Ace Hood walks into the Ace Hotel in a hoodie. It’s a gray sleeveless Ace Hood hoodie. The 30-year-old rapper is in New York from his home in Miramar, Florida, to promote his newest project, Trust the Process II: Undefeated. He’s been at it all day and though he is not defeated he is peckish. Sliding into a booth, Hood examines the menu at the Breslin. “I’m on a pescatarian diet, you know what I’m saying?” he says, “For me, it’s either chicken or fish. Yeah, chicken or fish.”
Chances are, if you’ve heard Hood — birth name, Antoine McCollister — it was on his 2013 super hit, “Bugatti.” The video has racked up 270,000,000 views. That’s the equivalent of one view per every inhabitant of Brazil and Bermuda. It went platinum and reached #33 on the Billboard chart and remains impossible to forget. A gritty Florida banger with a strong hook — “I woke up in a Bugatti” said like a gazillion times — it’s a cri de coeur of conspicuous consumption. “Niggas be hatin’ I’m rich as a bitch,” raps Hood in his rapid-fire clip. “100K I spent that on my wrist / Two hundred thou I spent that on your bitch / Do me a model put that on my list / Oh there he go in that foreign again / Killin’ the scene bring the coroner in / Murder she wrote, swallow or choke / Hit her and go, I won’t call her again.”
Catchy? Absolutely. Role model-y? Not so much.
“Bugatti” came out six years ago and the Ace Hood that walks into the Ace Hotel looks like the same guy that hangs out in a Bugatti in the video. He still sports the impressive dreads — today swept up into a high bun above a scrunchie-like headband — and flaunts tattoo-covered arms as defined as a binding contract. But this Ace Hood is not the same. This Ace Hood is a father. The first voices one hears on this Ace Hood’s latest record are his children — Sailor Blu, 6; and Antoine Jr., 4 — singing their dad Happy Birthday.
As we settle in to wait for Hood’s Club Sandwich — turkey subbed for chicken — Hood exudes a sort of low-key but irrepressible positivity. He’s like human neon; he radiates. He’s an active listener and a quiet talker. He recites his custody schedule with the same quick clip he uses in his raps. He admits to shaping his tour dates around when his kids are with him and censoring himself to make sure they don’t get the wrong impression of their father. The word that springs to mind is gentle. In his movements, his elocution, the openness of his features as he listens, Ace Hood is a gentle man.
This Ace was always there, Hood tells me, he just kept him in the hole. That was the private Ace, far from the swagger of Bugatti and the rest of the DJ Khaled’s Cash Money Records, this was the Ace Hood who still worried about his mother back in Deerfield Park, who would do whatever it took — working security at the local hospital and driving a school-bus part-time — just to be in close contact with her four children. This wasn’t the almost-gone-pro strong safety, but the Ace Hood who made the hard call to walk away when his hips started to give out. This Ace Hood is soft, but not weak. He dwells with pain and sits with sorrow. This is the Ace Hood who held his twin girls, Lyric and Sailor Blu, and buried Lyric after her health degraded.
The old Ace Hood, the one who rapped about “cars, jewelry, fast living and girls” and chased all of the above with DJ Khaled (before Khaled himself had a kid, trademarked his kid’s name, and made being a father part of his appeal), well, that guy got edged out. He wasn’t, as it turned out, as determined as the other Hood.
“I wanted to be a human being,” is how Hood puts it now. “I realized I was playing a role, you know what I’m saying? And you can’t grow from that. The next thing you know, you look up and you’ve become something you never planned for, you’ve lost your values. “
In 2011, with a daughter and a son on the way, Hood began to think of the long-term impact his music would have on them. “I realized I had to make smarter and better decisions, as a man, as a father.” Then Lyric died and Hood had to face it and wanted to be honest about it. He wanted to talk about how he was feeling. “I just felt the need to speak about it,” he says, “People just needed to just hear the story. Hopefully, it could push somebody else forward.”
And so Hood quit his label — walking away from assured success — and let the walls down. What tumbled out wasn’t always pretty. Take, for example this track, from his 2016 mixtape StarVation 5. It’s called “Father’s Day.”
“Tears still rolling down my face
Simple fact it being Father’s Day
My confidence was confiscated
More confrontations, shortened patience
I’m aggravated, agitated
Hate to say this, I ain’t been a father lately
And I feel like I been a screw up
But then again everybody needs to tune up
Self observation, conversations
Choices made, I’m tryna find some confirmation
Damn, how the fuck did I get here though?
My own pops wasn’t round to see his kids grow
And I be damned if I follow where his foots go
My baby mom took my kids about a year ago
I can’t lie, shit is hard, she don’t get it though
Every day the kids asking where their daddy go”
“That is probably the truest track I’ve ever made,” says Hood. To go from waking up in a Bugatti to breaking down as a single father is a long journey. But he’s taken it in his typical Beast mode. Since his epiphany, Hood’s released a steady stream of mixtapes and albums with names that directly reference his existential crisis-turned-therapeutic journey. There were Starvation mixtapes (one through five), an album called Trials & Tribulations and this current song-cycle, with its therapist-meets-the-’76ers title, Trust the Process. None of his output has reached the peak of “Bugatti” but that doesn’t seem to bother Hood too much. “I feel like a lot of people have taken the newer Ace, you know what I mean? Because we all are human beings and we can just relate on a human level.”
It’s hard not to relate to Ace. He’s an easy guy to like. “This is the hummus?” he asks, looking down at some radishes on a wooden board and, yes, hummus. “I’ve never had this before.” Hood is all about new things now. When he swooshes a radish through the thick tan puree and pops it into his mouth, his eyes go wide. “Oh that’s nice,” he says. “Geez!”
Hood is, let’s say, open to ideas about how to get healthy — mentally and physically. On Trust the Process II, he’s a Greek yogurt evangelist. And the guy posts short work-out Instagrams to his 2 million followers frequently. And I’m reasonably sure he eats hummus now, maybe with his healer, who is named Audrey, or his girlfriend, who is a vegan, or his kids. After all, the man makes smart decisions. He’s not buying Bugattis anymore. Hood doesn’t even buy jewelry and has committed to saving 60 percent of his earnings for the future.
Which is not to say that Hood, who is wearing a hundred thousand dollar watch, doesn’t have swagger — just that the swagger is no longer the priority. The swagger is just there in the background. “This is like six years old, but I keep it polished up,” Hood says of his watch.“I want to wake up when I’m 45 with financial freedom … I’m saving for college and clearing my debts, man.”
Financially prudent was not the look Hood was going for when “Bugatti” blew up. Now, it feels natural. A different Hood has the mic.
But he’s not there yet. I think it’s telling that the cover of Hood’s new album features him shirtless in the mid-distance alone on a long road, sprinting towards the camera. He’s almost there but not quite. As far as his kids go, he’s no longer the father he feared he would be when he stepped into a booth for Starvation 5. Instead, he’s like any other working single co-parent, trying to balance work and home life. He’s busy and he’s trying to be smart and he’s taking care of himself so he can take care of others.
“It’s all about longevity,” he says. “It’s about being there when it matters.”