very faint.” These feelings are perfectly captured in the project’s central track, “Still Dark Tho.”
“It almost felt like a therapy session. That’s what’s going to make this project stand out the most,” he said, compared to his previous musical output. “I’m listening for the light.”
Ace splits his time between Oakland and San Bruno, where he started work four months ago as part of YouTube’s Creator & Artist Development team. Before that, he worked in marketing at Facebook. With a master’s in business from U.C. Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Columbia University, he’s been able to harness his business and tech savvy to help bolster his musical career. The first “Working From Home” hit 1 million streams on Spotify, while a previous release, “Airplane Mode,” debuted at #3 on the iTunes Top 40 US Hip-Hop Album Chart and #50 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales Chart. But most important to him is using his work — in all its various capacities — for good.
“Can I put a voice out for those that feel voiceless? Can I put some hope for those that feel hopeless? That’s what I feel like I’m asked to do,” he said, adding that his religious faith helps guide him.
“I hope that it will help us go through these trying uncertain times. Anyone would be foolish to not acknowledge the difficulties for — all people, yes — but especially a 7-year-old crying because she has a higher propensity for being killed because of the color of her skin. That’s where I am most affected and, simultaneously, that’s where I want to bring hope and reassurance and perseverance. While things are very tough and difficult, it’s a privilege to live the life I’ve been given.”
When I first chatted with Ace back in early March, when the first “Working From Home” was brand-new and everyday life had yet to change radically, he spoke, almost eerily accurately, about technology becoming ever more key to the music world and to connection in general. His words have borne out, now that artists and fans alike turn voraciously to social media for live-streamed concerts, digital downloads and Zoom happy hours in the COVID-19 era. He previously ran a “Casual Fridays” (another cheeky nod to his white-collar corporate life) freestyle rap live series and has now embarked on “Working from Home Wednesdays” live streams, during which he’ll share news, lead discussions and more.
“I’ve had this planned for a few months and it was one of those, ‘When is there a right time to start?’” he mused. “There is no right time, but that’s all the more reason to start now. What is ideal? What is a plan anymore? If you’re called to do something, do it. If it’s not meant to be, it won’t be.
What does the future hold? We never knew, but all the more so, in this context, it becomes even more nebulous,” he said. His new project “captures those thoughts and themes while feeling called to persevere through it all, to be the light through it all.”
Call Me Ace will hold a live listening party of “Working From Home: Extended” on his YouTube channel on June 24th, at 6pm.
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