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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Red Pill

Red Pill Picture

By: Gus Navarro
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Deputat

Red Pill was the first rapper I interviewed for Bonus Cut back in May, 2013. At the time, he was working at a factory, had put out The Kick with Hir-O in January and Ugly Heroes was just being released. During our conversation, I distinctly remember an earnest restlessness and fear of complacency about him. It seemed that the anxiety of not working hard enough was keeping him up at night but also fueling his pursuit of success as a rapper. His music has that angst because he writes from personal experience. That being said, there is much more to his lines. If you listen to Red Pill, you will hear blue-collar, political raps, as well as thoughts on relationships and anecdotes about drinking a little too much. Conversationally he might worry about not working hard enough, something I relate with, but on the mic, he’s fearless.

The work Red Pill has put in since his early days with the BLAT! Pack has paid off. In the past year-and-a-half, he has toured Europe with Ugly Heroes twice and signed a multi-album deal with Mello Music Group. There is relief in knowing that he’s guaranteed to have music to work on for at least the next two years, motivation to keep making quality music and tour the United States. In this interview we touch on some of his experiences in Europe, shooting a cypher video with some of Detroit’s finest and his first official solo album with Mello Music Group, Look What This World Did To Us. It’s been fun to see his successes over the past year and I wish him all the best.

Bonus Cut (BC):  In our first interview you told me off the record that there was a European tour in the works. Since then, you’ve been over there twice with Ugly Heroes. What are some of the moments that stand out to you?

Red Pill (RP):  The moment I think it actually hit me that I was on tour in Europe was during our first show, which was at a festival called Hip Opsession in Nantes, France. We knew it was going to be a good show because we were one of the main acts. It was the first time I had ever been at a show that had catered food and our own dressing room. It was a crazy experience. The second performance we did was in Paris, and I’ll never forget it. We got in the van and asked the promoter how many people he thought were going to show up and he was like, “Oh, it’s sold out.” At that point, I’ve never sold out a show anywhere and now I’m in Paris, France and we have a sold out 500 capacity venue. That’s a pretty average sized club but for me, it was an incredible experience. For whatever reason, they’re really into the music over there.

BC:  You met KRS-One over there, how was that?

RP:  I’ve never been around big, big celebrities, ya know? Locally, there are people you look up to and that sort of thing. For me, two of those guys are Apollo Brown and Black Milk. You know they’re important to underground hip-hop and they’ve done shit. Meeting KRS was crazy because he pioneered the music that we’re making today, over thirty years ago. We were at this massive hip-hop festival called Hip-Hop Kemp in the Czech Republic. We’re in the backstage area and there was this commotion and I just see this gigantic human being, KRS-One, just walking by, pointing and giving high-fives to people. There was an aura about him that I can’t explain. You don’t get how impactful this man was until you see him. And he’s so humble. Cee-Lo Green was at the festival one night to perform. It didn’t matter who you were, everyone had to leave the backstage area. KRS could have requested that, but he didn’t. Even though he’s a huge name, he was a super humble and cool dude which is something to learn from.

BC:  On the second tour you were on the road with Skyzoo and Torae performing as the Barrel Brothers, what was that like?

RP:  They are incredible dudes, man. Skyzoo and Torae have been people that I looked up to comin’ up, but you never know what people are going to be like. They’re just super nice, genuine people. They’re incredible tour partners. It was cool because I got to see a lot of what they do. Torae is just constantly fuckin’ working. He’s got his radio show on Sirius XM. We’d get done with a performance, and he’d go back to his hotel room and work on his show. He’s just a fuckin’ workhorse and you learn from that. You don’t have to be workin’ every second of your life, but in this line of work you have to put in the hours. You gotta be on time with your shit and all that.

BC:  I think something I’ve learned over the past year is that people that are successful in the “underground” hip-hop scene are fucking smart and they work super hard.

RP:  You have to be. I’m a stickler for showing up to my recording sessions on time. I don’t write in the studio and shit like that. I’m there, ready to go. It’s the little details in everything and doing all the small things as best as you can. Sometimes I get down on myself because I feel that I’m not working hard enough. I think that’s a good thing though. It keeps my on my toes.

BC:  You were part of an Apollo Brown Cypher video with Marv Won, Miz Korona, Ras Kass and Noveliss of Clear Soul Forces. How fun was that?

RP:  The cypher video was cool. As an “up-and-coming” artist you get to a point where you start asserting yourself as someone who deserves to be where you’re at. I’m not super well known yet, but being able to get in a cypher video with Miz Korona and Noveliss, people I’ve known for awhile, and then Marv Won and Ras Kass was a big deal to me. The thing about it was that it was so fuckin’ hot. I was pouring sweat and my pants felt like they were melting to my legs. We had to do takes of each person’s verse a few times. Apparently being in an alley with a barrel fire for a few hours get’s pretty hot.

BC: From the last time we talked, it was clear that succeeding as a rapper in United States, specifically in Michigan, was very important to you. Does that still hold true despite the success of your music in other places such as Europe?

RP:  It definitely does. Outside of putting out music and those things, the biggest goal for next year is going on tour in the U.S.. MindFeederz, the booking agents from overseas, are trying to break into the North American market so I’ll hopefully be a part of that. Even with all of the success I’ve had over the past year with Mello Music Group as a member of Ugly Heroes and now a solo artist, I’m still a relatively unknown artist. As a stand alone artist, it’s time for me to break out. To do that, I think it’s going to take touring the U.S. and becoming someone that people know about over here.

BC:  Your music is always reflective of what you’re going through in life and what you’re thinking about. Based on that, what are some of the themes and ideas the new album addresses? 

RP:  A lot of it is about trying to understand what our generation, the post-college, whiny millennials, are going through. I’m trying to put my experiences of getting out of college and not knowing what the hell I’m doing with my life into it. I worked at the plant for awhile and that’s what you hear throughout Ugly Heroes. The new album is from there on. I feel that a lot of us just sort of feel lost. We still kind of feel like kids, and we’re trying to bridge that gap from being a young adult to an actual adult. From my particular experiences, I’ve dealt with drinking and personal issues with my girlfriend. We had a rough patch and it was all because I was struggling with being depressed. It was like this sickness that hurt our relationship as well as relationships with some of my friends and family.

BC:  Do you feel like you have a better sense of where you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to accomplish?

RP:  I feel more okay with what I’m doing. I’ve signed a multi-album deal with MMG so I’ll be with them for a while. I’m a little younger than the artists I look up to were when things started to happen for them. I’m about to be 27 so I’m not young per se, but I feel pretty good about where I am. It makes me feel that it was worth it to forego trying to find a normal 9-5 job because I’ve got something to say for it. I still feel like I’m trying to figure things out, but it’s nice to have a sense of where I’ll be for the next few years at least. There’s less of an unknown.

BC:   So you’re basically saying that at 22 I’ve still got at least five more years of feeling this way?

RP:  Yeah, pretty much.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Open Mike Eagle

 

The past year has been good to L.A. art-rapper Open Mike Eagle. Dark Comedy, his fourth album, was released this past June to much critical acclaim. Due to this, his already loyal fan-base has grown and continues to do so. Having signed a multi-album deal with Mello Music Group, we can expect even more from Mike as we transition into 2015. Whether you listen to Dark Comedy, an earlier project such as Unapologetic Art Rap (2010) or are familiar with his work with HellFyre Club and Project Blowed, Mike’s music has a way of blending melancholy with moments of hilarity and reality that are political, funny and downright intelligent. His Podcast, Secret Skin, combines these elements, giving the listener unique insight into the business side of hip-hop that is expertly mixed with priceless tour stories and other humorous anecdotes.

Speaking from the grisly depths of the Mac’s Bar basement in Lansing, Michigan, I expected him to have an energetic personality because, as he explains in the interview, I had bought into the aesthetic he created as an artist. Mike was very upfront about some of the occupational realities of being an independent MC. For example, you need to know the lay of the land when it comes to booking a show and setting up a tour. Additionally, making music comes with familial and financial responsibilities, something that didn’t exist in the same way when he was a young twenty-something. He spoke candidly about these realities, and how they serve as motivation. As we transitioned to more important topics, popular culture, tour stories and his natural comedic self instantly came to life. What I learned from Mike is that rapping and being on the road is still fun for him, but there’s more to it now. Additionally, I reaffirmed the thought that at some point, I’d like to go on tour, or a long road trip, in order to compile hilarious stories about places that no one has ever heard of. As a fan of Open Mike Eagle, it was an honor to have the chance to pick his brain and hear what he had to say.

Bonus Cut (BC):  You got started on the road, kind of paving your own way, right?

Open Mike Eagle (OME):  It wasn’t that I was making my own way. It was that I was pledging allegiance to the cause and operationally learning how things work. On my first tour, I literally followed Busdriver and Abstract Rude in my own vehicle, not getting paid anything for the shows and just trying to make money off merch. That was the start of my career more than anything else. Showing them, the promoters and audiences, that I was dedicated enough to do that opened up everything. Or began to open up everything.

BC:  Just showin’ up?

OME:  Yes. Showin’ up, executing, not complaining and learning the machinery.

BC:  What’s the machinery?

OME:  In that sense, the machinery was having lines into promoters and knowing where and how to book your tour. It was me learning how artists work with agents and how artists without agents work with promoters. Some of those same promoters brought me back when I started to get out on my own. Understanding how you had to be prepared promotionally as an artist. I have to have my own imaging, a flyer design. I have to know if I’m booking a show, who’s the best local talent to have on the bill that will bring more people and make the show make sense. It’s all of those different things. The other side of it is that maybe you get a major deal right off the top and let other people figure it out. Or, you get super good on the Internet, go the Youtube route, build a following that way and let other people figure it out. For an independent musician, on the DIY tip, you have to learn how all these different moving parts work together or how that attempts to equal success.

BC:  So it’s showin’ up, building relationships and not complaining?

OME:  Not complaining and executing. Trying to take the lessons onto the next run. Trying to build fan bases in different markets…

BC:  Does that change at all now that you’re a headliner?

OME:  Right now my strength is more in putting out more product at the platform level I have so I can attract more ears. I have management now. I have booking now. Now that those things are in place, I can really focus on making the strongest product possible and bring more people to the table.

BC:  Do you pay booking and management out of pocket?

OME:  That’s the thing. Most of the components of the music business, at least in my experience, is that everybody kind of pays for themselves. If a booker feels like they won’t make any money with you then they won’t book you. If a manager feels like they won’t make any money working with you, then they won’t work with you. Everybody kind of brings opportunity to the table so that we can all eat.

BC:  Is being a rapper lucrative for you?

OME:  I’m not making as much money as my last job that used my degree. But I’m making a decent amount of money. There are rappers that make a lot of money. Not even all the mainstream artists. There’s a lot of rappers that people don’t even really know about, but their business is set up right. There’s still a lot of money to be made in selling music. Digitial, physical and otherwise. There’s licensing and a lot of different revenue streams. It’s never going to be like it was when people were buying lot’s of CDs, but it’s still a billion dollar industry and believe, it trickles down in all kinds of ways.

BC:  Are you trying to license your music?

OME:  Always. Every independent artist should be trying to do that. There’s a lot of movies, television and people who want music, but don’t want to pay for what mainstream music costs. People should consider that as a revenue stream for sure.

BC:  Do you miss home when you’re on tour and vice versa?

OME:  Yeah I do but being on the road is such an important part of my job. You kind of have to turn down the natural, human emotions about missing home. If I stay home, I’m not working as hard or making as much money as I could be and things like that. On tour I’m getting paid to perform, selling my music to people and reaching new audiences in that way. There’s a real benefit to pounding the pavement if it’s set up right.

BC:  Do you have to practice your raps?

OME:  If I haven’t done a song in awhile I have to go over it. When I first started constructing the set that I have now-as much as it pained me to do it at first-I realized it was a good idea to practice my performance at home. Just turn it on, not look at it and just do all the songs. It’s just a muscle memory thing. I don’t have to, but it helps me to stay sharp.

BC:  Does that mean you go back and listen to your music?

OME:  I listen to my music a lot when I’m making it. Before I share anything that I’ve made with anyone, my management, the producer I made it with, anybody, I’ve heard it 50 times at least. By the time something is an album of mine, those songs I’ve heard hundreds of times. Usually by the time it’s out, I’ve stopped listening to it. I like to distance myself from it emotionally.

 

BC:  At this point, rapping isn’t just a hobby for you. This is a job.

OME:  Yep, this is it.

BC:  With that, how do you balance hip-hop being something that you love but that it’s also a job?

OME:  I mean I get paid more the better I do at it. Even just in terms of it being something that satisfies me. The more pure of a vision I can have, it’s better all the way around. I’m not in a position where it would suit me to try and do what other people are doing. Except in the licensing world, that helps. In terms of my appeal, my music selling and people coming out to shows, the closer I can get to what I’ve built as my own aesthetic, the more successful the projects and the songs are. To me, I don’t have to balance anything. I just have to go even harder.

BC:  Given that, where do you see yourself in five years?

OME:  Ummmm…on television.

BC:  Speaking of T.V., are you a fan of the show Community?

OME:  The first two seasons, definitely. I didn’t watch too much after that, I don’t know if it got any worse. I stopped watching NBC’s Thursday nights when The Office went away. I love Parks & Rec, but The Office was the thing that anchored me to that night. I wasn’t able to keep up.

BC:  I had to ask about Community because my friend loves the “Inspector Spacetime” line in your song, “Middling.”

OME:  No doubt! The first two seasons, I was all about it, man!

BC:  What are some of the shows you’re watching right now that you think have the best writing?

OME:  I really enjoy Veep. I think Veep is an incredible television show. I really enjoyed Fargo this year. True Detective was great. Breaking Bad was amazing.

BC:  It’s weird thinking about how Breaking Bad only just ended this year. It’s been a long year.

OME:  Starting with Lost, I’ve kind of always had a television show to come back to. Now I kinda don’t [that Breaking Bad is over]…Ohhhh! I’m trippin.’ I forgot about House of Cards and Orange is the New Black! Personally, I love both of those shows. Binge watchin’ all day.

BC:  Yes! I can’t get over Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

OME:  Oh yeah, he’s amazing!

BC:  Do you have a memorable tour story you don’t tell often?

OME:  I performed in a barn once. That was a crazy story. There’s this town outside of Fresno where for some reason there’s this weird, strange pocket of underground hip-hop fans and they booked this tour I was on. I wasn’t in a position to get much information on where we were playing and when we showed up, it was literally a three walled barn in the middle of a field. It was nighttime and we did our show at a barn, with a generator and it was very fucking frightening. There were no bathrooms or anything. I remember at one point, I had to go piss. I was walking out to the field to piss and I heard some animal. It sounded like a howl or bark, and I just walked back to the barn. I didn’t even pee. I didn’t know what to do. You know, you just end up at a barn sometimes.

BC:  Show up, it’s just what you do!

OME:  That’s right, and you don’t complain when you’re drinkin’ beers out of a station wagon, know what I mean? Just do it, just try not to do it again.

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With The Black Opera

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By:  Gus Navarro 

If you haven’t heard of The Black Opera, get online and look them up. No seriously, do it. You should check them out because they are unlike anything else in hip-hop right now. With multiple costume changes and crowd participation, their live show is an explosion of anonymity and boundless, colorful energy. The Black Opera isn’t upfront and won’t say who is in the group. However it’s there, in plain sight, if you take the time to do your research. The Black Opera exists in a space that is in opposition to the rappity-rap clatter we encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the group is an international collective of artists that have come together around the communal idea that we, as humans, are connected, or as they so eloquently declare, “We are one.” Having released music since 2010, The Black Opera is beginning to reach a new level of acclaim as they continue to push the boundaries of what people perceive hip-hop should be about. If you have the chance to see them live, do it. If you can get online and listen to their music, do it.

During their tour stop at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to sit down and speak with two members of the group in anticipation of their new album, The Great Year, released via Mello Music Group. In the interview we touched on topics such as the philosophy behind their music and the influence the Internet has had on the growth of the collective. After seeing them perform and speaking with them, I learned that The Black Opera’s music, stage presence and overall style are propelled by the idea that it isn’t always about who is talking, but what is being said. In a society where the individual is placed on a pedestal above all else, this is a powerful stance to take.

As opposed to revealing the identities of The Black Opera members I spoke with, each voice is denoted as Black Opera Member (BOM) #1 and #2.

Bonus Cut (BC):  What is The Black Opera to you?

BOM #1:  The Black Opera is a collective of forward thinkers, artists, musicians, producers, rappers and videographers who have one goal and that is to promote that all are one. All people are one and that we put art in the forefront of that.

BC:  Will you tell me who’s in the group?

BOM #2:  Everybody that we work with becomes a part of The Black Opera. So we have a lot of affiliates and black ops all over the world. The main focus is the music so we shy away from saying who we are. The best thing to do is just check out the music and find your way through it. You can go through the credits and use Google to find out who’s doing what. We try to make sure that the music gets to you first. That’s the whole goal.

BOM #1:  Research! Do your research if you want to know.

BC:  That’s exactly what I wanted to talk with you guys about. You’re very intentional about being vague and not explicitly revealing your identities. Is that liberating?

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BOM # 1:  Yes, absolutely. Joining The Black Opera movement was one hundred percent about liberation, freedom of expression and not being tied to anything from the past. Whether that’s the block you’re from, the hood, the city, the set you claim or whatever. A lot of times, especially with hip-hop, people get away with saying, “I’m from the city that’s this, that or whatever….”

BOM #2:  They build a box around themselves.

BOM #1:  Yeah, it’s like, “What else?” Especially if that’s not the life you live. You’re telling the story of your city but what else is there? Who are you? We don’t like to fall into that lane. We definitely feel that it was a liberating situation when we chose to join The Black Opera.

BOM #2:  Like he said, “Who are you?” Another question is:  “What are you here for?” Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean you have to create like you look, how you smell or how you move. You can create whatever you want to. It’s like when you put out too much information about who you are or where you’re from, you create this box of judgment. For example, people expect something specific with artists from New York. If you don’t know where I’m from you’ll hear the same song and be like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let me find out more.” If you start with the music, the live show and unravel it from there it can be pretty dope.

BC:  In some ways, it seems like you’re creating a lane for people to use technology.

BOM #2:  To use it correctly. Nowadays people just go on Twitter or Facebook to see what everybody is talking about. Let me do the cool thing; let me be hip for today. People have so many outlets to find out information (Google, for example) and we’re challenging people to use the Internet in the correct way and think critically for themselves.

BC:  Would there be a Black Opera without the Internet?

BOM #1:  There would be a Black Opera without the Internet, but the Internet has definitely benefitted the growth of the collective. That’s for sure. A lot of our collaborations have come from people that we’ve worked with personally. A lot of the times we’ve grown those relationships organically through the Internet. We like what they do, they like what we do. We start building a relationship and that’s when the music comes. The Internet has most definitely helped in that process.

BOM #2:  We did a song called “Opera Hands” with a producer called Tall Black Guy. It ended up being, for our core fan base, one of their favorite songs. That came from a DJ in Atlanta called DJ Apple Jac. He literally took the Soundcloud link to the beat in its original form, posted it and said, “Yo, the Black Opera should be on this.” We listened to it and were like, “why not?” We were creating in the studio at the time. So that’s how we got connected with Tall Black Guy. Everything happens organically, at the flow of the pace of creation. We do have serious intentions and a serious message but when it comes to the creativity we like for it to just flow organically.

BC:  On your Facebook info page you talk in big terms about the art you make being a commentary on “OUR perception of timeless issues.” Can you expand on what that means and what those issues are?

BOM #2:  Basically this is what we do:  We have issues that are not going anywhere, right? They’ve been professed to us through the news, propaganda, homies and friends. Sometimes you have to find those areas where you can switch the perception on it. Like, what really is racism? What really is hip-hop? The things that are popular to the people that listen to our music, we take a piece of that and we twist it a little bit. It’s like art, you know? Some of the music on our new album has a trap influence. Why? Because you would be blind and you would be deaf if you didn’t understand that hip-hop is going through more of a danceable time. You have these guys that grew up in the ghetto trying to find something positive to do. We’re not trying to condemn them. We’re making the people that listen to hip-hop understand what they’re doing. We did that exactly with a song called, “Rich Like You.” The hook says, “I just wanna be rich like you.” They’re trying to find a way out and the only channel they have is through music. Us being the hip-hop heads, we hear that and we’re like, “Turn that off.” But really it’s like, “Yo, they need your help.” Give them some time. A lot of them sound no different than Ol’ Dirty Bastard comin’ out. They have off-time styles and are creating a lot of new flow; it’s just a foreign tongue. That’s what we do. We use our music to show people how connected we are. The simplicity of the human is really all one. Everybody just wants to breathe, drink clean water, be loved, seen and listened to.

BC:  How did you get to this point?

BOM#1:  I think we see things and we’re inquisitive. It just comes down to wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper and not taking everything at face value. We’ve got a song called, “Black Nirvana,” where I say, “The same thing that happened to Cobain happened to Tupac.” You might hear that line and be like, “What? No. Cobain shot himself and Tupac was murdered.” If you dig deeper, you can see the similarities. They both were outspoken people, had a lot to say about the society we live in and a lot of people didn’t like that.

BOM #2:  Yeah, both were very misunderstood and heavily judged.

BOM #1:  A lot of people didn’t like the way they viewed society. So for whatever reason, they both died very young in this society. Why is that? There has to be something about this society that did not mesh with how they spoke. I think what got us to this point mentally is just through thinking in critical terms about the things that are presented to us.

BOM #2:  I was listening to a Souls of Mischief interview and Tajai mentioned our names with TDE and Pro Era, which is really cool. He was talking about their [Souls of Mischief] new album, and he was saying that they weren’t necessarily trying to make a hip-hop album. They were just in the studio creating and just trying to make the best music they could. That’s something different for a group that’s been together as long as them. They started talking about some of the newer artists, and he included us, in talking about how he feels like a lot of the new artists have hit a creative wall where it’s like, “I’m sick of doing this. I’m sick of seeing this. It’s the same old, same old.” Even the underground has become predictable and kind of sold out to a certain extent. That’s basically where we’re at right now. We’ve hit that wall and we want to know what else is out there. How can we stop chimin’ in with what everybody’s complaining about? How can we turn a light on and let everybody know that we can do something completely different? You can do whatever you want to and that’s what we’re bringing to the feel. You might look at us and say, “Oh, they’re rapping.” If you look closer, you’re going to see performing arts, art pieces and costumes. It might look like a play, like it could be on Broadway. We’re just doing what we want to do creatively and trying to connect with as many people as we can.

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BC:  How do you want people to feel after they’ve seen you perform live?

BOM #2:  “That was the best show I’ve seen in ages,” that’s actually a direct quote. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m inspired to go create, I’m inspired to do something different, think outside of the box and critically think for myself.  We are one.

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Album of the Week: “Thirty Eight” by Apollo Brown

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Apollo Brown
Thirty Eight
Mello Music Group, 2014

Daniel’s Thought

Apollo Brown is one of the most cinematic producers of our generation. Painting pictures on MPC murals, the way he can fluctuate his sound to varying projects while retaining his patented style is one of the greatest accomplishments very few producers achieve these days. From the blue-collar sound and feel of Ugly Heroes, to the gritty slam of Dice Game, to his re-working of Adrian Younge’s Twelve Reasons to Die, every project Apollo embarks on is an individual branch on his overall tree of sound. Like any branch from a tree, there are characteristics that are shared among many of the other branches, but also characteristics unlike any other branch hanging on the tree.

Thirty Eight is his newest project, and as it crackles and spits, clear-cut imagery and cinematic sounds burst from the record’s framework. “All You Know” rattles with Apollo’s coveted hard-hitting boom-bap and intense sound cuts (this time a quick synth one-hitter), but it also twinkles and rattles as if it’s playing along to a Great Gatsby-like car chase. On “Dirt on the Ground,” the production is layered into typical Apollo Brown fashion, with repetitive samples ooh’ing and ahh’ing throughout the track, but there’s also an added background buzzing that makes the song accompany the visuals to something like Road to Perdition. The album’s big surprise, “Felonious,” glides smoothly under a rush of synth pads and a cool and collected guitar melody that shows us what tricks Apollo Brown has hiding for us at every turn.

So yes, with Thirty Eight you’ll hear the quirks and familiarities Apollo Brown is known for. But you’ll also hear new and intriguing sounds that he is unleashing for the first time as an overall ode to 70s Blaxploitation soundtracks. Much like any tree and its branches, Apollo’s discography has all the features you expect to hear and new ones sprouting with each branch.

Gus’ Thought 

There is no question that over the years, Apollo Brown has established himself as one of the most consistently bangin’ producers in hip-hop. Whether he is making beats for a group (The Left and Ugly Heroes), an individual MC (Boog Brown, Hassaan Mackey, Guilty Simpson and OC) or an instrumental album, there is a cleanliness to his music that allows him to work in many different situations. While Apollo Brown beats have come to be associated with heavy sampling and hefty drums, he has still been able to create different sounding beats and adapt to the various projects he’s been a part of. There is certainly a formula to the way he does things and its a damn good one. His most recent instrumental project, Thirty Eight, showcases this. The predominant musical characteristics are recognizably Apollo Brown. However, he brings a completely new thematic element to this album that is much scratchier and rough around the edges.

Released in April 2014, Thirty Eight is more soundtrack-like than anything else, the music painting vivid scenes when bumped at the appropriate levels. The description of the record via the Bandcamp Page reads:

These are suites sounding from long barrels held by lone men lurking in grimy project hallways. Tinged with revenge and regret, shrouded in thick tendrils of hollow-point smoke, the songs have all the makings of an epic gangster tragedy. They’re also great when paired with anything Raymond Chandler.”

With its lack of lyricism, the brilliance of a well-made instrumental album is that it allows the listener to imagine. Brown’s Thirty Eight does this extremely well, creating a vast expanse of musical landscapes and potential stories. With blaring horns and a slow tempo, “The Warning” sounds like the build up to a drive-by shooting in 1940’s Los Angeles. “Lonely and Cold” could accompany a scene in a 1970’s Blaxploitation film set within a murky shipyard stacked with smuggled goods. The twangs of “The Laughter Faded” creates a terribly hollow feeling of despair and the loss of prosperity and good times as the title suggests.

With Thirty Eight, Apollo Brown has created an album that should be a welcome addition to the rotation to those that already support Apollo’s work as well as for those that aren’t as familiar. Using certain elements of his tried and true method of sampling while adding new textures and styles to his sound, Thirty Eight comes across as a much needed soundtrack to the Noir/ Mafioso/ Blaxploitation genres that are colorful and full of drama. The beauty of this record is that it allows the listener to create their own ideas and stories without abandoning Brown’s overall vision of the project. Additionally, Apollo Brown continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most dependable and skilled producers around.

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Bonus Cut’s Starting Five: 1/29/14

Every week, Daniel and Gus pick five songs to share called The Starting Five. This week, they’re personally sharing these tracks as a feature.

Gus’ Picks

Awon & Phoniks – “Midas Touch”
MC Awon and Producer Phoniks team up to bring you a jazz influenced, boom bap laced track that is socially conscious lyricism. This song and its album, The Golden Era, has been out since July and it may be one of the most slept on albums in 2013. It is truly worth the listen. Support these dudes.

Uptown XO – “Lime Light”
⅓ of Diamond District, Uptown XO talks about the perils of seeking out fame. What is the cost being in the lime light? What would you do to have that sought after five minutes of fame? Is it really worth it? Over a haunting track, XO makes you think about fame and what people may or may not do to be in it.

Tyler, The Creator – “Sandwitches”
If you’ve followed hip-hop at all within the past 3 years, you remember Tyler and his antics with Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. Tyler and friends blew up in every way possible beginning with the television debut of this track with the help of The Roots on Fallon’s show. Their fame and popularity within the college community was something to behold. I will never forget seeing them in the Midtown part of Detroit, almost getting swallowed up by the crowd as they tore up the stage and having to leave early as bottles were thrown and a brawl seemed iminent. What a night. Golf Wang.

Sango – “Tres Horas”
Having spent time living in Brasil I am always excited to hear new hip-hop that incorporates influences of Brasilian music. In all honesty, some is better than others at capturing the unique culture of this unbelievable South American country . To date, I am not sure if I’ve heard a hip-hop representation of Samba that is more spot on. Sango and what he’s doing with his sound is something special.

Truck North – “Band Of Au”
Is there ever bad hip-hop from Philly? From Truck’s recent EP, Murder By Mourning, “Band Of AU” calls upon Black Thought and STS for this other-worldly cut. I am totally biased but this track is flawless. The bassline is tight and the rhymes even tighter. As Black Thought says, “If there’s rapper that could test me alive/ Nigga, Elvis Presley alive.” Need I say more?

Daniel’s Picks
My picks are all releases from the Mello Music Group Mandala Tape releases. You can purchase Mandala Vol. 1 and Mandala Vol. 2 here. 

Miz Korona, Quelle Chris, T. Calmese, Nick Speed – “Supreme Codeine”
Talk about a posse cut worth blasting. “Supreme Codeine” eats you up, and digests you through its grimy intestines, and when these four artists are done with you, there’s nothing else to do but go through the process all over again. If anything, “Supreme Codeine” is that one song you can play at a social gathering, reminding everyone that hip-hop’s vivid collaboration aesthetic is alive and well.

Blacastan – “Stardust (prod. Gensu Dean)”

Blacastan is great at explaining himself in the filthiest of punchlines. Concocting a Raekwon-like rhythm and style, matched with Gensu’s Big L and Gang Starr sampled production, “Stardust” feels like a classic East Coast blast.

Muhsinah – “Up (prod. 14KT)”
“Up” is a track that is mystifying. It also jingles with a certain darkness that makes its characteristics gritty and tough. Muhsinah’s pitch is moving, hopeful, uplifting, sensual and on point. “There’s no worrying up here,” she digs, “and I want you to see it.”

Open Mike Eagle – “A History of Modern Dance (prod. Jeremiah Jae)”
Open Mike Eagle has stated numerous times that his music is “art rap.” The way he styles his set-up and flow reinforces this, as he goes off on tangents about random subject matter that bends each and every rule. It works though, and matched with Jeremiah Jae’s shivering production–something that could attend a Hitchcock film–“A History of Modern Dance” just oozes with uniqueness.

Murs – “The Pain Is Gone (prod. Apollo Brown)”
The poetry about love and romantic interests has always been Murs’ M.O. Over a very recognizable Apollo Brown-structured beat, Murs tells us a story about a girl. Murs 3:16.

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