The ladder of success consists of many rungs, but in the case of Ace Hood, his ascent was more reminiscent of an escalator. Inking a record deal with DJ Khaled's We The Best Music fresh out of high school, Ace was tapped as the label's flagship artist. He made high-profile appearances on star-studded collaborations with some of rap's biggest names, an opportunity not afforded to the average fledgling artist.

Releasing his debut album, Gutta, in 2008, Ace Hood quickly made his presence known with a mix of high-octane street bangers and records geared towards the ladies. He earned a spot in the 2009 XXL Freshman class, proving both his artistry and brand had staying power. The rhymer reached a crescendo in 2013, with the release of his single "Bugatti." Featuring Future and Rick Ross, "Bugatti" would become Ace's most successful single of his career and one of the year's biggest street anthems. However, the track would also mark the beginning of the end of Ace's tenure with DJ Khaled and We The Best Music.

Releasing his fourth studio album, Trials & Tribulations, in 2013, Ace Hood spent the subsequent years hitting the mixtape scene with a vengeance, but would ultimately split from We The Best Music in 2016, amid DJ Khaled's own star turn to take his career into his own hands. Going on more than four years without releasing a proper studio album, Ace has returned with a renewed focus and a hunger for more, launching his own independent record label, Hood Nation, and evolving into a boss in all facets. The title of Ace Hood's latest project, Trust the Process, doubles as the rapper's mantra, as he has learned the power of patience and staying the course while preparing to take his career and personal brand to the next level.

And that patience looks to be paying off for Ace Hood, as Trust the Process has been hailed as a return to form for the Floridian by critics and fans alike. Having recently released a visual for "3 Bless," one of the standout tracks from the project, and announced his Trust the Process Tour, which kicked off Nov. 18 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and wraps up on Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C., the MC appears to be back on the top of his game, with a palpable hunger for more.

Ace Hood sat down with XXL to discuss Trust the Process, his decision to split ties with DJ Khaled and go the independent route, balancing his love life while being an entertainer and what he has in store for his new album in 2018.

XXL: It's been a while since the people have gotten an official album from you. What was the reason for the hiatus?

Ace Hood: Well, the layoff hasn't been four years. I was rapping [on] projects during that time and during that process, but as far as the album, the album took a little longer. But I just kinda needed to work on myself I needed to find my thing and figure out what was important to me, what I needed to say, who I am, the path where I was going and be able to understand it fully and trust it, you know what I'm saying, most importantly. So that's really where I been, just really spending time and enriching my life and the people that I love and care about.

A lot of fans on social media noticed you have a girlfriend you appear to be in a serious relationship with. How would you say her presence has impacted your life?

It impacted me greatly, man. I think it's so funny because we was talking about this in the lobby as we was waiting, that this is the first time I've been able to have a partnership with a woman and really connect with a woman on a spiritual and a soul level. And I think that's much much deeper than the relationships I've had with woman in the past. So for me, she's changed my life for the greater good. And all of these false beliefs and realities that I had and these unhealthy thoughts and ideas that I had about woman, a lot of them were changed once you actually meet a good woman. So yeah.

There's often a lot of obstacles being an entertainer and having a love life. How do you balance the two?

I think it's a decision; I've made my decision. And to me, the outside women, I respect ’em, but it's not worth me losing my foundation of what I've built with a woman who's helped pull me through some of the toughest situations in my life. I won't risk that for something surface level and that's probably gonna be solely sexual anyway. So for me, I'd rather not risk it because she's very important. I honor her, I honor myself, too, at the same token.

I'm a representation of her, she's a representation of me and that's how we carry each other and that's how I carry myself, even when I move around. So for me, you know, it's beautiful woman everywhere, but they respect me more—the fact that I'm in a happy relationship and I'm rocking, ’cause that's just real. It's like, yeah, you're beautiful, but that's about it.

You have a new project, Trust the Process, out. What was the rhyme and reason behind picking that title?

I felt it represented my life and I don't think it just represented my current circumstances, Trust the Process sums up everything. I couldn't really one-word title this project. I tried and it was tough you know ’cause I just needed a title that represented power and had so much meaning behind it. I'm a man of faith and I've always been a man of faith and that's what's always got me through my circumstances and my situations and ultimately, how I was able to pull through all this was to be able to say, "You know what? I need to trust what it is he's trying to tell me and keep my focus, keep my faith and just keep pushing forward."

So [Foreign] Tech is the one who actually brought the name and concept to me and I was like "That's it," because my entire career and life, I had to trust the process and trust that he had a larger vision for me. Even at the time, I didn't understand what it was, I just chose to trust it and knew that it would work out with the greater good.

What collaborations are you excited for the fans to check out?

Yeah, I'm working with a lot of the younger cats. I've been working with a guy name O.Z., he's on a record on the project called "Outta Here," Florida hard joint. And he got a local record out now called "Check" that he's promoting. So this is a guy that I got a relationship and I want to see win, so I support him. Anything that's good music and good people, I'm willing to support.

Ball Greezy is on the "Life Goes On" track that I have and he's another guy that's generating buzz back at the crib; he's doing his thing. He got a numerous amount of records out and I think he's one of the most talented guys that's in Florida. So I've always reached back to kinda give him an uplift in anyway that I can.

So you're kind of keeping it an in-house thing?

’Cause I ain't tryna fabricate it. I'm willing to work with people that not only inspire me, but people that I got real connections and relationships with. It ain't just ’cause you're dope and I'm dope, we're gonna work together.

Who did you build a vibe with on the production side while making this project?

My guy Foreign Tech. He produced my entire project. He's the one that's been sonically putting the sound together. So all due credit to him. He did good work with this Trust the Process project and it's just a smaller piece to a larger puzzle, you know what I'm saying? And we're gonna continue growing, keep elevating, elevating the sound. So that's the main thing.

How did you and Foreign Tech originally link?

Initially, I met Tech when he was about 17. Tech is 23, 24 now, and it was like his first placement and he kind of held that to heart, which I appreciate, but as things just started to transpire for me, he became a little more adamant about "Let's do the collaborative project together." And I was all down for it, but I really had to get in the mind frame of saying, "Aight, cool. Let's do this joint project," ’cause it's like the first time I've done this with a producer.

And we just sat down, man and hashed it out and said, "We're gonna really do this. We're gonna lock in for about two months and we're gonna get the material done. All we're gonna do is record, we're gonna vibe, we're gonna smoke out and we're just gonna build. We're just gonna be free and create from a real place."

What would you say are some of the qualities of his beats and your rhymes that makes the two of you a good match?

Passion, man. To me, his beats got a lot of passion. I love the sound of his records, too, like, the sample-driven energy. I say that to say that all of them are not samples, but they feel sample-ish in a sense, you know? It's like that vintage vibe and I love music that you can feel. So for me, it works the same way if someone hears my lyricism or how I rap you can feel the passion, you can feel the love and the energy and the hunger that I've put into it.

And I think with his beats, even with my vocals removed, you can hear that passion, love and time and energy [he puts] into his beats and I think gelling us together makes for the perfect project.

What would you say are you favorite three songs on this project and why?

I'ma say "To Whom It May Concern," "Play to Win," and I'ma say "Trust the Process." "To Whom It May Concern," was kinda just me writing a letter to myself, not only to my fans but "To Whom It May Concern" is if a shoe fits, wear it type of thing. So that was me just being able to get my thoughts and express ’em and everything that's happening in my mind, just spill it all out to my people and allow them to understand what I went through, but take this energy and pray and hope that it inspire change in someone else.

So not to be able to just talk about it, but be able let it go, say it and move forward. "Play to Win" is just my life. You win, you lose, but we get back up and we fight again, we keep pushing and keep trusting it. "Trust the Process, was just "nothing that ever comes to a sleeper is a dream, nothing worth having comes as easy as it seems." So you gotta trust the process in anything that you do so those are a few powerful records that are on the project that I think people will be able to enjoy.

You also released a single, "Came Wit the Posse," from the project. What was the inspiration behind the song?

They love it. They love it, man, they're over-excited. I think I posed a still shot with 80,000 views and stuff, people like it, they love it. The energy is crazy, they loving the music and I'm just excited, which a part of me knew they would 'cause it's real and it's different and it's hard, you know what I'm saying. Ain't nobody talking like that.

It was a tribute, really more so. It felt like a tribute to my homies. This is like we arrived and that context can be taken many ways. It can be in the perspective of the eye is open, keeping your third eye open and saying we've arrived, we're here. Also I've arrived too, you know what I'm saying? This a whole new forest, this a whole new ball game that we're dealing with. And it's like, if you weren't apart of our process and what we've endured and what we been through, you ain't gonna be apart of the long haul and the blessings that's gonna manifest after. So yeah, we came through with the posse. We're in the club enjoying ourselves.

Trust the Process is the first in a trilogy of projects. Will they all be the same title and if not, how will the themes differ?

I mean, I know they put that trilogy thing, but I don't know if I wanna live by that. It sounds a little restrictive, but the projects will connect though. The first project, Trust the Process is more of a statement. What I've been through, what helped me get over that, who helped me get over that, things that helped me get over that and fans know that I'm in a better place, you know what I'm saying. I

'm happy and I made one of the greatest decisions I've ever made with being a free artist. The second project will just entail of my growth and just my life as I live. So it ain't gonna be more so of a statement project, it might be back-to-back bangers on all 15 records. We gonna rang ’em out, we gonna step on they neck with it. It's the present we gonna hit ’em hard.

This one is closing that chapter.

There you go, my brother. So it's closing that chapter and the next one is like opening the new chapter of my life and where I am and how we're enjoying it at this point. And then I think thirdly, I think we're gonna speak to the ladies a little bit more. They're very moved by the whole "Chocolate Sundae" movement and shit. So I think it's important to cater to them.

There's a song titled "To Whom It May Concern" where you get a few issues off of your chest. What was the inspiration behind that track and your mind state while recording it?

I just wanted to be honest, man. I just wanted to, like, tell people where I been and what my circumstances have been like. It started off as a letter to my fans, but subconsciously, like I said, it was a letter to me. Like that confirmation of like, you dealt with this Hood and you did it, now let's move on. Give it to ’em, lay it all out, and me saying what I needed to say was like a fresh breath of fresh air, it's like taking it off your shoulder like I ain't gotta carry this no more. You can have it, it's out in the universe.

I've said it, you ain't gotta ask me about it anymore, once you digest the project, it's time to move forward. Live on it, soak in it and understand my train of thought and the way my mind work and stuff like that, but we're moving on to some bigger and better things.

You recently split ties with DJ Khaled's We The Best Music Group to pursue your career as an independent artist. What made you feel it was time to switch lanes and go that route?

I think that I wanted to say something. I had a larger vision for myself, you know what I'm saying? I wanted my message and purpose to be felt. And at the end of the day, to me, if I'm doing this, I want to be fulfilled as an artist, as a man and in everything else in my life. So for me, it wasn't bringing me fulfillment ’cause I felt like I couldn't live out my full potential with being under his umbrella, but I'm forever grateful for what we've been able to do and all of the memories and the hits and the plaques and everything we've been able to put together.

You know, that's my brother and I love him [DJ Khaled], but at some point, I just wanted to be free to kind of just be my own GPS, create my future and my legacy because it matters that much to me.

How would you describe your personal relationship with DJ Khaled at this point?

I mean, we're still cool. Though we don't speak every day, we are still cool and I'm pretty sure soon after this, things happen and we'll be able to reconnect. But it's important that love is brewing on each end. So when it's love/love, it finds each other, it's no force stronger and that's how we plan it, that's how we're moving forward. And I'm happy. I'm happy that he's flourishing because we talked about all of the things that's happening for him now.

We talked about that in a room together. We talked about before his son was born. We talked about all of this stuff and to see it manifesting on his end is incredible and I know he feels the same way, knowing that it's manifesting for Ace and I'm happy for him.

It's been four years since your last studio album, Trials & Tribulations, was released. When can fans expect another album from you?

Next year. Next year the album will be out.

Do you have any titles for it or is it still in the air?

Yeah [it's still in the air], just ’cause we got work to do. It's important you finish your business first before you move on. We ain't gonna take on too much, get this project out, boom. It's a piece of the puzzle. Next project is another piece to the puzzle, next project is another piece to the puzzle and by the time we do decide to get to the album, the fans will be more than ready, more than prepared, more than excited. It will be more than anticipation at that point.

Have you started the recording process for the album or are you recording the mixtapes and the album simultaneously?

Not even because who I am and where I am today, I won't be a year from now so I can't prematurely start something because it's not realistic for me. I only can focus on what's in front of me. That's what's great about being this whole, like, free artist, because for me it's also about being present and I can't be too present in the future because I'm gonna approach my album very differently than I'm gonna approach my projects. And these are projects so these aren't even technically mixtapes for me. These are not albums, these are not mixtapes,this is a project. Why? Because when people get it, it's a body of work. The next record [and] the record before is in alignment with the record after so it's a body of work.

What are some of the topics you'll be touching on the album or is there a vibe that you're shooting for?

I think it's gonna be everything in one. It will be a statement and it's also gonna embody the high energy and the bangers, you know what I'm saying? The album will embody all of that. All of what I feel, what I go through, the struggles, the ups and downs, but just on a more elevated level. For me, it's not even more so the content. I'm more thinking sonically, like how can my sound get bigger and be more creative? How can I bring new sound to the game?

So that's always my thing, to stay ahead of the curve. I'm thinking of new flows, new energy, new concepts, interesting concepts. That shit that we deal with in real life, for real, you know what I'm saying? So that's how my mind works. I need the production to be undoubtedly amazing when you hear it and listen to it. I want it to sound beautiful. I want chorus, I want people singing, I want gospel singers, I want backup singers. I want big buildups, big sounds. I want pianos, I want guitars, I want live band players inside. That's what my process will be like for me album, you know what I'm saying?

You're pulling out all of the stops.

We're going big, boy. I know [JAY-Z's] 4:44 was powerful, so I need to make a better album than that.

You've been on the rap scene for about a decade now. How does it feel to still be around and have fans that are still checking for you?

God is good. God is good, man. I'm grateful, I'm grateful, I'm grateful. Nothing without my fans, nothing without the people that support me. Grateful.

What are some of the lessons you've learned along the way and how would you say you've grown?

I've grown in just going through life. Allowing my obstacles and things that I deal with to be lessons and to come back stronger. And I think responding. Because a lot of times things are pushed in front of us, but we don't often respond. A lot of times, we got our own, like, set of trash bags that we don't necessarily wanna open and really skim through, but for me, this is me pouring it all out and literally saying, "This is not here. This is not needed. Can't believe I had this shit here. Take this out, take that out."

So yeah, it's really separating and taking myself completely apart in order to rebuild. Not restricting myself and allowing ’cause that's how you call shit toward you. You gotta allow.

What would you say is the next step or level for you in your career?

Next step for me is great music, consistent content on a consistent level. Give the fans what they deserve. I owe ’em that. It's been long enough. It's important that I give them all of the things that they been waiting on. All of the good music, all of the stuff that I been holding, all of the plans, like, I'm just excited to allow that to unfold. And I think, I ain't gonna put no expectations on it, but I will be legendary.

I will be legendary by the time it's over with. People will remember what I've done. People will be inspired. We will change lives with what I have to offer and what we're doing and that's gonna be a fact. And end of the day, that's what it's all about and all I'm doing is just gonna put my best foot forward and I'll see where that gets me.

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