Apollo Brown and Ghostface Killah
Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape
Soul Temple Music, 2013
Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape might be my favorite hip-hop record of 2013 when it’s all said and done. Now don’t get me wrong, the original that was produced by Adrian Younge is masterful, but there’s something about this version that hits me harder.
The apparent feature that sticks out to me is Apollo Brown’s production. The genius behind Apollo is that he follows a very specific route when he produces tracks. He’s known for his distinct soul sampling, the heavy and clean percussion boom-baps and powerful Detroit old Motown kick. However, on The Brown Tape he ventures out of his comfort zone. “Blood on the Cobblestones” is a fast-moving march with percussion that’s so light, you can barely tell it’s the driving rhythm of the song. The screeching scratches and running piano is addictive, and at some point during this song you forget it’s Apollo behind the production. “Rise of the Black Suits” vibrates with low organ swells and a Pink Panther-like approach. “Enemies All Around Me” is hauntingly subdued, and it follows the album’s overall theme to a dime. “The Sure Shot (Parts 1 and 2)” runs like “Blood on the Cobblestones” and mumbles, rises, swells and dances with violin samples that sweep the entire stereo.
With all that being said, Apollo doesn’t entirely get away from his signature style we’ve all come to love. “I Declare War” starts off with blaring horns and inter-laden samples that mirror the great cuts he produced with Ugly Heroes or Guilty Simpson, and the samples he uses in “Revenge is Sweet” sounds all too familiar, but amazingly refreshing.
Should I even go into Ghostface KIllah and the rest of the featured members on the record? What more can I say? Wu-Tang is Wu-Tang when it’s all said and done, and with the exception of Inspectah Deck’s Czarface (which he did with 7L & Esoteric), the freshest Wu bars are spit on this record. William Hart from The Delfonics is a nice addition to this record, and considering the legend behind The Delfonics, having William Hart make an appearance feels like Ghostface giving thanks.
The Brown Tape is the best of both worlds, with Apollo Brown behind the production and Ghostface Killah behind the story. Here you’ll find Apollo stretching his talents into the vast reaches of hip-hop production, and this is the clear takeaway from this record.
On April 16, 2013, Ghostface Killah and producer Adrian Younge released Twelve Reasons To Die. This record is set in 1960’s Italy and follows the story of Tony Starks, a well-known Ghostface alter-ego. As the story goes, Tony Starks is an Italian mob enforcer that is murdered when he falls in love with his employer’s daughter. Twelve Reasons To Die is the resurrected version of Tony Starks, and he is out for revenge. The creativity and execution behind this concept album is as Wu-Tang as it gets with appearances from U-God, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, William Hart, Killa Sin and RZA (the executive producer behind the project and album narrator). However, the best part of this album is that there is a second version.
Only a week later there was a second official version of the album that came out via bandcamp entitled, Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape. This second version was produced entirely by Michigan native Apollo Brown. It goes without saying that the lyricism of Ghostface and the featured members of Wu-Tang are on point; they have been in the game long enough that they don’t have to prove their skills on the mic.
After listening to The Brown Tape, it was impossible not to be in awe of Apollo Brown’s production skills. For the most part, it’s easy to tell when something is produced by him. There are the familiar Motown samples laced with soulful riffs and heavy booms and baps. In all honesty, this is not a knock on his production style at all. It is somewhat simplistic, but simplistic can be good and in this case, it works well. If anything, Apollo Brown is like a point guard in that his beats bang harder than most and allow the MC on the track to shine. On the original Twelve Reasons To Die, it is clear that we’re being taken somewhere else: to a place of comics and gritty pulp fiction that is full of blood, sex, violence and revenge. On The Brown Tape, Apollo Brown enhances this experience and takes us even further.
Right off the bat, “Beware of the Stare” sounds as though you’re watching a movie from the 1950’s and then out of nowhere, Ghostface is in and it feels as though he is sitting in a Cathedral, preparing himself for the long journey of revenge he is about to embark on. Following that, “Rise of the Black Suits,” “Blood on the Cobblestones,” and “Murder Spree” continue with this story of retribution. Taking into account that Tony Starks has been killed and Ghostface Killah is the resurrection of this character, there is a certain sense of doom that hangs over both versions of this record. On The Brown Tape, there is more of a particular feeling of melancholy created by Apollo Brown. This record does not move at a fast pace. Instead, it chugs along with a deliberately even speed, allowing you to experience the pain of death and the exhilaration of revenge.
Don’t get me wrong, the original version of Twelve Reasons To Die is amazing. Adrian Younge is on point and he works well with Ghostface Killah and the other Wu-Tang members. That being said, The Brown Tape is an important listen as it demonstrates the versatility of producer Apollo Brown as he takes a step in a different direction than what fans may be used to. It can be easy to overlook the production of an album sometimes, especially when there is a legendary MC on hand. However, on Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape, it is impossible to overlook the brilliance of Apollo Brown and the mood he is able to create.