For most, The City Under The City will be unfamiliar territory. L’Orange is making his Mello Music Group debut with his conceptual production for Stik Figa, a little-known rapper from Kansas. Think cynical, speakeasy lyricism and tortured, gin-soaked beats. The City Under The City plunges the listener into an underground world of harlequin-tinged abandon and disillusionment.
Every guest feature on this album is stunning and haunting. With 3 guest verses, “Decorated Silence,” is not your typical posse track. Cutting-edge MCs Open Mike Eagle, and the NC duo MindsOne make this one aching, reflective track. Other features include DJ Iron’s aggressive cuts on “We Were Heroes,” which will have people blowing up the turntablist’s inbox for scratches.
Amid inspired features, Stik and L’Orange end up looking wise beyond their combined experience with a polished album that plays well from start to finish. Thanks to Stik Figa’s astoundingly prolific pen, and L’Orange’s singular vision of the concept, The City Under The City is an unexpected and thoroughly original collaboration from two artists that seem primed for big things at Mello Music Group.
If suddenly, your surroundings seem unfamiliar as you listen to The City, then the creators of the album have done their jobs perfectly. At heart, this is art hip hop driven by a post-civilization narrative and boisterous, swinging beats in a minor key.
12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape is advertised as an “alternate version” of the original album produced by Adrian Younge. At this point, Apollo Brown already deserves a ton of credit for even thinking of remixing 12 Reasons to Die, one of the most impressive underground releases in recent memory. It’s a daunting project if you think about it. First of all, the source material is a concept album, so any good remix will have to retain the story and tone. This is a dark one about an immortal crime boss by the name of Ghostface Killah.
The original is an absolute juggernaut sonically, and the instrumental version is a classic in its own right. Inspired by 70’s R&B and Italian soundtracks from the same era, 12 Reasons to Die was meticulously recorded in Younge’s all-analog, vintage studio. The entire production features live instmentation by Adrian Younge and his Venice Dawn band. The bar is very high here for Detroit Producer Apollo Brown, who was tapped to remix this behemoth. 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape was packaged as an actual cassette tape to go with the initial release of 12 Reasons to Die on vinyl back in April. Copies of this tape were scarce, but Wu-Tang affiliated Soul Temple, the imprint that released 12 Reasons to Die, has given the Apollo Brown remix its own full release, complete with a set of instrumentals.
Apollo Brown has earned this opportunity recognition. He’s built a reputation as an exceptionally consistent producer, and an absolute beast on a remix. When Apollo Brown first signed with his label Mello Music Group, the first thing they did was give him the keys to their extensive library of rap acapellas. For his label debut, Apollo Brown dropped “The Reset,” a whole album of remixes that make you forget you ever heard the original.
On The Brown Tape, Apollo Brown’s alternate takes are brilliant, and completely depart from Adrian Younge’s vision. Check out how Apollo Brown swaps Younge’s spitfire organ for a brooding sample of hazy keyboards and guitar stabs on “Rise Of The Black Suits.” There’s a very different vibe that still works perfectly for the track. Apollo Brown channels a little Alchemist with a searing guitar sample on “Enemies All Around Me.” Go to track 6 right now. “Crying.” For you! Crying for you love this album. Apollo’s samples are melodic, sweet and forlorn; they plead where Adrian Younge is ethereal. Cut tape, and Apollo Brown has actually managed to add layers to the story. The comic-book vibe of 12 Reasons to Die is swapped out for a gutsy, but by no means lo-fi treatment by Apollo Brown, the newest producer to your radar. Check out 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape.