Meet Apollo Brown, The Best Producer In Underground Hip Hop

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Detroit, MI’s Apollo Brown has released a substantial amount of music over the past few years. He’s not an emcee, but the beats he produces are among the finest you can hear in underground hip hop. Apollo Brown lets the needle hit the record on his beats and just lets the static it creates flow through the tracks. Sampling from blues, Motown, gospel, and soul, Apollo Brown creates beats that bring back the feel of 90’s hip hop while keeping it fresh and new for today. As his legend grows, so does the quality of emcees contributing rhymes to his music. If you are not familiar with this man’s work then prepare yourself; an embarrassment of riches awaits you. 

My introduction to Apollo Brown’s music happened as many musical discoveries often go: I was checking out something on Youtube when a recommendation on the sidebar caught my eye. It was the cover of The Left’s Gas Mask album. I was initially drawn to it because the cover resembled Nasum’s Inhale/Exhale which features a crowd of people all decked out with gas masks. I’m the type of listener that has low expectations, yet I’m gullible enough to engage in a potentially fruitless endeavor. Upon starting the track “Gas Mask”, the bluesy crooning from O.V. Wright‘s “I Can’t Take It” lays the foundation for the beat followed by a brief movie sample before giving way to the drums, bass, horns, a snippet of female gospel vocals, and piano.  All these elements coalesce together to create a beat that sounds more like it has heart and soul as opposed to being programmed on samplers. Of course all of this was created by sampling sounds and creating a beat, but I don’t think I’ve encountered anything in hip hop that resembled the kind of energy and emotion you get when hearing a band with live instruments. One thing leads to another and I was instantly hooked on Gas Mask and spent countless hours listening to it. Get some feels and rock “Gas Mask” below. The whole album is worth a listen, but if you are strapped for time, tracks such as “Chokehold” ,“Caged Birds” and “Real Detroit” should grab your attention.

Discovering that Apollo Brown had other albums naturally had me thirsting for more. I pondered if the level of quality found on Gas Mask was on other releases.  My next venture was his collaboration with long-time hip hop veteran OC entitled Trophies. The emcees on Gas Mask are serviceable, but one is left to wonder if things can be taken to another level should an established rapper handle the microphone duties. And that’s precisely what is achieved on Trophies, as OC rips through tracks over Apollo Brown’s wonderfully orchestrated beats. OC’s street-wise rhymes and steady flow are as heartfelt and genuine as Apollo Brown’s beats. My favorite track off of this one is “We The People” which is essentially a call for people to come together and protest the injustices we are subjected to by the ruling elite. The beat relies mainly on violin string samples with a thumping drum beat. The sample comes from The True Reflections’ “Look At All The Lonely People”  which is sped up to accommodate the beat. This particular passage in the chorus really stands out and sticks with me to this day:

I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees

For change it guarantees

The people need to take to charge, get involved and wake up

Or forever stay asleep

Other standout tracks on this album include – “The Pursuit”, “Another One” and “Just Walk”. As with Gas Mask, the entire album is solid, but you can start with these songs to get yourself familiar.

Nothing could prepare me for the next Apollo Brown album I would encounter. Dice Game, the collaboration with fellow Detroit native Guilty Simpson is loaded with beats that challenge your head not to nod along and simple yet effective lyrical stylings. Guilty Simpson does not rhyme in riddles and complexities, but his flow and modest lyrical approach work just fine. For this next featured track, I’d like to ask you to follow along by first taking a listen to the very beginning of the Wu Tang Clan’s hip hop classic, “C.R.E.A.M.” Now that you’ve done that, listen to “Let’s Play” and witness the mastery that is Apollo Brown.  The beat is carved out of the intro and I happened to catch it when the two songs randomly played back to back on shuffle one day. You’d never expect such an amazing beat to come out of a place where you normally wouldn’t focus your attention. But this just proves Apollo Brown is on another level as he has an ear capable of locating elements that will succeed in his compositions.

As I mentioned, this album is loaded with good songs. Lend your ears to these jams –  “One Man”, “I Can Do No Wrong”, “Potatoes”, “The Cook Up” and “Nasty” are all bangers that will have you coming back for more.

Another stroke of genius in Apollo Brown’s catalog comes in the form of a remix album. Some of you may be familiar with Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons To Die. The album saw Ghostface teaming up with producer Adrian Younge who provided live music for the record instead of the traditional sampled beats that most hip hop albums are accustomed to. Apollo Brown got a hold of the vocal tracks to this album and put his own beats behind them. The result is called Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape. What’s interesting about this album is that while the original is an interesting concept, the lyrics tend to stand out more when Ghostface’s verses are returned to the traditional hip hop format. For example, listen to the original version of “Revenge Is Sweet” and compare it to Apollo Brown’s treatment below. Ghostface Killah just recently released Twelve Reasons To Die Part 2 with Adrian Younge handling the live music once again. I wonder if Apollo Brown will give this one the remix treatment as well.

In 2014, Apollo Brown collaborated with California’s Ras Kass on the album Blasphemy. Up to this point, Apollo Brown had worked with plenty of quality emcees, but this album with Ras Kass married the beats with the rhymes as it takes aim at religion and politics while still finding plenty of time to balance it out with fun playful tracks. Say what you want about conspiracy theorist David Icke but the sample at the beginning of “Deliver Us From Evil” sums up perfectly what anyone who is not rich and powerful is up against in today’s world. This is thinking person’s hip hop that values message over the materialistic jargon that pollutes much of mainstream hip hop. Blasphemy is another album that features the soulful and bluesy production that Apollo Brown has consistently delivered throughout his recording career thus far. Other tracks worthy of your attention include “How To Kill God”, “H2O”, “48 Laws (Part 1)” and “Drink Irish” which also features guest spots from Slaine and Sean Price who unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago.

Apollo Brown and Ras Kass got together one more time earlier this year for Mellow Music Group‘s compilation Persona. The track “PNT” is another intelligent hip hop track in which Ras Kass delivers a scathing indictment of United States politics and how the citizens of this country are manipulated by propaganda. You should seriously bump this track in the whip with the windows down and mouth the lyrics so you can illicit awkward stares from old white people. As usual Apollo Brown provides another great beat powered by some blues vocals, gospel, blues guitar and horns that come together with Ras Kass’s brilliant lyrical performance to create a standout hip hop song.

So what’s next for Apollo Brown, you ask? He’ll be dropping a new album called Grandeur on September 25th, and he’s already previewed a few tracks from it. One features Your Old Droog (check out Dagon’s post on him here) and the other is with the legendary M.O.P. that you can stream below. Guests on the forthcoming album include Barrel Brothers, Evidence, Sean Price and REKS . He’ll also reunite with Ras Kass and OC once again, so if you’re a fan of underground hip hop then you are likely foaming at the mouth in anticipation of what’s to come.

Show Apollo Brown some love on Facebook and head over to his Bandcamp page where you’ll find several more albums for your listening pleasure along with the ones featured here.

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  • DCLXVI

    tony starks

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Fuck yeah.

  • Tyree
  • Nativian Taco

    Sampling and making beats is an art form in itself. Love this article. Apollo Brown, Dj Premier, Q-Tip. I love that shit.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Blast beats in hip hop or GTFO

      • CyberneticOrganism

        GAAAH NO

      • CyberneticOrganism
        • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

          What the… I… Well…
          Yeah, good for you FF.
          I’ll just back the fuck up for good.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Never forget the nü-metal plague of 1998 – 2004.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            This song is my least favorite song of theirs. The only good nu metal was the obscure stuff that I like.

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Thankfully the whole thing flew over my head when it was big.

        • This… was a bad idea.

        • Fear Factory doing a song called “Back The Fuck Up” was destined not to go well.

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Them covering the almighty Onyx is a terrible idea, period.

        • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

          Worst, and only, Onyx cover I’ve ever heard. Almost as bad as their ‘Cars’ remake.

      • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

        Heck, it really had rap. I thought you would have referred to Barnes being bad, but no. It has rap. Dang heckit.

    • Busta Rhymes is fast but I don’t think he can maintain that pace.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Busta Rhymes is a good rapper. Same goes with DMX.

        • KJM

          Used to be a huge fan of DMX until I found out he was an animal abusing scumbag. I saw Busta Rhymes on the 1998 Smoking Grooves tour along with Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and Wyclef Jean.

      • Vote for Jeb

        The way Busta spits in triplets could be considered highly technical.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          Tech Nine is also a very fast rapper.

          • Guppusmaximus
          • Guppusmaximus
          • WAT. So Tech N9ne and Krizz are both from KC (where I live) and this was shot at the local mall right down the street from my parents’ house. Weird.

          • Guppusmaximus

            You’d know more than I would though I would’ve killed to be at that mall and video bomb Krizz:)

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Janel Monae is also from KC.

          • Guacamole Jim

            Not just fast; Tech N9ne does rhythmic patterns I’ve never heard anyone do before, not even Busta (though Busta is right up there).

          • Death

            I’m a better rapper.

        • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

          Pfffffffffffft, he can’t hold a candle to Twista.

        • Love RA, he’s one of the best emcee’s out there in my opinion.

        • xengineofdeathx

          His verse on Jmt’s common Valor is fucking amazing.

    • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth
      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I never thought I’d be unhappy to see Coolio. I am now.

        • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

          You apparently never seen him on Hollywood Squares.

      • RJA

        I have never seen this – my life has been forever altered.

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    Good, good.
    Especially Gas Mask is caressing my bear-parts.

  • Óðinn

    ~~~

    • This is getting creepy.

      • Óðinn

        ~~~

        • Dear Odie:
          Are you okay? Are you injured? Can you hear my voice? How many fingers am I holding up? What year is it? Who’s president?

          • Óðinn

            It’s a trick question. Richter has no arms. You are holding up no fingers.

          • Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to sneak one by you, eh?

          • Óðinn

            At least by noon. 😉

          • Is one of your eyes still crusted shut with sleep gunk because that emoticon DOES NOT COMPUTE!

  • Óðinn
    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      One of the best to ever do it imho.

      • Lacertilian

        Above the clouds

        • Edward/Breegrodamus™

          I leave scientists mentally scarred, triple extra large

          Wild like rock stars who smash guitars

          • Lacertilian

            The production on that track is tops.

  • RJA

    I love this site. A grind article followed by a hip-hop article. Neither one is really my thing – but I already know plenty about what I like, it’s nice to have some variety. I’m long overdue to investigate some grind – and I haven’t bought a rap record since black star.

    • Guacamole Jim

      Black Star tho. That album rules butts.

    • Herr Schmitty

      Yo, that Black Star album is one of the best rap albums… ever (not that I’m qualified to declare such things, but smarter people than me seem to agree). Definitely one I’m glad to own.

      • Mobb Deep – Hell on Earth. A gripping dark masterpiece

        • Herr Schmitty

          I’ve never checked that out, will give it a listen later!

          • Minimalist beats done by RZA full of samples of creepy strings, even unorthodox shit like creeking doors, spray paint ratlling all to gritty violent tales of street life in NYC before gentrification. So fucking incredible. Every single track.

      • RJA

        Yea, killer album. A lot of that late 90’s early 00’s stuff was fantastic, I was into the def jux stuff quite a bit. The only 2 rap albums I’ve listened to this year were RTJewels 2 and that Earl Sweatshirt record – I thought both were pretty good.

        • Herr Schmitty

          I didn’t get that Earl Sweatshirt, but I definitely have that RTJ2 and it gets played more than a lot of my metal does right now…

          Still doesn’t get played more than Revocation or the new Soilwork, though.

  • Vote for Jeb
  • I don’t dig this that much, but I must say that the rhythm and sampling of those beats are good!

  • KJM

    90s style Hip Hop, very nice.

  • That track with M.O.P. is HARD. Looking forward to that record.

    • He recently asked fans who he should do his next album with. A lot of the replies were for Your Old Droog. I was gonna put that on here but the M.O.P. track is better I think.

    • more beer

      M.O.P. always brings it hard!

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    I just discovered there is a Wu Tang affiliate named Shorty Shitstain.

    • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

      There’s also a Wu Tang affiliate who got high off meth, chopped off his ding dong, and jumped off a balcony. Now he claims he’s a dickless prophet.

      http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/wu-tang-affiliated-rapper-cut-penis-blessing-not-curse-article-1.1866432

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I’ve heard his work before. He’s not a good rapper.

      • Death

        Hey, I’m the only dickless prophet!

        • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

          That wasn’t you that left behind the dumpster, with my pants down and not being able to sit for the next week? Damn, I gotta stop drinking with tapirs I meet at the bar!

          • Death

            Probably not. I don’t usually hang around bars.

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Damn. That’s the last time I let Bill Cosby buy me a drink!

          • Death

            The last thing you heard before falling asleep was “zip zop zoobity bop.”

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            And the next morning yelling “hey, this isn’t pudding!”

  • Vote for Jeb

    I started jamming Trophy on the ‘Fy, but I’m reading papers today, and rap tends to be more distracting for my concentration than metal. Will revisit when I’m doing a different task.

    • KJM

      Metal can exist as background, but Rap kinda demands your attention because of the nature of the music(i.e. the in your face rapping/vocals).

    • The vocals on rap can be distracting if you have it on as background noise. Better to listen to stuff with unintelligible ramblings instead.

      • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

        Hence why Bob Dylan makes for great reading music.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          It sure does!

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Love love love his music, even though he sounds like he’s singing with a mouth full of cotton balls and pebbles sometimes. Ever check out that Rodriguez stuff I sent a while back?

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            You mean the Rodriguez who that movie Searching For Sugarman was based off of? I haven’t. Can you post the link again?

  • Jock Strap Full O Beef Stew

    Didn’t he produce one of John Conner’s demos?

  • CT-12

    Not related whatsoever, but Abigail Williams has a new song streaming.
    https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/the-accuser

    • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

      Theyre playing in Fayettenam soon, and maybe in SC. Should be going to see em

      • CT-12

        Hell yeah man, tell me how it is! It’s funny, they’ve moved to WA, but don’t really play a ton of shows here hahaha. Hopefully I’ll see them soon.

        • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

          Well, why any band would play in Fayetteville (aka fayettenam) is beyond me. Even local bands dont play there. Even morr confusing is that i think theyre playing in Spartanburg SC which is like #3 in gun violence in the nation. Needless to say, not the kinds of places hipster white kids hang

          • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

            Wasn’t that where that one band trashed the venue by pouring shit, blood, or something else all over it?

          • Óðinn

            Hipsters: At least they don’t shoot at you.

  • CT-12

    Don’t know why, but I just can’t focus enough to really sit down and read all of this right now, but every track I’ve listened to has impressed me massively. Been looking for some new hip-hop to check out for a while now, thanks for doing the heavy lifting Ron!

    • Been meaning to do a write up on this guy for some time. With a new album coming out, it finally made sense to do so.

  • KJM

    Just hangin’ out and killing time until the Uncle Acid show starts.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ruHCwKt0o

  • KJM

    I’ll be flying the ToH colors at the show tonight so if I get beat down because of my shirt, I’m suing the fuck outta you people.

    • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

      Because theyre trying to steal your shirt? I never got a shirt 🙁

      Probably didnt even make em in north carolina sized

    • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

      Convert them to the Void! I already made 4 converts to here from Rawstory.

  • Sgt. Poopypanty’s Fartin Teeth

    In other news, found this Donald Trump documentary that he tried to get banned. And wow……… it speaks volumes.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3oCoBh8RLo

  • KJM

    So I did not get jacked for my ToH shirt at the Uncle Acid show. In fact, I did not run into anyone I knew. However, I have noticed a few cute Metal girls seem to live in the Davis Sq area now. If I wasn’t old enough to be their dad, I’d strike up a convo with one of them. Ah well, such is life.
    Ghost/Purson in 2 weeks!!

  • I dig it. ’90s style underground hip hop. Def Jux, etc. I like it a lot!

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      Def Jux 2001 – 2007 competes with literally any era of hip hop.

  • xengineofdeathx

    This is good shit! Roc Marciano is also awesome https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-F54LoInUkc

  • This shit bunk as a muh’