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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Ess Be and Sareem Poems

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By: Gus Navarro

Photo Credit: Carla Hernandez

Whether you’re talking sports, music or some other scenario, there is nothing quite like the tandem between a veteran and a rookie. Bringing past experiences to the table, the veteran can share knowledge and insight gained through the years. As a relative newcomer, the rookie has a lot to learn but is also an invaluable asset, equipped with a fresh perspective and new ideas. On their new EP, Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be harness this dynamic to the fullest. Originally from Los Angeles, Sareem Poems has been rapping and making music with his group, LA Symphony, for over a decade. In short, he’s been around the block a few times. On the other hand, Lansing native Ess Be is still a relative newcomer to the world of hip-hop. Ess Be may be “new” to the game, but his summer EP, Bag Fries, demonstrates his versatility.

Beautiful Noise finds both artists at different points in their lives. Despite that, it is the commonalities that bring them together. Representing the Lansing based AOTA hip-hop collective, they see this project as a step towards making music full time. For Sareem, it’s about returning to that. For Ess Be, it’s about stepping into that arena for the first time. Released via Illect Recordings, Beautiful Noise features Ess Be’s production and incorporates live instrumentation, adding depth and energy to an already strong project. Thematically, Beautiful Noise is driven by messages of perseverance and of working to redefine the ways in which we think about personal wealth. In speaking with them on the development of Beautiful Noise, it is clear they learned a lot from each other and about themselves. It is never too late to grow as individuals and to change your perceptions of the world around us. On Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be remind us of this

Bonus Cut (BC): How did Beautiful Noise come to be?

Ess Be (EB): When I met Sareem I actually didn’t tell him I made music. Eventually, one of my boys mentioned it. At that point I’d been workin’ on making music for awhile but was actually thinking about stopping. Once I started talking to Sareem a bit more he asked me to send him some beats. I sent him some joints, he let me know how he felt about them and asked me to do an EP with him.

Sareem Poems (SP): There’s a difference between beatmakers and producers, and a lot times people lump them together. When I first heard Ess Be’s beats, I thought they were dope. But he also showed me what he’s produced. For example, he’s got EDM under his belt. That proved to me that he has more than just boom-bap or straight forward hip-hop tracks. When I heard the spectrum of what he can do, I knew it was going to be a great project to work on. 

Bonus Cut: How does the veteran and rookie dynamic play out between the two of you?

SP: My whole goal behind doing the EP with Ess Be was to give him a chance to fully use what he’s capable of in one project. His versatility shows throughout the project. His style and how good he is. All I did was bring my ability of song writing to the table and he produced the tracks.

EB:  Being an up and coming producer, it was weird that a veteran MC would want to work with someone who really doesn’t have a catalogue. I had never done a full project, so Sareem played a huge part in pushing me to complete the EP. Just to have someone believe in me and show me some things about creating a project has been amazing. I’m very appreciative for Sareem for the knowledge, wisdom and encouragement he’s given me.

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BC:  What have you learned from the whole process of making Beautiful Noise?

SP:  Throughout this process, I’ve learned that no matter how long you feel that you’ve been doing something, there’s always something new that you can learn. From Ess Be, I’ve learned to look at music as an outsider instead of being an artist. Ess Be is a fan of a lot of different types of music and I had to work on just getting back to appreciating music. I got back to giving things a full listen and becoming a fan again.

EB: Throughout this process I’ve learned about not just making songs, but making music. Anybody can have a song, but not everyone can make music. It stretched me during the creation process. There would be nights where I’d just be up late, ti’l two or three in the morning, tryin’ to figure out what needed to be added or taken away from each song. It’s different when you’re making music for somebody else versus just a beat for yourself. It was a growing experience because it stretched me to think outside the box and to push my personal work ethic.

SP: Yes. Makin’ a project is harder than most people think! It sounds cliche, but hard work and diligence pays off. Especially because neither of us are full time artists.

BC: Right, and you both have other jobs and commitments.

SP:  That’s right. I’ve got a full time gig and a son. If you put that on top of the music stuff, it’s tough sometimes. At the end of the day, you want the music you make to come out and have a big impact, but you also don’t want to take away from your normal life. Making music isn’t my everyday right now, but I want to get back to a point where it is.

BC:  And for you Sareem, Beautiful Noise is the first step to getting back to making music full time. For Ess Be, the project is moving you in the direction of becoming a full time artist.

SP:  Absolutely.

EB:  Yes, exactly!

SP:  That’s the goal, man. I took a long break. January of 2015 will officially be four years since I’ve put anything out. It’s been a minute, but it was a good, much needed break. There needed to be a recalibration in my approach to music. I needed to figure out how I can have an impact without trying to fit into any particular mode.

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BC:  Can you speak a little on your relationship with the record label?

SP:  We’re putting the project out via Illect Recordings. They’ve worked with Theory Hazit, Scribbling Idiots, Imperial, Sivion and some other cats. They’re making moves in a very good direction and I’m proud to be a part of the team. Shout out to Josh Niemyjsk who runs the label! His work ethic it out of control and inspires me, man. He’s puttin’ in work all the time.

BC:  What would both of you say are some of the major themes in the record?

EB: I feel like the common theme in the project is perseverance. The record is mad encouraging. Not to speak ill of some of the cats in music right now, but it’s definitely time for something different to be heard. Something that’s encouraging, uplifting and motivating. Just hearing the same stuff, time after time, after time, can start to desensitize people. We want this music to push people forward through pain from the past, and to help them understand their self-worth. We’re hoping we do it in a way that everyone can relate to and connect with. I hope that with the music I was a part of making, people will hear it and be able to travel to a different place mentally.

SP: For me, a lot of it has to be do with not staying stagnant. They call it the past for a reason, know what I mean? We’re living in the present, but at the same time, you gotta have a medium. You can’t let the future be the driving force because it ain’t here yet. If you’re chasin’ the future, and you don’t fully know what the future is going to be, you’re just going to keep chasing random things. A lot of the songs on the EP are about moving forward and climbing to a higher state of being. Whatever that is for you. A lot of people in society are obsessed with material things. The main thing for me is about being rich with time. I had to redefine what wealth was for me. You can have all the money in the world, but if I’m able to live and not worry then I don’t need millions. That’s a goal for me and you’ll hear that in the music.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Red Pill

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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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The Bump in the Night Beat Battle Recap

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By: Gus Navarro 

Hip-hop is a multi-faceted art form that can be difficult to categorize, and in my opinion, even more difficult to define. That being said, one thing that remains constant within the musical side of things is the presence of drums. In providing the tempo and rhythmic base for MCs to rap over, the beat has always been a key ingredient to hip-hop music. Hosted by the Lansing based hip-hop collective, All of the Above (AOTA), the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a night full of on-point beats that made people holler and nod their heads in appreciation. Showcasing some of the best beat-making talent mid-Michigan has to offer, Bump in the Night brought old and new friends together, creating chances for fellow musicians to build with each other.

“It’s helping to get the creative juices flowing in Lansing,” said AOTA co-creator, Sareem Poems. “There’s artists here who don’t know about each other, and they’re getting a chance to meet and build possible collab opportunities. For us, it means the most to see this community come together and continue to build the hip-hop scene here in Lansing that people seem to forget about very easily.”

Consisting of four rounds, producers went head-to-head, each playing three beats for the crowd. Seated at the edge of the stage, four Judges, Seoul of the 61Syx Teknique B-boy crew, Matt Foust of 808 Ministries, KuriOto of the BLAT! Pack and Lansing legend, DJ Butcher, decided who moved on to the next round. These events can be difficult for judges because much of it is open to interpretation. During a pause in the competition, Seoul broke down the intricacies of judging a beat battle.

“All four judges are looking for something different. Each judge is looking for a certain thing in the beat so it changes things when it comes to judging. I’m looking for creativity and flavor,” he explained.“It’s a little bit different because my flavor isn’t going to be the same as somebody else’s flavor. So you gotta look at what appeals to everybody while also thinking about what catches your ear.”

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Nowadays, technology allows even the most average Joe the ability to make a beat. Anybody can press a button that sounds like a hand clap or kick drum, but that doesn’t make them a producer. A producer is someone who, with their percussive composition, is able to create energy and feeling from people who listen. Their beats make MCs want to rhyme and cause people to throw their hands to the sky.

Outersound Music Group producer, Young Heat, a previous beat battle champion and competitor, addressed his favorite part of being a part of beat battles: the people. “The people determine everything. We can have judges but if the crowd doesn’t like it, the judges won’t even matter.”

Young Heat may have been crowned victorious previously, but the night belonged to AOTA producer Ess Be. He climbed through the first two rounds, each of his beats seeming to get more sophisticated as the night went on. In a tense final round between Ess Be and The Sound Addict, another AOTA producer and past winner, Ess Be brought out all the stops, dropping trap beats and sampling Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Ghost Buster theme. Every producer brought it, but Ess Be seemed to have a little more heat on this particular night and it was clear that he’s been hard at work.

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Being in the crowd for this event was so much fun. With each beat drop, you could feel the positive energy and passion from the crowd as they erupted in cheers, always wanting more hi-hat sizzles and crispy snare hits. Behind a backdrop of pulse-pounding beats, I got to catch up with people I haven’t seen in awhile and just be around a community of people that have welcomed me and have shown me nothing but love and respect. Between each round, an MC performed as well, giving everyone a chance to vibe to some lyrics and take a break from the competition. First up was AOTA student, Evan, followed by Miles Young of Outersound Music Group and finally, Sareem Poems. DJ Choppy Blades was on hand, spinning the beats for each contestant and Ozay Moore, the creator of AOTA, kept things moving between rounds, MCing the event to perfection. There is no doubt that the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a successful event. On a mild October night, beats were dropped and the crowd erupted with joy. It was a celebration of hip-hop and a reminder of all the good it has to offer in Lansing, and communities all over the world.

Congratulations to EssBe!

The Contestants:

Olos

IzzyOnTheBeat

KillaTuHot

Ess Be

Young Heat

Paul Psych

The Sound Addict

Studio Addicts

Y’s Council

Drelo Beats

Oj Payno

Choppy Blades

Alex Malone

Amel

 

 

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Elks Lodge Summit Recap

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By: Gus Navarro

A recap of this event.

Organized by Ella Campbell of Back Beat Magazine, the Elks Lodge Summit was truly a great night of jazz, hip-hop, reasonably priced beer and a little bit of everything in between. The Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor is an interesting venue, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s unlike most places you go to listen to music and have a good time. Sitting on a hill overlooking the skyline of Ann Arbor, the outside looks similar to an old fraternity house. On the inside, the basement holds the bar and venue area for bands to set up and play. It’s an intimate setting, and the Elks Lodge Summit was an intimate event. The quintet of Judson Branam IV on drums, Ella Campbell on saxophone and EWI, Olin Clark on guitar, Nathan Flanders on keys and Endea Owens on bass, held it down, clearly having fun and doing what they love to do. Besides the band, four MCs, Blas FaMe, Tru Klassik, Duke Newcomb and Clay, began a cypher and would trade verses back and forth as the band grooved and continued to feed off each other. The musical foundation set up by the band created the perfect space for the MCs to rap and the crowd to enjoy being a part of the whole process. Hip-hop and jazz are undeniably linked and if you were in attendance this past Friday, you got to see and hear why. If you’re free the next time this event goes down, you should come. It will be worth it.

Check out Ella’s Soundcloud page to hear recordings from the night.

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Mark Your Calendars: The Elks Lodge Summit!

Elks Lodge Photo

By: Gus Navarro

A few months back, Back Beat Magazine co-founder, Ella Campbell, organized an open jam session for instrumentalists, vocalists and MCs to play music together in a night of improvisation. Lucky for us, it’s going down all over again at the Elks Pratt Lodge in Ann Arbor, Michigan this Friday, September 19th. Featuring a quintet made up of Judson Branam IV (drums), Ella (saxophone and EWI), Olin Clark (guitar), Nathan Flanders (keys) and Endea Owens (bass), the “Elks Lodge Summit” is guaranteed to be a night of good times, jazz, hip-hop, dancing and creativity.

The night will consist of the house band getting a feel for each other as they play various jazz tunes from some of the sax greats such as John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. From there, they will transition into the portion of the night where MCs and vocalists will be invited to take part in the music making process while the band covers artists like OutKast, Slum Village, John Legend and J*Davey. One of the coolest things about this event is how jazz and hip-hop will be seamlessly mixed and mashed, creating something special.

In anticipation of this second event, we had a chance to speak with Ella about some of the details. First we asked what her thoughts were regarding the purpose of the Summit:

“Some jazz musicians love performing with emcees, and some emcees love performing with live musicians. Bringing the two groups together and creating a nurturing atmosphere for both is one of the goals. I also want to bridge the musical language and genre induced barrier between hip-hop artists and live musicians, just like they’re doing at Revive Music now and how The Roots have been since their beginning. I think that jumping right in and creating the music together is an exciting way to do that.”

Hip-hop and jazz have been connected from the first cyphers and block parties in New York City and this continues to be the case. The best thing about this event is that you will actually get a chance to hear that connection being made.

Check out the quintet covering OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” as Rafael De La Ghetto and Blas FaMe trade verses.

When asked about what she is looking forward to most, Ella responded, “Elks is a place that many musicians feel comfortable testing out new material, and the audience is always receptive to whatever we throw at them. I can’t wait to see what experiments brew up this time around.”

Friday night is sure to feature a slew of killin’ tunes and a collaborative atmosphere that will be inspirational and fun to be a part of. If you’re near Ann Arbor area on Friday and are looking for a good time, come out to the Elks Pratt Lodge. It’s going down and you won’t want to miss this.

On this recording you can hear the band laying down Big Boi’s “Shutterbug” with Rafael De La Ghetto tearing it up on the mic once again.

Event Info:

Elks Pratt Lodge
220 Sunset Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Venue is cash only.
Food and drinks available.
No hats once you get inside.

To listen to more recordings from the first night, check out Ella’s Soundcloud page.

RSVP on the Facebook Event page, here. 

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Bonus Cut Films Presents: An Interview With Raphael Downes

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The hip-hop scene in Lansing, Michigan is an interesting one. It seems to rise and fall with the student population that comes and goes every four years from Michigan State University. There are also MCs, producers, DJs, B-boys/girls and graffiti artists that were born and raised in Lansing, developing their craft within the Capitol area.

Raphael Downes is one of these MCs, having been in the scene from the days of Respiration at Mac’s Bar. When you watch him perform and listen to his music, you can tell that rapping is something that comes natural to him. However, its also something that he’s worked on, which has to be done if you’re serious about making a career in music. During a freestyle, he gets open with the best of them. On stage his persona is nothing short of infectious.

Raphael is a man of faith. There is the religious side to him, something that drives his everyday life, as well as his belief in hope and being positive. These themes are deeply rooted in his music and are the essence of hip-hop; speaking on your truth and experiences. There are references to raising his daughter, living paycheck to paycheck and how good it can feel to build on even the smallest of victories during the day. Raphael’s project, The Bridge, will be released in the near future and incorporates these ideas.  With the superb production of Ozay Moore and KuroiOto, The Bridge is supported by a strong percussive foundation. Guest appearances by James Gardin, Jahshua Smith and Red Pill only add to an already solid effort by Raphael. The allure of The Bridge is that it’s not about buying into a certain set of values. Instead, The Bridge is about hope and survival, no matter what the circumstances might be. This is something that people do all over the world everyday. We may come from different places, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate to each other.

Recently we were fortunate enough to sit down with Raphael and talk about how he got involved in hip-hop, his love of literature, the All of the Above Hip-Hop Collective (AOTA) and what went into creating The Bridge.

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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 Presents: An Interview With Lansing Hip-Hop Artist and Educator Ess Be

EssBe pic 3

By: Gus Navarro

The first time I met Ess Be, I thought he was a rapper. This was at the ULITT Conference at Michigan State University back in March and he was participating in a cypher workshop led by the incomparable Toni Blackman. His rhymes were on point and to be quite honest, I didn’t know any better. As it turns out, he is in fact a producer and member of the Lansing-based hip-hop collective, All Of The Above (AOTA), and a recent signee to illect Recordings. Although he has been making beats for over ten years, you probably haven’t heard of Ess Be unless you’re aware of what’s going down hip-hop wise in the Lansing area. This is because he just recently released Bag Fries, his first official instrumental project. Spanning only seven tracks, Bag Fries is a project that demonstrates his varying production styles and abilities.

Not only is Ess Be a good producer, he is a great person that is passionate about music and developing his craft. In this interview he speaks about playing pots and pans as a young one and the moment when he first picked up a pair of drumsticks. From there we learn about the beginnings of his hip-hop production, something that he would come to work on obsessively, locked away in his room for hours on end. Bag Fries is the result of the work he’s put in over time and is something that he can bring back to the students he teaches at AOTA. It was a pleasure to sit down and talk about Bag Fries, hip-hop culture and Fruity Loops. With more music on the way in 2015, stay tuned to what Ess Be has in coming down the pipeline.

Podcast

Listen to Bag Fries here

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