Alumnus Anthony “Ace” Patterson ’07 considers his world to be an open songbook. From his formative years at GFA to his current job at Facebook, music weaves in and out of his life, tying each experience to the next. Rapper, marketer, family man, volunteer, mentor, Patterson sees music as a way not just to fuse together the different facets of his life, but to share them with others.
This March, Patterson — who is also known as hip-hop artist, Call Me Ace — released an album, Airplane Mode, which debuted at No. 3 on the iTunes Top 40 US Hip-Hop Album Chart and was ranked No. 50 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales Chart in its first week.
The album was written in the weeks following the death of his aunt, with whom he was extremely close — as a teenager, he spent almost every morning with her, as she drove him to GFA. “She was a key person in my life who encouraged me to learn something new every day and to take advantage of the opportunities before me. While I’m excited to see the visibility [Airplane Mode has] gotten, I’m more thankful that the depth of the album is resonating with people,” Patterson said.
Through his melodies and lyrics, Patterson shares with his listeners his thoughts about who he is, where he’s been, and where he’s headed.
In the Beginning
Airplane Mode marks his third album since 2016, but his career started back in his GFA days, where he joined his first rap group (Da Foundation, with fellow alumnus Christian Webster, AKA Chris Webby), his first solo album at 16 (Jus’ Me, performing as Young Ace), and even his first music video (which premiered at GFAN). Ever-prolific and in perpetual motion, Patterson traces his drive and success back to his GFA days.
He reminisced, “When I think about how everything has worked together to get me to this place, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the fact that a lot of the capabilities that I fostered and built really happened during my middle school and high school years at GFA."
At GFA Patterson immersed himself in every opportunity that he saw, starting with art classes, and later spoken word poetry competitions on Pi Day in Middle School (he won in both seventh and eighth grade). In his words, “artwork turned into written words, written words turned into poetry, and poetry turned into music.”
Though he initially considered himself “pretty bad at English,” Patterson advanced to AP English with Amy Schwartz, where his final project was a rap in the character of Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov.
“The evolution of my artistic journey — acting, speaking in front of audiences, a lot of the training ground that I got to be a performer, artist, and visionary — was really incubated during my time at GFA,” he explained.
It’s also where he first connected with community service, and he considers one of the all-time highlights of his high school experience to be his work with Horizons, “a transformational, community-centered program proven to close the opportunity and achievement gaps for low-income children.” For seven years, Patterson worked with Horizons at GFA, which brings Bridgeport students to the school for academic support during weekends and summers.
“It was such a privilege to be a person from Bridgeport who is aware of and has access to those GFA resources, and to create access and opportunity — and give back — to the people who are from the same community that I’m from,” he stated. “And to know that I was going to a school that was passionate about that made me more passionate, too. That spirit has honestly shaped the direction of how I’ve grown professionally.”
Making it Work
Patterson spends his workdays at Facebook headquarters, where he serves within Consumer Marketing as the operations lead for Messenger and WhatsApp , but his day starts long before that.
Rising early — typically around 5:15 AM — Patterson meticulously schedules gym time, music time, and family time before heading into work (usually early). After-work hours could include community service activities or social time, but always more family time, and always more music time, sometimes driving an hour from Menlo Park, CA, to Oakland for gigs.
How does he find the time?
First, he explained, he really needs to create and stick to a schedule. Second, he has a job that allows him to bring his “full self” to work, where he thrives among creative co-workers who help him stay sharp and intellectually challenged.
“Being at Facebook is allowing me to be a bigger and better artist,” he said. “I’m given opportunities to be open while at the job and share my music with my co-workers — that way it doesn’t feel like I’m splitting my brain 24/7,” he explained. “Of course, I still need to do good work while I’m there, and the fact that I’m surrounded by so many other super-smart go-getters also sharpens my professional and intellectual skill sets — all of which funnel into how I manage and grow my music in one way or another.”
Third: “Prayer, so much prayer!” he laughed. “Navigating those ups and downs of the music industry can be a little uncertain. Going on the ride takes faith!”
He often finds himself drawing connections to how his experiences at GFA have informed his experiences at work.
“Given my background at GFA, I’m prepared to say, ‘What are the resources that I can utilize to make a bigger impact in my life?’” he explained. “Being able to push myself academically, as well as being provided with resources to help flesh out what I was called to do really became a training ground for where I am now.”
Since working with Horizons, Patterson has continued to volunteer for educational organizations. After attending Columbia University as an undergraduate, he worked at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, supporting their operational growth from 12 to 32 schools in two years. While getting his MBA at The University of California, Berkeley-Haas, he created a marketing and brand evaluation consulting project — pro bono — for a program now called Boost@BerkeleyHass. Similar to Horizons, Boost@BerkeleyHass aims “to inspire, elevate and support first-generation, under-resourced youths’ academic and career pursuits to realize their true leadership potential.” He became a mentor there as well, and is still very much connected with the group.
Hitting the Right Note
All of these experiences resonate throughout Patterson’s music, and his newest album in particular. Some connections are more conspicuous (see: Airplane Mode, track 2, “5:15AM”), while others contain nuanced references, both sonically and lyrically. The track “Mr. UN,” for example, incorporates sounds he absorbed from his travels to Spain (during his senior year at GFA), Panama, and Colombia.
“Going to a school like GFA has shown me that the world is bigger than Bridgeport, CT, and part of my journey on this earth has been to see more, learn more, cultivate more and incorporate more so that way as people are listening to me they’re also getting glimpses of how big the world is, how many opportunities there are,” Patterson said.
When he first moved out to California, he said it became evident that his hip-hop had a distinct “East Coast style.” He spent the next three years listening to the sounds emanating from the Bay Area and began infusing them into his music — at the same time being careful not to co-opt someone else’s culture or sound, nor to lose sight of his own.
“I never want someone to think that I’m exploiting their culture or exploiting where they’re from, or acting like I know something that I don’t,” he said. “What I’ve been doing since I’ve been out here is just listening and learning so I can incorporate it knowledgeably while also being myself.”
Patterson credits many of his former GFA faculty members with helping him find and stay true to his voice — Amy Schwartz, Robbi Hart, OJ Burns, Betsy Bergeron, Nancy McTague-Stock, Elizabeth Day, Alison Jean, Kate Morrison, Stephanie Whitney, Stephen Stout, and Patience Fanella-Koch are just a few of his early supporters with whom he still keeps in touch (his actual list is too long to do justice here).
“Coming from Bridgeport, going to a school like GFA opened my eyes to the vast opportunities of literally living,” he said. “If I didn’t have those experiences, I wouldn’t have known how to be as entrepreneurial, or how to be as independent. If you’re given the resources and all you’re left with is the willpower and perseverance to make it happen, then it’s really up to you to make it happen.”