Ace Tee is pushing the German rap scene in a new direction
“You know that anime Aggretsuko, on Netflix?”
Ace Tee is in the studio in Hamburg, clad in a sleek, all-black ensemble – black puffer jacket, black hoodie, black baseball cap – working on tracks for her upcoming EP, the hotly anticipated Ace X. She seems about as far removed from a cutesy Sanrio cartoon as one could possibly be. “I’m addicted to that show, that’s exactly how I describe my vibe,” she says, referencing the titular character who transforms from docile office worker by day to heavy metal singer by night. “Sometimes I feel like expressing emotions that I’m feeling, or not feeling, about someone… and sometimes I just want to rage!”
© Tereza Mundilova
Jacket: Richert Beil
“Rage” is a word that comes up often with Ace these days. You get the feeling that she doesn’t mean it to be a synonym for anger, but more for a type of aggressive energy she needs to expel through her music at all costs. For example, watching the explosive new video for her dank, shadowy single Hunnies, the imagery speaks for itself. You see Ace hanging out of a jet-black convertible, or wrapping herself in skintight latex and high-kicking like a fighter out of Mortal Kombat. It’s miles away from her 2017 breakout single, Bist Du Down, which made its own statement by injecting the German rap scene with a much-needed dose of throwback 90s legitimacy from an Afro-German perspective.
“I’ve developed in so many ways,” Ace explains about her musical evolution in the last three years. “The new song is really trappy, but also has a 2000s vibe. With Ace X, I had to make a point to say, ‘I still have this rage energy, so let me just fucking do it now, and let me put it all into this project.’” Sonically, Hunnies takes as much from current hip-hop, with its triple beats and slow, hypnotic flow, as it does from the futurism and super shiny production values of early 2000s R&B. “When I started making music, I started with trap,” says Ace. “I loved listening to garage, UK rap, a lot of Memphis stuff. I was more inspired by dark music, dark beats. It was a way to express myself in a different way. I’m a Gemini, so I’ve got two sides,” she smirks. “Every project I do has a different vibe. I’m a full artist, you know? I have my own sounds: I have my own trap sound, I have my own drum’n’bass sound, and I have my own R&B sound.”
© Tereza Mundilova
Top and Trousers: Ottolinger
And those sounds, as it turns out, are propelling German hip-hop in a completely new direction. When Bist Du Down was released, one of the most striking aspects of the song and video was the fact that they were so joyously, unapologetically, celebratorily Black. While it will surprise no one that the majority of German-language rappers are white, Ace (along with her close friend and collaborator, Kwam.e) have ushered in a new generation of Black artists into the scene, simply by being themselves and repping their homebase of Hamburg.
“I feel like a very important part of the German rap scene,” Ace states matter-of-factly. “It’s important to be out there and inspire people. You know, I’m fully Ghanaian. My parents are from Ghana, I went to church, I really grew up in Ghanaian culture, Black culture, in Hamburg. So it was always about pushing each other.”
There’s a striking moment in the Hunnies video where Ace and her friends pose and rap in an eerily-lit auto shop, while German men work on cars and send sparks flying across the floor. It’s a fleeting scene, but it’s refreshing to see someone like Ace cheekily assert herself in a traditionally male-dominated space and claim it as her own, all while flexing her status as a rising star. “Hunnies is fun! It’s me flexing and saying, ‘I’m back.’ But in my art, I also want to express my Blackness. I want to get loud. I have a lot of struggles here in Germany, but we’re working on it. A lot of other artists have to be strong and speak out on what’s important.” She sighs. “It’s important for us also to come together as a community so we can create a base, so the next generation can really fit in. How can we create something bigger than what we have right now? Like what the fuck? Where is Black music and entertainment? Why are there so many dope artists out there not popping off?”
Certainly, there’s rage here too, but Ace is level-headed and clear cut. On a recent Instagram post, she refers to the Ace X cover art, where she bares a scar on her cheek. “[The artwork] represents a lot of life experience,” she says. “I decided, ‘I’m just going to show it. I’m not going to cover it up any more, because I have these things inside of me, I’m just going to scream them out.’”
© Tereza Mundilova
Jacket: Jil Sander
Trousers: Richert Beil
As we’re wrapping up, our conversation veers back to Japanese culture, which it turns out is one of Ace’s core touchstones as an artist (for her stage moniker, she named herself after a character on the super popular anime One Piece). “I was so inspired by video games with this EP,” she exclaims, her eyes lighting up. “I see myself as a fighting character. I always wanted to be a Black anime character.” Suddenly, so much of the new aesthetic around Ace X makes sense. What Ace is doing is a fight, for sure, but it’s on her terms, in her arena, with her own ideas. And definitely after this year, the scoreboard will read: Ace Tee: 1 – World: 0.
Ace X is out on 23 October