Apollo Brown and Guilty Simpson
Mello Music Group, 2012
I don’t know what it is, but one of the most satisfying things with certain hip-hop records is that special producer/MC tandem. A lot of the time these days, records mix and match producers with MC’s to create albums with all sorts of names. Since Illmatic, there’s been a surge of records with multiple producers, but some of the best are stripped down pieces of work with one producer and one MC. With the exception of Torae and Planet Asia, Dice Game is all Apollo Brown and Guilty Simpson.
The mightiest of combinations on Dice Game is surely that of chemistry. Apollo’s production, like it always has been, kicks vitally with strong Motown samples and interludes that correspond with rattling percussion exploding from a cage. Guilty Simpson’s statements are harsh and up-front, and coupled with Apollo Brown’s production, everything is laid out perfectly. “Get a bottle of pills and take all the shit,” Simpson raps on “Change”, “and when she asks, ‘Whose fault is this?’ And the answer came she realized there’s a chance to change, come on.”
On “Truth Be Told”, a song that flows on gliding organ swells and rapid percussion beats, Guilty Simpson throws away the bullshit and throws real Detroit hip-hop at your face. “I need to change but I had to tell myself, ‘you want change it starts with you’ (It’s true).”
One of the great things about listening to a hip-hop record from start to finish is that by the end, it feels as if you’ve gotten to know the artists involved. This is especially true with Detroit’s Apollo Brown and Guilty Simpson, and their record Dice Game. From 2012, the album begins with “Reputation,” as Guilty Simpson introduces himself to the audience over steady, simplistically complex Apollo Brown production. Lines such as “The big three, original shit; they built the whole thing/ Gold rings, Carti frames, iced chains, all of that/ Crisp and Ones, the fourth letter on the ball caps” establishes the importance of place and the audience is presented with the perspective that Guilty is rapping from. Throughout Dice Game, Guilty is in your face, witty, abrasive and his booming voice is complemented by Apollo Brown samples that pay homage to the harness and the essence of Motown. For example, on “One Man” he raps, “They might frisk me/ I might be clean, I might not be/ Yeah, that’s iffy.” Later on “Nasty” he explains, “Big dog, I’m a rottweiler/ I’m gettin’ bread, I’m a stockpiler.” However, as we get to know Guilty, we begin to see another side of him.
On “Change,” Apollo sets the mood with melancholy strings and flute-sounding sample for Guilty as he tells a tale of drug addiction, poverty and the possibility for redemption. The first verse follows a man that has lost everything due to his battles with addiction. The second verse is about a woman who has also lost everything for the same reasons. Both verses end with this, “And when he/she asks, ‘Who’s fault is this?’/ And the answer came, He/she realized there’s a chance to change.” With “Truth Be Told,” Apollo Brown lays down a track that combines R&B samples and field drums to create a smooth and profound track. Guilty Simpson is at his best as he reflects on his life, coming into adolescence and then adulthood. “I didn’t have the drive, to put in the time to keep my hoop dreams alive/ I was busy with the women/ Thinkin’ I was livin, all the while slippin,’ losin’ stride.” For all the confidence that comes with being a wordsmith, Guilty allows us to see a different, more reflective side of himself. In that way we get to understand his identity as an artist even more.
With only a few guest appearances, one from Torae and one from Planet Asia, Dice Game consists of Apollo Brown setting up the brilliance of Guilty Simpson. For me, this record represents hip-hop in its purest form as it largely just an MC and producer, playing off each others styles and making the other sound even better. Beyond that, Dice Game is an example of the vibrant, inspirational and potent material that is coming out of Detroit everyday. If you’re not familiar with the hip-hop scene in Detroit, get on it.
Listen to the album here: