Simplicity is genius. Great artists can make the ostensibly impossible seem effortless. It’s in this rarefied air where you’ll find Detroit's Apollo Brown, constantly conjuring fresh innovations out of a tried-and-true formula. For the last decade, the Mello Music Group artist has singularly re-defined and expanded the foundation of what boom bap production can sound like in the 21st Century.
The author W. Somerset Maugham said that, “tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” In his own way, the Grand Rapids-raised vet has followed that same axiom. Some artists set out to re-invent the wheel; Apollo has managed to perfect it—amassing a diverse catalog inspired by artesian sources of 90s New York hip-hop, but not bound by orthodoxy or ideology.
Just consider the revered legends that have collaborated on full-length albums with him: Rass Kass (“Blasphemy”), Guilty Simpson (“Dice Game,”) Skyzoo (“Easy Truth Sessions”), Big Pooh (“Words Paint Pictures”) and O.C. (“Trophies.”) No less than DJ Premier declared the latter “hip-hop for the people,” naming “Trophies” the best album of 2012.
This is the tradition that Apollo Brown triumphantly upholds: the head-nodding, screwface-inducing, soul-replenishing lineage of Primo and Pete Rock, J Dilla and Large Professor, Mobb Deep and DJ Muggs. He makes music for old and young heads—bone bruising beats that summon visceral images of back alley brawls in ’81, pool hall melees, and metropolitan griminess. An East Coast sound with a midwestern mentality, channelling the marrow-freezing chill of the wind fleeing Lake Michigan.
These aren’t beats impersonally e-mailed across the continent from producer-to-MC. On every album bearing the Apollo Brown alias, the artists create songs in the same room, bouncing ideas and concepts off each another until the final product is a masterpiece.
You can immediately tell an Apollo Brown beat from the first kick-drum. Horns and organs are sourced with the monkish discipline of a master digger with a superior ear. The drums are hard and nasty. The full effect blends sadness, depression, and tenderness with the savage ferocity of brass knuckles hip-hop. It’s fall music, somber relatable music, gray sky music that offers the unvarnished truth.
Everyone from Danny Brown to Chance The Rapper, Freddie Gibbs to Masta Ace, Black Milk to Oddisee have spit bars over his beats. Don’t sleep on his projects with The Left, Ugly Heroes, and Hassaan Mackey, or his several acclaimed instrumental albums. Amounted together, it gives Apollo Brown a body of work that lives up to the legacy of the older gods. The explanation why is pretty simple. If you still have any doubts, all you need to do is press play.
Apollo's credo is simple: "Everything I make, I try to make it my favorite album of all time."