Radio 1Xtra’s Ace may not be a household name yet, but he’s certainly had a role in breaking a lot of them. The change he’s brought to UK RnB is something everyone can relate to. Ace is a figurehead of urban music in the UK and through platforms such as Channel U (who introduced artists including Dizzee Rascal and Skepta to the nation and American artists to the UK, such as 50 Cent and Ciara), RecordBox and of course BBC Radio 1Xtra have given new and emerging artists a massive spotlight.
From taking fill-in spots for Trevor Nelson on BBC 1Xtra to gaining a daytime weekday show on BBC 1Xtra from this year, Ace has been working at his game for decades and is more than capable when it comes to shining a spotlight on UK RnB.
Speaking to the man himself, Ace feels there’s still much more progress to be made to take British RnB where it needs to be, and he is prepared to give as much as he can to make it happen. At a time when much of the world’s musical focus is on the UK, whether it’s Ray BLK’s victory in the ‘BBC Sound Of’ poll or Jorja Smith feature on Drake’s More Life, an insider’s perspective like Ace’s has never been more valuable.
In our interview with Ace, he fills us in on what the future holds for the new generation of British RnB stars and drops an exclusive ’90s vs. Now’ mix, charting the genres progress over the years. Listen to that below and read his chat after the jump.
I imagine it’s difficult to pick one moment but what would be your proudest moment in radio?
Ace: It sounds strange as I’ve been at 1Xtra since 2002 but, I’d say getting my shows this year. From the mad journey I’ve had, I’m doing daytime radio now, and I’m on every day and knowing what I want to promote. I feel like there’s a void for what I’m putting out right now. So providing a platform for RnB music in the UK is what I do. As I don’t think there’s a platform for RnB artists within the UK, getting their songs out to the radio.
I really want to be that guy for them, and this has given me a perfect platform to do that, to be myself, and to promote artists I feel really deserve it. I feel like in January 2017 being able to have the massive daytime show, taking over the spot of a legend like Trevor Nelson means a lot. The Live Lounge, which is the flagship for the station, this is probably one of the proudest things to me. Winning a Sony in ’04 was amazing as well but this for me is like the best.
It’s a good time for UK RnB at the moment…
I feel like there was a long period where there were all these great artists but they didn’t have anywhere to get heard. I was going to a lot of live shows like ‘I Luv Live’, shows where there would be a lot of musicians. There would be a lot of artists who were working and were putting out great music, but you weren’t hearing it on the radio.
Do you think there are any particular artists that have pushed British RnB into the mainstream in the last few years? Or do you think it’s a collection of artists that have influenced this over a period of time?
It was more of a movement of artists. I think SoundCloud has been amazing for them because there are artists that you’ve never heard about but are getting plays. There’s an artist I play at the moment called Lottie Jade from Croydon. She goes to The Brit School, that’s not biased I just think she’s awesome. She’s got a song that I found randomly, I went to an award show, and she was one of the performers singing. I really liked her song, so I looked for her online and she almost has half a million plays. She’s not signed, and she’s unmanaged, someone just recorded the record and put it out there.
When do you think UK RnB started to get picked up on the charts and radio?
I still think there’s a while to go; I think radio’s doing an amazing job. I think RnB artists winning ‘The BBC Sound Of…’ poll that’s definitely put a spotlight on it. I just think there’re so many more artists that deserve to shine; I think there’s still some way to get where it needs to be. I think RnB is a genre that some people take for granted as it was always there. We’re always going to have RnB singers, Beyoncé is always going to be huge, Rihanna is always going to be huge, but there’s more to it. The UK deserves our own Beyoncé; it deserves to have our Chris Brown and their outlet.
Which UK RnB artists have you been blown away by?
Emmavie, this is another artist with millions of SoundCloud hits but she’s not getting played on national radio, I’ve been playing bits of her stuff. She opened for Jon B last month, she’s doing other shows, and she’s working with the Soulection guys. I listen to her music; I think it’s flawless. I just want to be that bridge between the underground and the mainstream.
You started doing live sessions at the start of this year on 1Xtra. Did you have Stormzy in the last session?
We did Stormzy’s Maida Vale special, which went out last week. We recorded a few weeks ago, that was definitely a good one. He brought an entire choir, and he brought guests as well like Wretch 32, MNEK, J-Hus and Ghetts. We’ve had Stormzy, Big Sean, Sampha and Avelino.
You’ve recently taken over Trevor Nelson’s show on 1Xtra, what do you think his legacy in the scene is?
I think he’s the best; there isn’t someone on the radio for me that sounds more natural. He doesn’t present, he just talks, and he doesn’t feel like he’s forcing things on you. I grew up listening to Trevor, going to his parties, watching him on TV. I think if I could have half of the career he’s had, I’d be happy. There are so many things that he’s done that I’d like to do. The way he’s brought RnB to the UK, I think we have to take our hats off to him. He’s put out a lot of artists over here that we wouldn’t know about without his help.
You also have your own website where you platform RnB music, what was your reasoning behind setting up this?
Yeah, therecordbox.co.uk / EverythingRNB.com. We’ve got gig reviews on there, artist interviews, film interviews. We also do a Record Box podcast, so once a month we’ll have an RnB topic where me and RnB aficionados battle out. We’ve got a topic, we sit down in a roundtable scenario and last month’s topic was ‘Top 10 RnB albums from the 90s’. There’s four of us, each of us had our top 10, we didn’t agree. We literally had to agree on some, the whole thing took like two hours, but it’s a great listen because we argue, we all have our favourites. It’s something we’re getting a lot of feedback on. I might turn it into an event as a lot of people tweeting “How could you forget this album?!”, “This album was better than this album”, there was even a few artists we agreed on, but we didn’t on their albums. We had an argument on D’Angelo VS Aaliyah that took like twenty minutes; it was wild. Also links to my events, I’m doing RnB events called ‘RecordBox’, which is a celebration of RnB, we would play old stuff and new stuff, and we would have a UK artist to perform in these events. We have an artist called Abel Miller, who’s our Chris Brown without the controversy (laughs). He’s young, ladies like him he’s got hip-hop swag but a really soulful RnB voice.
What do you think radio’s place is in the future of music? Can it survive the rise of streaming?
Yeah, I feel like we’ve messed it up a little bit, in a sense that we’re a little bit late sometimes. We follow what the internet’s playing, how many hits something’s got, and there was a time we were breaking the artists. We need to be the ones telling people “this is who you need to be checking out”. I don’t care if an artist hasn’t got many followers if it’s a great track we should be the ones playing this. A lot of DJs want to figure out how many hits they’ve got. I feel that kind of thinking is backwards and I really want to take it back to radio and to hear who’s hot and where the new stuff is.
It’s boring when radio stations stick solely to chart music…
Yeah exactly, I don’t mind the throwback every now and then, as I like to hear music that I’m familiar with or it reminds me of something. Let’s be ahead of the game and break new artists.
Catch Ace on Radio 1Xtra every weekday from 10:00 AM. Recordbox takes place April 22nd at Birthdays.