Since his major breakthrough following the release of his 2011 smash hit “Hustle Hard,” Ace Hood laminated himself as one of the true pioneers of hip hop in Florida. Having spent over a decade in the music industry, the rapper has certainly become a testament to how hard work and persistence can take you a long way. Thus far, Ace has released roughly 21 mixtapes and five studio albums while still unloading music to this day.

The Florida native embarked on his musical journey fresh out of high school, signing a major label deal at the age of 18 and subsequently releasing his 2008 projects Ace Won’t Fold and All Bets on Ace months apart. That same year, his debut studio album Gutta was released under We The Best Music and Def Jam Recordings with features from Rick Ross, T-Pain, Akon, Trick Daddy and more. Over the years, Ace Hood would release a number of singles and projects before finally getting his big breakthrough in 2011 with “Hustle Hard,” which later gained a remix from Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. In 2013, Ace rose to viral triumph with “Bugatti,” a song that undoubtedly propelled the rapper into stardom and earned him his first-ever RIAA-certified platinum plaque. It later received a colossal remix featuring the likes of Future, Meek Mill, French Montana, 2 Chainz and several others.

Despite being set back by major label troubles — which the rapper has been justly vocal about in previous interviews — Ace discovered newfound success as an independent artist, releasing his fifth studio album Mr. Hood in 2020 under his own imprint Hood Nation in partnership with EMPIRE. Like most artists amid COVID-19, he took the following year to self-reflect and reinvent his sound. He also pivoted into the fitness industry and partnered with Complex to host their Spotify-exclusive “Infamous, The Story of YNW Melly.”

Fast forward to February, Ace Hood unveiled his latest EP, aptly titled M.I.N.D. and short for Memories Inside Never Die. The project is a culmination of experiences and memories that shaped not only his artistry but his personal life as well. Now, more refined than ever, Ace gracefully welcomes this new chapter in his career with more in the works.

In our exclusive interview with the hip hop veteran, he details his first investment, going independent after label troubles, the importance of ownership in the music business, cryptocurrency and NFTs as it relates to music, and more. Read on for our conversation.

Tell us about your first investment. Where did you formally begin your journey in terms of financial literacy?

My first investment was myself, honestly. That was really my very first investment. It started while I was in Dollaz N Dealz back in Deerfield. Obviously, we had our label thing happening but at that particular time, I felt that I could do something greater. I’ve always had large dreams being from such a small city, so financial literacy was huge. My first investment was myself, understanding that I am a business. Starting my LLC years ago, stepping into that business mindframe, trying to do right by my money.

Many musicians get caught up in the lifestyle that accompanies celebrity. Did you always look at yourself as a business?

Not always, no. That’s something that I’ve learned along the way. In the beginning , I just saw myself as an artist and someone who can rap. After a while, obviously getting with the label and Khaled, overtime I started to learn. My ideology was that artists were literally walking billboards. It’s important to always be promoting yourself, stand on integrity and represent yourself in the highest form or fashion.

I learned that earlier on by putting my name on autographs, seeing people on pictures. You start to understand that all of this is currency, whether it’s taking pictures, verbal, physical or whatever it looks like. It reminds you of the value of the being. At that point, I was like hold up, let me insure myself, make sure taxes are being paid because all of that comes with it.

How do you decide which brands and businesses to invest in or partner with?

For me, it all depends on whether or not they align. Thinking about the principles the company stands on, the type of products, how I can be of help to that particular brand. It’s all about the value. Anytime I align myself with any brands, I have to ask myself, ‘What do they stand on? Are the products good? Do I believe in the product?’ I’m picky when it comes to aligning myself with certain brands, but naturally integrity is always at the forefront of it — even before money or negotiations.

You’ve been very open about your previous experiences with being signed to a major label, releasing your past several projects independently in partnership with EMPIRE. Can you expand on the importance of ownership and how that can often affect the business side of music?

It’s the most important thing ever, I think. To any individual or up-and-coming artists, ownership is key. Anytime we talk about these businesses, I think you always want full creative control and decision-making when it comes to your business and where you can take it. Ownership, again, is a long game. Sometimes, ownership isn’t right now, it isn’t tomorrow, it isn’t a year later. I love the idea of building on legacy and something where we have this thing where we can create X amount of value and let’s build it out. Ten to fifteen years down the road, this particular thing can be extremely valuable.

To me, ownership is the ultimate key. It’s much more difficult, and I believe it forces the person to learn the business and be clear about your ideas. It’s important that we are at the forefront of our businesses — that way we know percentages, we know what’s going where, we know how much money we’re making on this thing. All of that is knowledge. The world we live in is about understanding and owning businesses if you want to gain wealth or be able to do great things financially in this world.

Beyond your personal endeavors, are there any other musicians, athletes or entrepreneurs that you admire right now?

Absolutely! I love what guys like Deion Sanders are doing. He’s always been one of my main motivators in terms of his integrity and the man he is. I love what he’s doing with HBCUs, bringing finances to those communities and introducing Black stars to that particular space. Also, tapping deeper into financial literacy, I like to follow the guys that are knowledgeable about this stuff. My homie Wallstreet Trapper was just talking about financial literacy. There’s also a couple of people coming up. You got [Marcus “Him500” Barney], Ian Dunlap, “Earn Your Leisure.”

Shifting the focus slightly. As a father, what are some financial resources that you would recommend to young people and your own children?

I would say buy pieces of the businesses that you’re already involved in. Anything that you or your children are involved in, whether it be an Apple product, your vehicle, banking. For me, that’s the most important thing that I want to teach my kids is teaching them how to own a part of a business, what stocks are, what the S&P 500 is, index funds, and how to make that dollar work. That’s where I’d start, teaching them how to own a piece of that business rather than working for one.

That goes for anybody. Understand what it takes to run that business, what products are successful. That’s zooming out a bit but then you can go in and play the game. With that, it gives you a headstart in life. Invest in the things you naturally fuck with and have an interest in.

Gen Z and millennials approach money differently than prior generations thanks to all the resources that are available now. Have you learned anything specific from the last generation of doers?

All of this information is not too much new. Salute to the new generation because they have quicker access to it which is a super blessing. It’s been inspiring watching them because they can get rich a lot faster. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you in a state of learning, keeps you in a space of just asking questions. Seeing that they’re doing it, I like to take it in as inspiration. Generation Z has their thing with NFTs, dumping money into crypto, and people are becoming more creative in terms of bringing their personalities out.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned from Gen Z, it’s to express yourself more. Be open and honest with people because that truth in your story could also help somebody who might be in a vulnerable or discomforting position. That information might be able to help them so that’s one of the things that I learned from Gen Z. You see a lot more being creative and honest about where they are, and I love it. We have a lot of great people coming from this generation.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and what you think they mean for the future.

Again, it’s all about the integrity of it. There’s so much opportunity in those spaces. I heard that they can be a bit volatile, in terms of NFTs. People have been saying it’s risky, but the reward is good. I don’t typically go ham on things that were just created; I kind of let things build before I invest in them. I would normally start small, so it’s not too risky. The reality is that there are so many ways to make money. Maybe Gen Z are the ones that have brought that into fruition.

What do you think needs to be done in terms of making financial resources more accessible to minorities?

I think we have to start off with more leaders. I can just say, in my mind, what I’m thinking about, and what I want to do in my community. Obviously, you have rec centers and after school programs, but I want to build a wellness center all around the wellness of the mind, health and finances — a space where kids can go to learn, have mentors, and be challenged. To me, that would be my way of giving back.

In terms of creating opportunities for people, I can truly only speak for myself. I’m in a space right now where I want to dive more into my community. I want to help minorities and other groups tap into what it is that I’m doing, whether it’s fitness, music or health and wellness. That’s the way that I want to give back. I feel like we’re still going down that rabbit hole.

Given that you signed your first record deal at 17, wha is the financial advice that you would give to young entrepreneurs?

Go for it. Take action because for the youth that are just getting out of high school, it’s a very difficult space. So many people are pulling you in different ways, your friends are going to this college or this school, and you’re trying to figure out where you are in the world and how you relate to everything going on. I would say set a plan, first and foremost. Figure out what it is you want to do. That’s the only goal: Decide what it is that you want to do. That would be the first place to start. Decide why you want to start that business? How it’s going to benefit others? Ask yourself these questions. You have to go through that trial and error and go out and be actionary about it.

Lastly, let’s talk about taking risks. What are some things to consider before taking financial risk? When is the best time to take a risk?

Understand it inside out. Understand that there are lessons in every risk. Even though sometimes we can financially lose, we might be able to gain on the mental level. I’m willing to lose a dollar or a few thousand if I’m able to gain something valuable in return. There’s always a thin line between risk and reward. Mainly, what I would do is figure out who the key players are and how they’re operating. How can you see what they’re doing, get inspired, and do it totally differently? For whoever wants to do anything, figure that business out inside out, compare who’s in the top five of that business, take that information, then move forward on how it’s best suitable for you.