The longer this thread goes on, the more I think that me and @CHAIRMAN_LMAO may actually be related. My experiences with this record are pretty much identical to his (for about the fifteenth time so far).
I remember reading a lot of stuff in various magazines and fanzines at the time about Freestyle Fellowship. I looked for their albums everywhere without any luck, until I found a copy of Innercity Griots in a Chicago record store in '96 when I was studying in the US (To Whom It May Concern was just impossible to find).
I remember being so excited to play it, but I just couldn’t get it. At all. I tried seriously listening through about ten times, but it just wouldn’t click. Even though I loved the jazz-sample based production of Tribe and early Premier, I wasn’t big into jazz at the time and found the production pretty alien. I also couldn’t get my head around how the MCs didn’t attack or even ride the beats, but instead seemed to float around them.
Fast forward a few years and I saw the CD reissue of To Whom It May Concern in the massive London HMV. Thinking it was kind of ridiculous that I’d looked everywhere for this record way back when and then found it sitting in a massive chain store, I bought it for old time’s sake as much as anything else. Had zero expectations when I put it on, but obviously, it blew me away. It is actually a bit more accessible (or ‘traditional’ I guess) than Griots, and I’d like to think that if I’d heard this first, things might have been different, but probably not. Obviously, then when on a massive Freestyle Fellowship bender. Liked Abstract Rude and Myka 9, but Acey was the one for me. (Also listened to Griots again, and this time it clicked. Even nearly ten years after it dropped, it still sounded ahead of its time).
Which, in a very long winded way, brings me to this record. It was the first of his albums that I got, and I still think it’s my favourite. Agree with what others have said about it rewarding deep listening - he’s such an amazing MC, it takes a few go arounds to pick up on everything he’s coming out with. He’s amazingly lyrical without wasting a single word. You can also tell he’s totally in love with language, and he never once sounds too pleased with himself, which can be a problem with a lot of ‘lyrical’ rappers. Hard to pick stand outs as this is definitely an album that works best as a whole, but Mic Check is worth a mention, if only because it shows that he can kill a straightforward beat as well as anyone out there; he just chooses to do the elevated, next level business.
Think that (a bit like me) the world, or at least the West Coast, is starting to catch up with Acey now. You can hear his style all over the current LA Beat scene rappers, and I’d include Kendrick in that. Might not be the most obvious influence, and I could be wrong, but I reckon that Kendrick’s probably spent a lot of time with FF records, and this one especially.
Another top pick. Like @nav, really happy for anyone this is a new discovery for. Kinda jealous of you too…