Long before his single 'Hustle Hard' put him on the map, Antoine "Ace Hood" McCalister was on his grind. The 23-year-old, who was the first artist to sign to DJ Khaled's We The Best Music Group, already has two albums under his belt and is prepping the release of his third -- and arguably most personal project -- 'Blood, Sweat & Tears,' set for an August 9 release.

Growing up in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Hood aspired to be an athlete until a high school football injury sidelined his dreams and led him down a new path. He began to pursue a rap career, and at 19, linked with a local rap group to release the single 'M.O.E.' While it wasn't a commercial success, it pushed him into a tedious schedule of self-promotion all culminating with a chance meeting with Khaled, who he bumped into outside of Miami radio station 99 Jamz. Khaled later sent over a copy of his 'Iím So Hood' single to test the budding rapper's skills and the rest is pretty much history.

Now four years later, the father of two is thankful for the opportunities bestowed on him at the hands of Khaled and other hip-hop game changers like Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, who not only jumped on his 'Hustle Hard' remix but have thrown their support behind him. One would think that the pressure of potentially becoming the next big thing in hip-hop would be daunting, but Ace Hood is not only up for the challenge, he welcomes the possibility of success with open arms. Read on as the health conscious rapper details the poignant songs he created on his new LP, welcoming his twin daughters into the world and a New York City-born R&B star he'd love to share studio time with.

Your performance of 'Hustle Hard' with Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and DJ Khaled at this year's BET Awards was a big step in your career. How did it feel to be on such a huge platform?

It was big. I felt like that definitely had to be the highlight of my career. That's a day I'll never forget, especially with artists like Lil Wayne or Rick Ross, it kind of like was an introduction to what the next generation has to offer. Me stepping out there and having everybody arrive and show me a lot of love was really big.

You signed with DJ Khaled's We the Best label in 2007. How did linking with him help you in the rap game?

When I first met Khaled, he brought me through the artist development. He was always there for me, kind of carried me through, besides him being my brother, he's a great CEO. He taught me the ins and outs of the music business and how to be a better artist and what it really takes to be a better artist. I [admire] his go-getter mentality. Khaled is a person who's been told "No" so many times in his life and he's proven that he can do it. I really admire that about him; he's really driven.

Watch Ace Hood's 'Hustle Hard'

'Blood Sweat & Tears' is your third album but it seems like you're really getting on the map now, since more people know who you are with 'Hustle Hard.' Did you expect to be further along in your career by now or are you right where you thought you'd be?

It's definitely further along. For any artist to be in this music industry for four years and to drop three albums, that's always big. For me to even have albums is major for me. I'm further along than I ever thought I would be.

How would you say you've grown up on 'Blood, Sweat & Tears'?

'Blood, Sweat & Tears' is a whole different type of music for me. It's my life testimony. It's a different album for hip-hop in general; it's not so much glorifying women or cars or whatever. It's really telling the struggle, what's really going on in the streets. I feel like this album is definitely a phenomenal project. Timeless music, as I like to say.

What are some of the struggles that you have endured while putting together this project?

Being that I took a year off from the music industry, I endured a lot. I went through losing homies, financial issues and what not. I got a record on this album called 'Memory Lane' [produced by 'Racks' beatmaker Sonny Digital] reminiscing on the times we [my deceased friend] did kick it, to the times in which I got the call and the incident actually went down. 'Memory Lane' is one of my favorite songs on that album, I wanted to put that down because it's special to me. Then I have a song titled 'Lord Knows,' it's kind of just giving you my life issues, what I went through personally with my mom being in and out of the hospital and my little [infant twin] girls. "Man of flesh may not understand what I've been through, the hard times, the long nights, but only Lord knows."

On the health tip, you're in pretty good shape. What's your workout regimen?

I played ball in my high school years and what not. I just kept working on it. Every once in a while I would go on different diets. I would go on a protein diet, eating tuna fish, eggs or chicken breast or things of that nature. Being that I'm not able to work out so much on the road, I do 500-600 push-ups a day. I do a couple hundred before the show, in the morning I wake up and do push-ups during the day, anytime I am able to do that I get 'em in. I do sit-ups as well just to keep it right, so that when I do step up it's on a different level. That and being on stage, it keeps me fit; I sweat a lot. I have a fast metabolism. People look at me and think I workout everyday but I just got a dope method. You gotta take care of that body.

I know you like to put in work in the studio. What's the last song you recorded and what is the vibe like when you're creating?

The studio is not always serious. We always have fun times in the studio, whether homies are acting up, nothing too crazy. We may drink a little bit, have fun talk about the old stories -- when you were in high school and all this stuff. The last time I was in the studio I was just knocking out features and freestyles. I knocked out a feature for Twista, which is a hood joint. He hit me up and wanted me to be a part of it. The Drake one is just one I freestyled on [Dream's Money Can Buy], not necessarily a feature just a record I jumped on.

What songs or artists are you a fan of right now?

I'm a huge fan of Wayne, I like J. Cole's music. I like Alicia Keys as well. I would like to collaborate with Alicia Keys. I think that it would be very different for me, kind of like a "best of both worlds," I guess. Just a different experience for me.

Now that you're a father, do you think about how you will deal with the young boys that will come around your daughter when they grow up?

It gets hard... just thinking about how I was when I grew up. Iím very overprotective, so I gotta buy more weapons [laughs].

You life has changed pretty drastically over the last few years. What does it feel like to be a father, support your family and be able to live your dream?

It's amazing. I have twins, I ended up having a double [laughs]. For me it's a blessing for me to do what I love and to be blessed with a gift of two beautiful little girls, it's amazing. I feel like the greatest dad on earth. I'm not able to see my girls as much as I would like to but thank God for Skype!

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