In all that he does, Ace Patterson strives to deliver a consistent, supportive message: “I want to be somebody whose hand is out, who [people] can come up to,” he says. This altruistic approach to life guides Patterson in not just his role in marketing operations at Facebook but also in his passion and side hustle as a rapper.
A Jamaican-American, Patterson was one of the first of his siblings to be born in the United States. Growing up in Bridgeport, Conn., some of his favorite hip-hop artists were Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes, followed by Lil Wayne, Eminem, Ludacris and Young Jeezy. But while these musicians and rappers may have helped spark his interest in hip-hop, Patterson’s style is all his own.
He strives to embody a different brand of hip-hop, under the alias Call Me Ace. “There are a lot of messages out there that aren’t necessarily uplifting,” says Patterson, “but I’m actively seeking to uplift, inspire, motivate and encourage people through my music as well as through the various other opportunities that I [have been given].”
Since earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Columbia University in 2011, he has worked in education, the music business and in marketing as a consultant at Deloitte. In 2016, the Consortium alum graduated with his MBA from Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Patterson now works as a consumer marketing manager and operations lead for Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, while making music on the side — an area in which he is also seeing success. His recently released album Airplane Mode debuted at No. 3 on iTunes’ U.S. Hip-Hop Albums Top 40 Chart and No. 50 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales Chart.
Patterson recently found time to speak with us about his marketing and music careers and how he hopes to use both to help others.
Has music been a passion and hobby of yours throughout most of your life?
When I was younger, my older sister and my aunt really helped me understand the music behind the culture that I grew up in. I come from a creative family so to speak, so I’ve always been an artist, poet or actor, and rhyming over music is something that I actively did even when I was 12 or 13.
When I went to college, I was making music a bit more seriously, creating albums and selling them. The last thing I did before graduating from Columbia was open up for Snoop Dogg in front of more than 26,000 people. Around that time, though, I decided I didn’t want to rap anymore. But about three years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine back in Bridgeport who asked if I ever thought about rapping any more. I said, “I’m about to graduate business school, and I’m about to have a full-time job as a consultant. I’m about to get married. I’m about to have a healthcare plan. These are not rapper things.” But all of my excuses he completely refuted. He said that, if anything, being a rapper in my situation would be all the more reason to do it because there’s a need for a differentiation; there’s a need for different stories.
I had no excuse, and from that point on, he challenged me to write a song a week, which turned into one album, which turned into another. Three years later, here I am. My most recent project hit the Billboard chart, and I have momentum here in the Bay Area.
Does having a full-time job provide you the resources and security to be able to have your music career on the side?
On the one hand, having a day job provides me with the resources to invest in myself with more than just time. I’m also surrounded by people who challenge me intellectually and strengthen my business and interpersonal skills — all benefits. The trade-off, however, is that I have less time to apply all of these to my music.
With my current setup, though, I think it’s pretty cool that I get to be myself a little more openly. When I was a consultant, I had to be a little more buttoned up, as opposed to at Facebook, where I’ve even performed at the company a few times. It’s almost surreal [how] different the environments are. I think mentally it’s less of a split for me, but nonetheless, it’s still not easy. At the end of the day, I still need to excel and do a good job at my day job, which affects the amount of time and effort I am able to put into my music.
Does Facebook support you in your music career?
I definitely think there are resources here that enable me to do the things that I like to do. For example, there’s a group here called Musicians@ MPK that I help run, and through that group, I’ve been able to create opportunities where other internal musicians, including myself, can perform in front of live and digital crowds of 100 to more than 15,000 people. It’s been a blessing because we’re creating platforms to give other artists internal visibility among their co-workers that they might not have otherwise received.
At Columbia, I co-founded the Columbia University Society of Hip-Hop, and that group was an awesome opportunity for other rappers, producers and even instrumentalists to come in, make music and perform. I like [having] those types of opportunities as well, and Facebook offers those where you are able to create a community around your interests.
How have your professional experiences and the business and marketing insight you gained from your MBA helped you grow your music career?
What [comes to mind] when I think about marketing and creating projects is taking something from an idea to execution. That’s at the basis of business and at the basis of creating music as well.
Being in the strategy and marketing space over the last three years of my career has definitely influenced me and the way that I conduct my own music business. That said, I do a lot more experimenting with different ideas in my business because, when you work for another company, at the end of the day, you have to do what makes sense for that company and its objectives. But for myself, I have the liberty to try out ideas and make decisions that I might not be able to at my job, see how they work and build my own marketing experiences from there.
Having the book smarts from school or the corporate experience is helpful, but I also like getting into the dirt myself to learn the hard way.
Why did you major in anthropology in undergrad instead of, say, music or business?
If you want to know the truth, I got a D in economics my first semester so I decided to go into the social sciences. I thought I was going to be a businessman, just maybe not through education; it’s funny how God brings things full circle.
What I really liked about anthropology was not only the cultural aspect — I’ve always been fascinated with cultures and diasporas and how people form groups — but also the fact that most of what I was doing was writing. For example, I got to write about what it means to be Jamaican [having been] born outside of Jamaica, using my story as the foundation, and I was getting A’s for it. I loved it.
I had no idea that kind of ethnographic thinking would have been good for marketing. At the time, I just needed a degree to graduate. But it all worked out; [I ended up] going to business school and realizing that marketing had a lot of anthropology in it — really understanding what people want and how they think. It ended up being a blessing.
What pulled you in the direction of business?
One of the key things about who I am is that I love to give back. I’m a first-generation Jamaican-American from an inner-city. Me and my older sister were the first ones to go to college in our immediate family, and for 10 years, I worked in education. I was a teacher’s assistant, an educational associate, a mentor, a bus monitor; I was always working with kids who came from similar, if not the same, neighborhoods that I grew up in, where the same resources that I was blessed to receive weren’t accessible by everyone. So I try to be a catalyst for passing down these resources.
That spirit is what led me to my first job after college, which was working at Success Academies within operations. I knew nothing about operations, but the COO and the director of operations — both my direct bosses during my time there — taught me everything. They both went to business school and were the ones who, two years later, wrote my recommendation letters for my business school application. One went to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and she was the one who told me about The Consortium.
They were the ones who really demonstrated for me that one of the awesome ways I could give back was by being a businessman and using those skills to enable organizations to provide opportunities for underserved youth.
Also, I went on a mission trip to Medellin, Columbia, with my church, where I witnessed how individuals who were recovering from homelessness, drug addiction and abuse felt a renewed sense of restoration, dignity and purpose by being taught vocational skills. That gave me an even deeper sense of calling with regards to going into business so that I might be able to [provide people with] the tools to help empower others, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented.
The combination of those two experiences are what led me to consider business school, particularly through The Consortium. The Consortium mission truly resonates with me.
What has The Consortium meant to you?
The Consortium has been such a big component of my life, my narrative. Being at Facebook, knowing that we are partners with The Consortium and that we’re doing the recruiting events, I want to be there; I want to be able to give back in that way. I was at OP last year and this year as an alum. It’s just something that resonates with me because … my parents barely went to high school, but here I am, one of the only people in my family to go to business school.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, where did your career take you?
When I had that conversation with my friend about rapping again, I was about to be a consultant at Deloitte. I did that because, praise God, I had a job, but I told myself I would not give up rapping again.
I really thought of that time as a training ground to put my skills to use, and then less than two years later, I was contacted about joining Facebook’s marketing operations team, so I took that up. I’ve been here for a year and a half now, but I’m still taking things day by day. During these past three years, my music has also been growing, and I’m seeing the opportunities that are coming with that. So I really have two careers, and I’m just growing both simultaneously.
Do you ultimately hope to take your music career full time?
If the right opportunity presents itself, I don’t see why not.