There’s a charming element attached to the excess-free hip-hop that comes from the genre’s old-heads, from the original puritans that carved hip-hop out of stone somewhere between Brooklyn and the Bronx. Take Masta Ace, for instance. Ace is the last relevant member of the fabled Juice Crew, a Queensbridge hip hop collective founded by producer Marley Marl in 1983. Juice’s roster is a thing of pure beauty, an eclectic mix of some of hip hop’s earliest founders, including Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Roxanne Shante, and Biz Markie, among others. Where Ace differs, though, is that he’s been releasing a consistent stream of quality solo music since 1990’s Take a Look Around.

Now Ace has come forth with A Breukelen Story, his latest studio album following 2016’s The Falling Season. A Breukelen Story plays like an old story book dedicated to famed underground East Coast producer Marco Polo, who produced the entirety of A Breukelen Story. It’s a lengthy recollection of Polo’s emigration from Toronto to Brooklyn, narrated by Ace, who has worked alongside Polo since Ace’s 2004 album A Long Hot Summer. The five skits littered throughout, alongside the unbelievably descriptive storybook raps that Ace delivers, tell the story of Polo’s rise from an obscure Canadian intern to one of the East Coast’s most revered producers. Along the way, Ace dips and dives into the current state of hip hop.

But perhaps there’s something to learn from Ace, at a point in time where hip hop’s founding voices are dying off or hidden from the popular landscape of modern hip hop. In the opener, “Kings,” Ace delivers something worth pondering: “They can't comprehend all these songs he's hearin' now / And can't understand what these dudes is wearin' now / But think back when we was young, 'bout the same age / Our parents, they looked at us in them same ways / We was playin' DMC and Fat Boys (Fat) / And they was sayin' to us, "Turn off that noise" / Told us, we gotta listen to some real music.” For anybody who is frustrated with the volume of horrendous rap that clogs streaming service’s algorithms, this can be taken as a thoughtful lesson — we’re always so quick to hate, so quick to grow flustered and frustrated with what’s being praised as the next best thing. This isn't a new concept. It’s a perpetual cycle that’s been occurring since the conception of modern music.

Polo’s compositions on A Breukelen Story are a saving grace for old heads. The laid back, mid-tempo beats, littered with twinkling pianos and sparse guitar samples, reflect the East Coast’s renaissance period in the ‘90s, something Polo has blatantly been inspired by and eventually contributed to in the twenty-first century, producing for Canibus, KRS-One, Heltah Skeltah, Talib Kweli, and R.A. the Rugged Man, among countless others. Polo proves once again why he’s one of the most beloved producers embracing hip hop’s roots this side of the Alchemist.

Along the way, Ace recruits features from Styles P ('Man Law'), Smif-N-Wessun ('Breukelen “Brooklyn”'), and Elzhi ('Corporal Punishment'), among others (Pharoahe Monch's verse here is one for the ages). As nostalgic as the mood on A Breukelen Story may be, it reflects the excellence of these somewhat obscured (or least no longer particularly relevant) emcees, gathered together to reflect and expand on the legacy they've carved for not only New York City but hip hop at large. Long may they reign.