Sep 29, 2015

Review: Grandeur - @ApolloBrown; A Niles P. Joint

Think of producers in Hip Hop as offensive coordinators in football. You have to run an offense that scores as much as possible. In doing so, do you stick with what you're comfortable with and what works? Or do you employ a new trendy scheme for the sake of keeping up with the joneses? These questions arise for all producers, including Apollo Brown. He’s put out a lot of quality music in a short period of time and is back with Grandeur. A litany of underground emcees make guest appearances, jumping at the chance to drop bars over Apollo Brown beats. As per usual with a producer album, you the reader will be treated to a track by track review.

Finally - The title to this intro makes sense to me, as I finally get to hear an album I’ve been waiting on.  You literally hear the needle drop and a round of applause.

Neva Eva (feat. Barrel Brothers) - Skyzoo a& Torae get things started.  They build well around a vocal sample on a head nodding track.  Pay attention, as this becomes a theme on the album.  

What You Were Lookin’ For (feat. Oddisee) - This song floats from the speakers into your ears by way of some lovely strings.  Oddisee was a rapper that i wasn’t familiar with before now but he shows and proves.

Detonate (feat. M.O.P.) - The lead single is still as fresh and sinister as it was when I first heard it in August.  Might be the toughest song on the album.

Brass Tracks (feat. Chino XL & Finale) - Chino XL was one of my favorite rappers when I was a kid so it’s cool hearing his witty and nasally bars again.  Finale provides the thunder to XL’s lightning (who takes shots at modern rap culture on the hook) over violins and snapping percussion.

There’s Always Radio (feat. Evidence) - I’ve admittedly never been a fan of the Dilated Peoples’ frontman’s brand of monotone.  All that aside, he’s spitting over a beat that has similar violins and percussion as the last one.  The former is better than the latter, as this is one of the few missteps on the album.  The beat switch during the outro is cool though.

Still Standin’ (feat. Rasheed Campbell) - Violins appear again here but they're more fully layered.  Rasheed Campbell introduces himself well and gives a lyrical backstory.  He bares vocal resemblance to Q-Tip but is different enough that he will be one to watch for.

The Hard Way (feat. Saga & Ty Farris) - Two emcees who I honestly hadn’t heard of prove their mettle and make an attempt to school the young fuckin’ jerks of the world.  It can be a futile attempt but these guys sound damn good trying.  The trumpets on the hook are almost announcing their arrival to your musical conscious.

Gettin’ By (feat. Rapper Big Pooh & Dynasty) - Brown does an amazing job in chopping samples and it shows here, although I wish I knew the origin of the lovely one used here.  Pooh’s aggressiveness is counterbalanced by Dynasty baring her soul.  This is a dream collaboration between an old and new emcees whose work I love.  Appropriately enough the beat gives off a ethereal aura.

Enemies With Benefits (feat. Ras Kass) - More evidence of Apollo Brown’s production genius can be found here as he takes a Lenny Williams sample that’s been used before (Twista’s Overnight Celebrity by Kanye West amongst others) and freaks it an entirely new way.  He manages to give it a West Coast flavor for regional legend Ras Kass, who’s another childhood favorite of mine that is fresh off a 2014 collaboration album with Brown.  The magic continues.

Walk With Me (feat. Vinnie Paz & Blacastan) - Brown somehow makes a song about relationship adversity (prime material for tenderness) into a head nodding joint.   Vinnie Paz and Blacastan take a gruff approach to what would be a sensitive subject for others.  Everyone involved makes it work.

Not That Guy (feat. Your Old Droog) - This is a somber change of pace song that serves as a cautionary tale.  The snapping snares are still present but the beat’s framework is more melancholy and suitable for the subject.  Droog still has undertones of Nas in his voice and flow but he does a great job speaking on the perils of drugs.

Money (feat. Masta Ace & Wordsworth) - Money is the root of all evil but here it’s the topic of this excellent song which stands out the more I hear it.  The crashing piano keys provide a marvelous playground for the lyrics of the veterans of Juice Crew & Lyricist Lounge respectively.

Who’s That (feat. Maffew Ragazino & Freddie Gibbs) - Brownsville and Gary (Indiana) collide on a malicious track that sounds like it should be played in a dive bar in a dark alley most would be afraid to walk down.  The vocal sample in the chorus ties it all together although take note of the piano as well.  Apollo Brown makes keys the focus of two consecutive tracks but is able to use them two completely different ways.  That’s talent.

In The Moment (feat. O.C.) - This song reunites Brown with O.C. three years after they collaborated on the sublime joint LP Trophies.  They pick up where they left off, as O.C. drops more jewels over a harpsichord-laden beat.  The chemistry is still there and will make you pine for a sequel LP.

Triple Beams (feat. Westside Gunn & Planet Asia) - Apollo Brown takes a popular Wendy Rene sample (previously used by Alicia Keys, Dynasty, and most famously Wu Tang Clan) and chops and flips it into a gritty playing field for this New York and California musical alliance.  He shows a real knack for repurposing samples in order to create gems.

Each Other (feat. Eternia) - We had an article about relationship issues, this one is about straight up breakup.  Eternia tries to answer the question “Why Did He Leave Me?” posed in the sample within the hook.  She looks to provide an excellent alternative to a certain Australian that’s been in the public eye.

Yesman Shit (feat. Sean Price & REKS) - DAMN.  Those blaring horns are some of the hardest I’ve heard in awhile.  They’re perfect for the late great Sean Price, who completes the trilogy of Brownsville guest appearances and spits with his usual tenacity.  He’ll be missed.  REKS holds his own rhyming opposite a legend and will have you open and wanting to hear more from him.  The track overall is a banger and one of the best on a great project.

Checkered Flag (feat. Ugly Heroes) - This is another continuation of sorts, only this time with the indie supergroup Brown is a part of along with Verbal Kent and Red Pill.  Even with a self titled LP and EP this makes you want more.  Mellow yet head nod inducing.  Great way to end the album.

Getting back to the football offensive coordinator metaphor, you see how Apollo Brown gets down.  He sticks with his offensive system no matter what is going on around him.  But the thing is you can’t chastise him for being too stuck in his ways because it works extremely well.  Musically many of these songs are sample heavy seem to be in the same tempo.  But he can take this concept and to it umpteen different ways, and with a plethora of different emcees to boot.  His use of this scheme makes him a kingmaker because he can make anyone shine when they're on his production.  Even better, he makes you want to hear more from a rapper that may have been unknown to you previously because they sounded so good under his beats.  He put me on to a bunch of people that just might be featured on this blog in the coming months.  The only real misstep on this album was the 5th and 6th tracks sounding inordinately similar, which is a tough sell when they're back to back.  But this isn't uncommon on producer albums for whatever reason and therefore can’t be too much of a deterrent.  Grandeur wedges itself into the conversation for best album of the year and further cements Apollo Brown’s status as one of the most exceptional beatsmiths in Hip Hop.


Rating: 4.8 out of 5.




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