Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape album review

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.

Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown - 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape

Aceyalone – Leanin’ On Slick album review

I want to make the case that an album full of good songs isn’t necessarily a good album. The argument seems to defy a very basic principle of logic as it stands to reason that if an album is made up of 13 songs, and all 13 are good songs, then that should be a good album. However, albums aren’t judged as merely the sum of their songs, are they? So while each of the 13 tracks on Aceyalone’s Leanin’ On Slick sounds great on their own, the baker’s dozen together does not a great album make. While Slick offers plenty of feel-good funk and fun-loving rhymes, it’s repetitive to the point of boredom, and offers little substance for the choosy music fan.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of good times to be had listening to Leanin’ On Slick. This is Aceyalone’s third record produced entirely by Bionik. Each time the Freestyle Fellowship alum has worked with Bionik, the collaboration has yielded a hip hop album influenced by a specific musical genre. Previously sampling dancehall and doo-wop, Leanin’ on Slick is an exploration of the sounds of classic funk. From the James Brown-borrowing title track to the horn-heavy New Orleans style groove on “What You Gone Do With That?” each track is a polished-up vehicle for Aceyalone’s ride-along flow. Lyrically, Aceyalone is upbeat, near the brink of squeaky-clean, and it took about 4 tracks for me to realize that the rapper had no intentions of digging into heavy themes on this album, opting instead for playful syllabics and slightly banal wordplay.

Perhaps this was also the point where boredom started creeping in. Aceyalone and Bionik were starting to recycle their formula for slippery hip hop as a mid-album yawn started to come over me. Changes in tone or sonic texture are nowhere to be found in Slick except maybe the boisterous “Workin’ Man’s Blues,” which is actually a recycled track itself, lifted from Aceyalone’s last album and adding Cee Lo to the hook this time around.

But for one reason or another, I couldn’t fully dismiss this album, despite my overall lack of enthusiasm for it. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the songs a second time around, once I was able to shuffle them into a couple playlists. As it turns out, evaluating each track on an individual basis did away with the problem of repetitiveness and alleviated my irritation with the triteness of the lyrics; I was too busy grooving to the beat to care much lyrical depth.

The same album that bored me also got me dancing, and an album I wouldn’t easily recommend is also a collection of 13 songs I might suggest for a summer playlist. Enjoying Leanin’ On Slick is not simply a matter of taste, but also occasion. So by all means, put Aceyalone’s glossy, funkified hip hop into the soundtrack to your next barbecue, just be sure to hit that shuffle button.

Apathy – Honkey Kong review

This is the first time I’ve heard an Apathy record. I knew going into listening to Honkey Kong, I was in for a treat. In my other reviews, I always state in the beginning that the world of Hip-Hop needs more real artists. The last few records I’ve reviewed, personified that statement. Apathy’s Honkey Kong also proves that there is hope for the genre.

The Connecticut rapper’s third record offers a lot, as this man loves the genre and makes sure to make serious music. Apathy understands the politics in the music business and sets out to do what he wants in his music. Each track is hard hitting, each track offers lyrics that don’t hold back. The record is totally underground and is a big middle finger to the main stream record companies and artists.

One of my favorite things on the record is all the collaborations.  Underground sensations Vinny Paz & Jedi Mind Tricks, Ill Bill, Celph Titled, and Xzbit all put their touches on to their respective tracks.  The title track Honkey Kong is one of the standouts on the record. Starting off with a loud growl into a sample from the film Training Day, where Denzel Washington yells “King Kong ain’t got shit on me!”

The production is great, the beats are hard, catchy, and something to rock your head too. Another standout track on the record is “East Coast Rapist”, where a few things are sampled.  Simple Minds famous song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, Party and Bullshit is also sampled. All put together as a really complete hip hop track.

In the end, Apathy has put together another classic with tons of replay value. I really don’t get the reason why the main stream record labels have never given this guy a chance. He proves it on this album, which he deserves to be up there with the top artists. Everything that comes out of this guy’s mouth is real, and doesn’t hold back. Maybe this album will catapult Apathy in to main stream success. He really deserves it.

Honkey Kong is out now on Dirty Version Records.