If you are a fan of underground hip-hop at all, chances are, you know who Apollo Brown is, the Detroit producer who has become the go-to beatmaker for hardcore rappers everywhere.
Apollo Brown is the producer in two groups: The Left (whose Gas Mask album I reviewed some time ago) and Ugly Heroes (who put out an awesome self-titled album a few months ago). He has also done collaboration albums with the likes of Guilty Simpson, O.C., Hassaan Mackey, Boog Brown, has remixed Ghostface Killah's 2013 album Twelve Reasons To Die and has made beats for the legendary Chino XL.
Quite an extensive and impressive résumé, huh?
But for now, we'll start all the way at the beginning. Well, kind of.
Before putting out The Reset in 2010, Apollo Brown released two instrumental albums: Skilled Trade and Make Do. However, it's kind of tough to review instrumental projects, so we'll just kick things off with this one.
Apollo recruited a ton of dope, underground MCs (who I make note of in the song's titles to make things easier) to work with him on The Reset, but what would be the result?
1. Hungry (feat. Rapper Big Pooh and Black Milk)
There are no album intros here. Just an absolute banger of a beat that Rapper Big Pooh and Black Milk drop verses on. The sample is crazy, and are there any guesses as to what the vocal in the sample is actually saying? Sounds to me like it's saying "patience," but for all I know, it could also be saying "Haitian." Okay; probably not the latter, but it certainly sounds like that's what it could be. Anyway, this record simply knocks. Incredible way to start The Reset.
2. Lower The Boom (feat. Oddisee, Kenn Starr and Sareem Poems)
Based on the title, you would probably think this would be another extremely hard beat, but it's not. Sometimes, deception is what makes a project awesome, and that's evident here. Apollo Brown's instrumental is as smooth as butter, and all three guests (especially Oddisee, a producer/MC who you will recognize from the group Diamond District) rip it.
3. Beauty of a Day (feat. The Regiment)
It doesn't get much more soulful than this, something you'll find yourself saying on an awful lot of Apollo Brown's productions. The Regiment, a two-man group that has also worked with Apollo after The Reset, do an outstanding job. The main thing I took away from this track, though, is the way the beat changes a bit on the hook. Beautiful.
4. Real Detroit (feat. Journalist 103 and Marv Won)
Journalist 103 is the rapper from The Left, and The Left actually remixed "Real Detroit" on their Gas Mask album. It contained the same lyrics with a different beat, but I actually prefer this original record. The instrumental is filthy, sounding as if Apollo Brown literally took his equipment out into the streets of Detroit one night and produced it. Journalist's grimy ass voice fits the production perfectly, and well-known battle rapper Marv Won comes correct, as well. I can't say enough about how sick this song is.
5. Seasons (feat. Stik Figa)
Part of what makes The Reset such a fine album is the transitions. Apollo Brown did a great job with track placement, and that fact couldn't be any more obvious on the subdued and introspective "Seasons," which follows the raw-as-hell "Real Detroit." The beat is awesome, and Stik Figa obliges with a satisfactory performance of his own.
6. Brag Language (feat. Buff1 and Magestik Legend)
This is the weakest track here so far. Apollo's instrumental sounds relatively incomplete, and while I fully understand that was his intention, it doesn't work all that well. Apollo Brown also picked the wrong song to make the longest one on the album. I did like how Magestik Legend took a shot at people who air out things over Twitter and social media rather than actually physically talking to people, though.
7. Streets Won't Let Me Chill (feat. Diamond District)
This is, for all intents and purposes, a remix to the Diamond District song of the same name off of In The Ruff (which I reviewed a while back). I definitely like this remix better than the original. That's really all I've got.
8. Balance (feat. John Robinson and Kenn Starr)
Apollo Brown's instrumental is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm not sure if I've ever used that term when referring to anything musical before. "Balance" seriously has one of the trippiest hip-hop beats I've ever heard, and both John Robinson and Kenn Starr (who makes his second appearance on the album) do well for themselves. I would love to see what someone like Skyzoo could do over this production, though.
9. Turn & Run (feat. MED and Rapper Big Pooh)
This absolutely sounds like a beat that the Wu-Tang Clan would have rapped over in the 90s, and that alone makes this fantastic. Both MED (who has done some work with Madlib) and Rapper Big Pooh (making his way onto a song for the second time on The Reset), tear it to pieces, too. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
10. Odds Ain't Fair (feat. Hassaan Mackey)
Apollo Brown and Hassaan Mackey would later collaborate and do a full-length album called Daily Bread together (and that will be reviewed eventually), and the two gave you a little preview of what to expect on "Odds Ain't Fair." This track is simply terrific, with Mackey sounding right at home over Apollo's banging instrumental. As for who that female singer on the hook is? I have no freaking idea, but she sounds pretty awful. Regardless, this record still still rocks.
11. Brainwash (feat. yU [of Diamond District], Grap Luva and Finale)
I was merely okay with this one. Apollo's beat was uncharacteristically sloppy (too much static and the snare drums were too busy), and none of the MCs sounded particularly comfortable on it. Plus, those vocal skits throughout the cut seemed unnecessary and out of place.
12. Just Think (feat. Magestik Legend)
Apollo Brown utilizes an unbelievably soulful Love Unlimited Orchestra sample (one that 9th Wonder fans will likely recognize) and puts together a thought-provoking beat (no pun on the title intended) on which Magestik Legend raps admirably. This was short and sweet.
13. Propa (feat. Oddisee and Tranquil)
Eh, this one kind of sucked. Apollo's production was pretty bland, and Oddisee's hook was pretty lame. Definitely the weakest cut on The Reset.
14. Ghetto Soul Music (feat. Declaime [a.k.a. Dudley Perkins], Prince Po and Finale)
Nice to see Prince Po of Organized Konfusion get on the mic for this one. In sharp contrast to "Propa," Apollo Brown's beat was pretty engaging on this track, and all three guests do it, well, proper. Effective way to close out the album.
The Reset was an outstanding way for Apollo Brown to introduce himself to the hip-hop world. The 14 tracks vividly display his ample talent on the boards, and he brings an old-school boom-bap approach that is sorely missing from the game today.
Think of Apollo Brown as a 9th Wonder/DJ Premier hybrid. He combines the elements of soul and grit to beautifully illustrate the mood of Detroit, an area of the country that has been churning out dope producers non-stop over a good portion of the last decade (Apollo Brown, Black Milk, Bronze Nazareth, 14KT, etc.).
The Reset was only the beginning to what would become an incredibly successful career for Apollo Brown. He went from a virtual unknown to one of the main producers that the rawest of the raw hip-hop artists gravitate toward when they want to pair up with another beatmaker.
The rest of Apollo's catalog will absolutely be reviewed on this blog as time passes on, and it only gets better from here.
1. Real Detroit
3. Odds Ain't Fair
5. Beauty of a Day