"Blood, Sweat & Tears" is a daunting title for a third release, but for Ace Hood it's the perfect phrase to describe his struggle -- not as a young man growing up in South Florida's Broward County, but as the flagship artist of DJ Khaled's We the Best label.
"A lot of times we can glorify different things -- you know, the finer life -- but I'm just a man who's not afraid to say I've been through ups and downs, even when I was Ace Hood [the rap star]," says the rapper born Antoine McColister on the eve of his Aug. 9 release "Blood, Sweat & Tears," his third album through We the Best/Def Jam.
It's true -- for Ace Hood, his career has been a battle. As the first artist signed to then-radio DJ and burgeoning music mogul Khaled's We the Best imprint through Def Jam, Ace Hood has released two albums: "Gutta" in 2008 and "Ruthless" in 2009. The former was met with a tepid reaction from fans, something many critics attribute to Hood striking out on a national level without an established local base. The latter project peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, but failed to connect on a personal level.
"'Gutta' and 'Ruthless' were just learning experiences," he says now. "I was still finding myself during those two albums. The big thing about this one is [that] it's truly my life. My personal issues, my financial ups and downs, things I went through with my mother in and out of the hospital . . . I really put it on the line."
Indeed, "Blood, Sweat & Tears" is a hard deviation from the formula of rags-to-riches celebratory anthems most often heard from the We the Best camp. The album's first single, "Hustle Hard," is a haunting, riotous call to enterprise. Produced by in-demand rap producer Lex Luger (Rick Ross' "B.M.F."), "Hustle Hard" debuted on Hood's 2010 mixtape "The Statement" and rose as high as No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 this spring. The success of the song could also be measured in the remixes, including unsolicited unofficial versions from Swizz Beatz and Young Jeezy, as well as an official remix featuring Rick Ross and Lil Wayne.
"I didn't think 'Hustle Hard' was going to be the biggest record in the world," Hood says. "It was just a mixtape joint, but the streets and the people chose it."
"Body 2 Body," the third single from "Blood, Sweat & Tears," has also connected. Produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E League and featuring Chris Brown, the song is an '80s synthesizer-driven slow jam that is No. 56 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. As "Blood, Sweat & Tears" rolls out, Ace Hood looks to be finally breaking out from under the wing of mentor and Def Jam South president Khaled.
"The first two albums I brought him out and I stood beside him every day," Khaled says. "[But] I had to let him do what he needed to do to get respect. So instead of me opening the door for him, I had him kick the door down. And now other artists want to work with him [and] people that doubted him are fans now."
Hood, who's been promoting the release through a "Get Your Rent Paid for the Rest of the Year" radio promotion tied to "Hustle Hard" on Radio One's "The Ricky Smiley Morning Show" and through touring, promises that the success he's finally able to enjoy won't change him as a person.
"Things that I value now are the things I've always valued," he says. "I'm a much smarter businessman, [but] I really value things like family, those around me. Those who helped me get to where I am today."