Navigating Burnout? Rapper Call Me Ace Has a Few Ideas

Rapper Call Me Ace tackles burnout on his new album 'Airplane Mode'—recorded during his downtime from his marketing career at Facebook. (Courtesy of Call Me Ace)

Look man, I don't care what 19th-century Welsh labor rights activist Robert Owen said. The idea of "eight hours' labor, eight hours' recreation, eight hours' rest" is obsolete in 2019.

I mean, I get it, his philosophy predates the invention of electricity—let alone email on cell phones. But you get what I'm saying: there's no such thing as an eight-hour work day, nor a 40-hour work week. We're always on the clock.

The result is a population that suffers from burnout syndrome—which is a real thing. The World Health Organization recognized it as an actual illness in May of this year.

The symptoms include:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

That's how rapper Call Me Ace recently felt. His new video for the song "5:15am" shows just how it happens. Waking up every day at time mentioned in the title, and sometimes working his day job from "9am until 7pm." Other times working from "9am until God knows when."

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The song is the first single from Ace's latest album, Airplane Mode, and it's a slice of the reality he's living.

After talking to Ace, I realized his story highlights something that doesn't get discussed much during conversations around the idea of burnout. He's a highly motivated achiever who pushes himself the extra mile and a half because he comes from a rough background, and some of his family is still there. It's like a survivor's remorse of sorts.

I know exactly what that feels like.

Album art for Call Me Ace's 'Airplane Mode.'
Album art for Call Me Ace's 'Airplane Mode.' (Call Me Ace)

Ace, originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut, has lived in the Bay for just over four years, ever since attending and graduating from UC Berkeley's business school. He now works at Facebook, where he does marketing. And when time permits, he works on his other career: rapping.

When does time permit? Well, let's backtrack:

Ace first sent me a message on Twitter at 10:44pm on March 5:

Hey Pendarvis! I'd like to invite you to my pre-album release party happening Fri March 15th, 2019 @ Uptown Nightclub. Are you available and able to come? — Ace

Of course, I was overwhelmed with work at the time, so I responded a month later—at 9:28pm on April 2, asking for a working link to his music. He answered almost immediately, first on Twitter and then through email. My response:

Thanks for following up. I'm up to my ears in work this week, had a rough start so I'm just recovering. I'll check out your music and hit you next week.

On April 11, I finally listened to the album. I sent him this message at 9:37pm:

Got yo email. That's how you do it! Stay on folks. I'm sure you know, I've either been in Nipsey mode or no rap at all—hella jazz and blues. I just listened. You got a cold a-- flow. How many different languages? 3? Sh-t's cold. "Bombay" might be my fav "commercial" joint. And I like a few others as sh-t to slap in the headphones. The features flame too. Ok, what's the plan. You got shows coming? Visuals?

For over two months, we went back and forth in random spurts when time allowed. Texting, emailing, Instagram DMs and Twitter messages.  Some exchanges happened midday, others first thing in the morning and some late at night. We talked about burnout, artists getting paid a fair wage and more.

Finally, we found one hour to meet face-to-face on June 14, at the Facebook HQ in downtown San Francisco.

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Ace was a few minutes late because his midday meeting went over, but somehow we managed to have a full conversation in our shortened time window.

We talked about how his academic success led to a scholarship to Columbia University, where he founded the Columbia University Society of Hip-Hop (CUSHH)—which allowed Ace to open up for Snoop Dogg some years ago.

Ace also told me about the time he got hit by a car in 2012. He went right back to work that week.

"I'm telling you," said Ace semi-jokingly. "Jamaicans yo, we work hard!"

He opened up about his family tree and how he doesn't fall too far from their philosophies. "My dad is a hustler, and my mom is a dreamer," said Ace, "So, that's my thing: dream big and hustle hard."

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I cleaned the food off my plate as Ace continued, "I'm a first generation Jamaican-American. Like, it would be sin to not go hard… Bruh, cause all this stuff don't matter. The free food is cool and all, but there's people downstairs without it. So, what are we doing with these powers and privileges that we're getting? Because some people don't like to acknowledge it, but I like to see and recognize the privilege I have by even being here."

It's a lot easier to recognize privilege when you've seen the other side.

Ace, who had stints of being homeless, told me about a dark time when he lost his ambition to be an MC. Wise words from a good friend led Ace to pick the mic up again: "Yo, just write a song a week. Just get back to riding the bike." And Ace hasn't put the mic down since.

When Ace touched down in the Bay, he bought some studio time at the Grill in North Oakland. That's where he met longtime producer and factor in the hip-hop scene Sean T, who's responsible for iconic Bay Area tracks like Mac Dre's "Feelin' Myself." Little did Ace know who he was in the presence of. "I just went there to record, I didn't even know who Sean T was!" he said. And then Sean T started producing for Ace.

Motivated to help his family, Call Me Ace navigates the fine line between being booked and burning out.
Motivated to help his family, Call Me Ace navigates the fine line between being booked and burning out. (Call Me Ace)

As the Bay's music scene opened up for him, so did the tech world.

After introducing himself on the internal chatboard at Facebook, he got a lot of folks wanting to hear his music. "Here they do a good job of letting people be themselves," said Ace, who was rocking a plain black shirt. "Normally I walk around with my merchandise on, ya know what I mean?"

He started to tell me about a lady who recently asked for a link to his merchandise. And then he cut himself off mid-story, and pulled out his phone, "Me saying this right now—I need to add it to my to-do list," said Ace.

After making a note, he showed me his screen: the damn notes on the digital app were longer than a CVS receipt. No wonder he's so busy!

"Honestly, where I'm at right now, it's like: I need a team in order to not live this grand burnout culture," he reflected. "And it's not [that I] need a team because I don't want to do the work. It's actually the opposite. I'd rather do the work... I enjoy the process."

But he has plans to scale up what he's currently doing. And he's motivated by his family. In fact, the day we met up—June 14—was his late aunt's birthday. It was her death last year that pushed him to make his latest album.

"I have this dream, that I can get my family out," Ace said, finishing up his plate.

"I'm the only one out here, ya know what I mean? It doesn't make any sense," he added, getting choked up.

That's the conflict: wanting to be a high achiever because your people need you to win. But learning to pace yourself so that you can maintain your health. After all, it's hard to support people if you're dead.

He told me of a recent trip he and his wife took to Hawaii.  "The trip was in order to reflect, unwind and realize that I cannot do it all. In fact, I should not do it all," said Ace before wrapping up our conversation.

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"That mentality of staying on 24/7, that will kill you."

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