‘I just want to be real’: Local rapper and Haas alumnus Call Me Ace talks motivations, recent album

Illustration of rapper Ace with various album covers
Evelyn Zou/Staff

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Name: Anthony “Ace” Patterson, but onstage he’s Call Me Ace

Age: 29 years old

Hometown: Bridgeport, Connecticut

Current Residence: Berkeley, California

What he’s been listening to: Namely dancehall, Afrobeat, Ethiopian music and the Rap Caviar playlist on Spotify. “I’ve been kind of all over the place,” he said. 

Who he is: A hustling local rapper whose debut full-length album, Airplane Mode, came out this March — but also a Columbia University alumnus, a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business master’s degree holder, a Facebook employee and a loving husband. Born in the United States to a family of first-generation immigrants from Jamaica, Patterson hopes to inspire his listeners by sharing his own struggles and successes through art.

His voice: Ace Patterson sounds just as charismatic over the phone as he does in his music, as I discovered when he picked up my call on a Wednesday around noon. With passion and amiability in his voice, Patterson jumped to answer my questions as we talked about his music, mission as an artist and life in general. 

Patterson described his art as encouraging and driven: “My sound (is) authentically motivating and real at all times,” he said. “Really, at the end of the day, my whole goal is to push listeners to be a better version of themselves,” he added.

It’s clear that in this case, the art reflects its artist. Selfless and sentimental, Patterson told me about how he strives to be a force of positivity for his audience as well as his community at large. Whether through his numerous volunteer efforts or through the moving messages in his music, Patterson showed me that he truly has a heart out to help others.

Music has always been central in Patterson’s life, but he didn’t become Call Me Ace until after graduating from Columbia and enrolling in business school at UC Berkeley. That’s when a close friend of his (“a homie of mine from way back,” he recalled) revived Patterson’s passion for rapping.

At first, Patterson had a hard time feeling like he fit the labels for how a rapper is supposed to act, sound or look. “I was giving all these excuses … but he was like, ‘No, those are all the more reason to show a different representation of what a rapper and a hip-hop artist could be,’ ” Patterson said. 

And thankfully, Patterson took this advice. In the next years, countless hours in the studio led to the birth of two mixtapes, an EP and, eventually, Airplane Mode.

The album came about during a time in Patterson’s life that he described as “disconnected.” “Spiritually, I felt like I was in airplane mode,” he said. The root of Patterson’s rough patch came last October with the unexpected passing of the person who introduced him to hip-hop music: his beloved aunt. This aunt had helped Patterson develop his musical taste and interests as early as when he was still in high school.

After her death, Patterson used music as an outlet for grief. “(I produced the album) two weeks after that. Every day just (became) a cathartic way of expressing myself, getting my thoughts together, because my mind was really all over the place. … (I) just started writing to the point where I had an album come together,” he explained. With song titles like “Hope You Hear Me” and “Gray Skies,” the album audibly reflects the distance Patterson felt between himself and his outside community during this time.

Patterson often talked fondly of his other family members as well — especially his mother, who was a songwriter in Jamaica and performed in freestyle rap battles. “Especially in a time when females weren’t that highly respected, that was the triumph story that we grew up with,” he said of his mother’s recountings of these competitions.

With these strong influences and a worldly perspective from his familial muses, Patterson pulls inspiration from many sources and locations when creating his music. His Jamaican roots, of course, have guided his art. He also spoke of having received other influences from around the globe — from his education in New York and the East Bay, to a vocational trip he took with his church to Colombia, to his summer abroad in Barcelona while at Haas

Patterson detailed his appreciation for the wisdom that his time at Haas has provided him. After gaining connections to faculty members and respect for the four principles of business stressed at Haas, Patterson felt a newfound positivity and inspiration to empower others to do good and maintain a positive outlook.

We’ve witnessed how capitalism can totally be used for wrongdoing and increasing greed,” Patterson said. “But just to know that the same wheel of business could be used for good … really struck a chord in my heart.

Ace Patterson, a well-spoken, undoubtedly intellectual product of his lived experiences, lives to empower everyone he reaches in both music and business. While on this phone call, Patterson dictated to me part of a motivational speech he gave at the Songwriting at Berkeley club just a few months ago: “It’s not just you out there trying to make it. There’s a community. Support each other, give what you want to receive, take advantage of the time. Because you don’t get more of it when you graduate.” I began to feel like maybe I need to take some of his advice, too.

Patterson simultaneously commands a room and creates space for every voice he encounters. It’s not too often — in fact, almost never — that someone asks me, “But how are you doing?” at the end of an interview. But Patterson did. That’s just the kind of considerate guy that Ace really is — gray skies or not.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.