The thought of knowing you’re not supposed to be here can be a chilling thought for some people. After being the lone survivor of a deadly drive-by shooting that took the lives of some of his closest friends and younger brother three years ago, Jacksonville, FL, rapper Yungeen Ace is past the point of letting his mind play tricks on him.
“I try to stay busy, so my mind doesn’t go [all over the place],” Ace tells Billboard. “I keep my eyes on the prize and know my brothers are with me at all times. This has been our dream since we were little, and I have to do this for us.”
Instead of allowing his past tragedies to dictate his future, Ace has emerged as his city’s new prominent hip-hop figure. In March, he released the controversial but charming, Vanessa Carlton-sampling “Who I Smoke” record. After accruing a whopping 27 million views on YouTube, Carlton applauded Ace’s catchiness and spoke out against his detractors regarding his decision to remix her 2001 hit “A Thousand of Miles Away.”
“To the white folks that have expressed anger/shock over my approval of A Thousand Miles’ usage in the Spinabenz, Whoppa Wit Da Choppa, Yungeen Ace, & FastMoney Goon song Who I Smoke, I invite you to ask yourself why you feel this way & then read this,” she tweeted last month.
With the support of Carlton alongside his fallen friend, King Von — who appears on his new project Life of Betrayal 2X — Ace is ready to unleash a storm on the rap game for all of his believers and loved ones.
“I knew this year was the year to smash the gas when it came to music, and I couldn’t stop,” says Ace. “I say that because sometimes, I feel like I’m overlooked despite what I’m doing. So I have to keep my foot on everyone’s neck and not letting you guys have a chance to breathe.”
Before the release of Life Of Betrayal 2X, Ace spoke with Billboard about the biggest misconceptions surrounding Jacksonville’s rap scene, his friendship with the late King Von, how his life has changed after “Who I Smoke,” and more.
When looking back at your career, how do you feel when realizing you made it, and you did so coming out of Jacksonville?
It feels good! It only motivates me to keep going because I know I’m one of the biggest [rappers] to come out of my city or at least make it this far. I also just went gold the other day. Even though I don’t show my emotions much, even when happy, I am glad to be where I’m at, and there’s a new light shining on our city.
I want to help everybody make it here in Jacksonville, so that we can eat together. Up until now, the most prominent point any rapper from Jacksonville got to was being known around the city. So from studying those guys, the art itself, and finding the right studio, I put everything together to be different from everyone else. Everything from my music and sound made me bigger than I was, and it worked.
So with that said, what is the biggest misconception about Jacksonville’s rap scene?
That there’s no talent. [Laughs.] Many people overlook our talent and don’t understand what we can do. When you’re from Jacksonville, you have a real story to tell. Everything from our environment, people, etc., fuels our storytelling and creates great talent from here. But I’m going to change that [narrative].
Leading up to the release of Life Of Betrayal 2X, there were talks about it having many features. Is that still the case?
Real talk, there were a lot of features on there, but most of them came off. But I do have [King] Von and [YFN] Lucci. Salute to Lucci and, of course, my brotha Von. This album will go crazy, and I also have “Who I Smoke” on there.
You’ve been quoted saying, “Trust is temporary; I’m into loyalty.” With that said, how have you handled your relationships in and out of the music industry?
I can’t lie, bro; I didn’t come into this game to make friends. For the most part, I try to be cool with people and leave it at that. But if you and I are locked in, and I look at you like family, that means I love you and will risk it all for you. But not everybody loves the same way as me or communicates like me, and I had to learn that.
With [King] Von, it was different. He was my guy outside of rap, and we spoke about everything involving real life. And I could also pull up to his house, and he could pull up to mine. But that doesn’t happen with everybody. At the end of the day, this is a competition. Everybody wants to compete, and I think we should focus on winning together.
One thing I’ve noticed is that you have a very committed fanbase who appears to be just as invested as you with everything you do. Can that be overwhelming at times?
Oh, no, I love it. [Laughs.] They’ve been with me every step of the way, and they know we’re a team. Heck, my fans can be more supportive than those around me, especially when it comes to buying my music. It can be up with whoever when it comes to my fans and me. I speak for them and will do everything for them. When it’s all said and done, my fans only see what I show them, and I do that on purpose. I don’t have to worry about my fans taking it too far in certain situations because of that decision and how I presented it. Not to mention, I’ll never speak about any rumors. As long as I know the truth, then I don’t care.
To piggyback off the topic of the fans, you’ve become a success when it comes to YouTube and it’s not only with the music videos. What made you value that platform so much?
The fact everybody is on YouTube and you could find answers to anything on there [laughs]. There are different audiences on YouTube, and some people know me more from there than music, to be honest. Besides releasing my music videos and vlogs from studio sessions, I also have a channel with my girlfriend. Please believe me when I say YouTube has my full support.
Like your fellow artists, you had to make music throughout this pandemic. How did it impact you, especially with a new album on your schedule?
You know what’s so crazy? Even during this pandemic, I remained in the studio every day. It didn’t matter what I was doing. Whether it was recording music or shooting videos, I was in there working and then going outside to continue working. No matter what was in my way, I couldn’t stop, and that’s no disrespect to anybody who was slowed down by this pandemic. Sure, I missed out on shows and appearances, but that can’t mess with my work ethic. Music is my life, and I put it all on the line for it. I told you, I couldn’t slow down.