FLINT, Michigan -- Every generation comes someone unique—someone who defies the status quo and creates a paradigm shift. The resulting impact on those around them and what they touch is profound and electric. That is the power of 24-year-old Ace Gabbana.
At Comma Bookstore and Social Hub in downtown Flint, it is apparent that Gabbana is not the norm. He sits with a childlike essence that's magnified by his Kool-Aid smile, long dreadlocks—a symbol of his spiritual connection—and draped in Spider-Man apparel. His demeanor is such that you'd overlook him at first glance or find his laissez-faire attitude offputting. But to see Gabbana requires a different set of eyes to perceive the magnitude of who he is, his spirit, and artistry—words echoed by All Varsity Music Group's C.E.O. and producer Jon Connor.
Ace Gabbana, under Jon Connor's All Varsity Music label, is set to release MoonWater."Everybody says this, but [Ace] is an old soul," Connor says with a grin. "His comprehension of spirituality, music, life … I wish I were as in tune at that age as he is."
And yet, it is with Gabbana's attunement and a strong sense of self that they are preparing his re-entry into the local and global music scene with his upcoming third album, MoonWater. The album comes nearly three years after his 2017 alternative Hip Hop & rock-n-roll album, Ratchet Rock-N-Roll, as an evolution of self, music, and philosophy.
"There's a lot to unpack with this spiritual album. A lot of people poured their heart into it," Gabbana says while running his hands through his locs. "I'm a Cancer—a water sign—so that's one. [MoonWater] means freshwater for kids in Flint. I want it to mean that you can escape your reality [and go] into another space."
To arrive at this moment in his life is one of divine direction. Born on the northside of Flint, Gabbana initially held dreams of becoming a cartoonist. The idea came from watching his father draw cartoons and comic books as a kid and interest in video games and Japanese animation. His father wanted to rival D.C. and Marvel Comics, and it was something Gabbana admired. But his interest in music grew the older he got, influenced by his mother and father, who "played nothing but OutKast." OutKast's two albums that gave him the "freedom and fun of living life boldly sticking out" and helped him to embrace his eclectic and unique attributes were their 1996 and 1998 classics, ATLiens and Aquemini.
Those moments with music connected him with Flint artist Anthony "Stoner" Malone. The meetup allowed Gabbana to see firsthand the creation and behind the scenes work of writing, producing, and making music. He became so enamored with music that he devoted all his time to it and began to skip school at 14. With no money to pay producers, Gabbana waited hours, sometimes until the early morning, for a chance to record at SillyBoy Records on Clio Road. At 16, he dropped out entirely and decided to work on his first album, D.M.T., released in 2014 at 18. But the announcement that he'd dropped out of high school to pursue music came with a motherly warning.
"When I told my mom, she said, 'you better do it, because I'm not gonna save you,'" he says with a smile, happy that his choice paid off. "In a lot of ways, our relationship grew. I talk to her about what I go through with rap and the industry. She understands everything I say to her, and she's never [belittled] me."
Stoner's friendship introduced him to another artist named David Aaron—a prominent rising star in those days. In a unique moment that Gabbana says, “made sense musically and spiritually," the three of them banded together to form the group Cartoons Only, a name to play off their love for cartoons and a way to express their unique personalities. The trio performed at various local venues like Flint Local 432, Cafe Rhema, and for The Dope Show. Eventually, they created and released an album, Dillanoize, in 2015, a groovy, slowed down record different from Gabbana's D.M.T. With rising celebrity and Flint Local 432's 30 years of Hip Hop celebration, Gabbana's photo landed on a billboard in downtown Flint.
"I learned new stuff about myself on the spiritual journeys I've been down. I want to push that narrative of just being yourself."2017 saw the release of his last album and, through spiritual connection, landed him in L.A. in Connor's presence. A friendship formed into a brotherhood that has given Gabbana a front-row seat to understand how the music industry functions and the pitfalls to avoid. With Connor leaving Aftermath and directing his energy to Flint and All Varsity Music, the opportunity came for them to produce and create a unique album—an album that Gabbana says expands on Ratchet Rock-N-Roll’s concept that "people can be [who they are] and express themselves."
"I learned new stuff about myself on the spiritual journeys I've been down. I want to push that narrative of just being yourself. I've always been the Black kid that was an outcast in a lot of groups," he recalls. "That's my biggest goal."
With MoonWater set to release soon, Gabbana has a team of good people surrounding him—something he hasn't experienced before. All Varsity Music is pulling out the stops to make the album a testament to current and future generations and restore balance to music. The label has taken time to understand their artist and provide Gabbana space to grow as an artist and a person. This support, Gabbana says, has "been crazy fun. They pushed me a lot, and I can get real crabby about stuff. The people around me are genuine and family." The results have created an atmosphere in which Gabbana has thrived. But through the days and hours when things haven't gone right, or internal delays arise, he credits his spirituality as a grounding magnet that has fostered change.
"I'm a different person from when MoonWater started to where it is now. [You have to] look deeper because there's nowhere else to look but inside yourself," he says with a straight face. "With what the universe has for me, I've learned how [to be] patient with where I'm at."
You can find Ace Gabbana on Facebook, Instagram, and his management label, All Varsity Music, on Facebook and Instagram. You can also stream Gabbana's 2017 album, Ratchet Rock-N-Roll, on all media platforms. MoonWater, his 3rd album, releases soon.