The waves, vibes, and vision of Ace Gabbana

FLINT, Michigan — Ace Gabbana is smoking. And by the singular act to investigate the life of one of Flint’s most recognizable artists, so am I. We share a backwood between catching up since our first conversation two years ago — where his carefree nature was present. But, though we talk and laugh, the feeling of this encounter is different: we sit inside my car, outside his home, on the brink of a winter snowstorm at ten at night. Absent are the group of people he last said were “genuine and family.”

Instead, through social media pictures and recent music videos, present are a new batch of friends — specifically Cameron Tyler, Joker Brim, and Cam Howe, referred to as being “like my brothers” and Taylor Tatum. He says everything between them is an “organic thing,” yet things have changed.

A carousel of questions rotates in my head with contingencies in place — the most pertinent being the rumors that Gabbana is leaving Jon Connor’s label, All Varsity Music Group (AVMG), and moving forward on his own. As I hand him back the backwood, he confirms that it is true. Having come this far, I state very bluntly that some people would say that he’s leaving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — that coming from under Connor’s tutelage is akin to giving up Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. His response sets the tone for everything that follows.

“I’d say they don’t know who I am or what I can do and how I can do it,” Gabbana states in a hauntingly lowered tone. “I’m in situations because I want to be in these situations, not the other way around, and they don’t see it. Everything’s always been in my control, and I feel like that’s what people miss.”

'MoonWater' is Ace Gabbana’s third album that is set to release in March 2022.

And that control spurs our conversation towards the direction of MoonWater, Gabbana’s elusive third album. An album, executively produced by Connor, that’s sparked numerous sparked numerous Flintdustry conversations and speculation, a barrage of jokes from one of the city’s top comedians, Cheese Stixxs, and birthed the hashtag #freemoonwater.

Yet, for better and for worse, the stigma surrounding MoonWater’s release, not just from the city but from family, close friends, and past relationships, has positioned Gabbana as a sort of marionette, moving at the behest of his puppeteers. It’s left him, at times, unable to release music “at a certain pace” and careful with who and what he houses his trust. While he claims the decisions made over the last few years allowed him to “kind of find myself,” at the moment, in my opinion, they have made him guarded and the once radiant light he possessed reduced.

However, MoonWater itself still holds the grandeur and magnificence that he and Connor said it would, with Ace calling it “the hip hop album I always wanted to make.”

The 20-track album is a cacophony of classic Flint features, current heavyweights, and future stars. It’s laden with spoken word poetry, impeccable lyrical delivery, and production that rivals mainstream releases. It is a showcase for the city, adding to the ongoing narrative of Flint’s musical diversity and an album Gabbana can be proud to have made.

The idea that MoonWater is “a time capsule for my life,” rich in personal testaments illuminating the journey of a once shy and reserved young artist into a confident and polished musician, holds weight. He and I do not doubt that listeners will be able to “escape your reality [and go] into another space.” Nonetheless, with the album set to release, and his departure, it’s hard not to ask what happened after being inextricably linked to Jon Connor for years — much like David Aaron, Jada Ali, and others.   

"I learned I play a big leadership role in a lot of situations, but I’ve always been a quiet dude." - Ace Gabbana

“Nothing happened. I wasn’t seeing eye to eye with the label, so we respectfully parted ways. MoonWater is still a part of theirs and mines rollout, but I feel I need room to grow as a person,” Gabbana says about his reasons for leaving. “I put myself in a position of following [Connor’s] vision, which was my choice. I learned a lot, but I been around it so long, I forgot what my vision was and [was] putting it in the hands of another person.”

The time spent was invaluable, having learned “how to move in certain situations or [know] the behind the scenes of the industry” and appreciating the album-making process. Although, he didn’t enjoy everything. Understanding how the industry moves and the influences it can and has had on him and his peers have left deep scars.

Gabbana tells me with lowered eyes, reminiscent of children whose childhood best friend suddenly moves away, that so many people have “come and went” in both industry terms and personal ones. Come and gone like Aaron and Ali, ex-girlfriends, along with the untimely death of friends. Those lessons, although challenging, have turned him inward to reveal what he’s learned about himself over the years.

“I learned I play a big leadership role in a lot of situations, but I’ve always been a quiet dude. I [become] frustrated because I never took the leadership road I’m supposed to take. So I push myself down when I don’t have to,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know I’m spiritual. It’s deeper than a lot of people would ever know. I was born here with an army of spirits protecting me at all times.”

"But everything is a big learning experience, a repeating cycle that if you don’t understand the lesson, you’ll keep going through until you do." - Ace Gabbana

And it appears those spirits are doing their job. With a new management company called Blood Rich Business LLC, and his recently-released project with Cameron Tyler, Moon on Marlow Dr., he assures me that MoonWater will release in March.

Now, as the oncoming snowstorm makes its presence known, we reflect on his future goals and experiences that come from pushing through a particular set of experiences beginning when Gabbana was a child. But before we part, he wants it known that there is no bad blood between himself, Jon Connor, and the All Varsity Music Group team.

“I’ll always look at AVMG as a family. They have done nothing bad to me and vice versa. So it’s always gonna be love. I want to put that out there because I know how people misconstrue things. But everything is a big learning experience, a repeating cycle that if you don’t understand the lesson, you’ll keep going through until you do.”

As Gabbana walks into his house and I drive away, I can’t help but think about our conversation, MoonWater, and its intentions. Perhaps, I hope, that Gabbana can finally drink from the moon waters that he’s passionately curated for others. That he can set forth on a journey, free to be who and what he’s come to be — whether it’s the “rockstar, actor, director,” or the comic book artist he dreamed of becoming as a little boy inspired by his father.

For more on Ace Gabbana, find him on Facebook and Instagram. You can also stream Gabbana's and Cameron Tyler’s 'Moon on Marlowe Dr.' on all music streaming services. MoonWater releases in March 2022.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.