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Home » Interviews » Apollo Brown Speaks On The Making Of Trophies, How Detroit Impacted O.C. & His Wack Studio Setup

Apollo Brown Speaks On The Making Of Trophies, How Detroit Impacted O.C. & His Wack Studio Setup

As part of our KN Certified coverage, I spoke with Apollo Brown about a variety of topics including his recently released collaboration LP Trophies with O.C. Check out part one of our discussion as Apollo speaks on how this album came together, O.C.’s time in Detroit and his studio equipment.

[Apollo comes on the line playing some exclusive music in the background]

Apollo Brown: APOLLO……

Arasia: What up man. (Laughs). You are right on time.

Apollo: I’m usually pretty prompt unlike last time when I came on early. My time was off but you all are only an hour behind so that’s cool. EST, the real time zone!  Nah, I’m just playing. Repping time zones what! (I wish you all could hear the way he emphasized this…quite funny).

Arasia: That’s the new thing. Repping time zones. Time zones beefing now?

Apollo Brown: EST, what!

Arasia (Laughs) Now before we get into it, I have to bring up your list for your What’s on the iPod feature. I was laughing when I saw Alexander O’Neal’s name. (Laughs again)

Apollo Brown: That’s my favorite song, ever.

(Both laugh)

Apollo Brown: So you gone laugh? That’s, that’s funny. Everybody laughs when I say that.

Arasia: Well, I’m laughing because I’m a massive AO fan too and people look at me like I’m crazy. A certain rapper specifically but I won’t get into that. Ask me later. But yeah, I’m a fan dude.

{We share a moment naming off our favorite songs. We’ll spare you}

Arasia: You know he was the original lead singer of The Time?

Apollo Brown: I didn’t know that.

Arasia: He looks bad but….

Apollo Brown: He’s looking bad. He’s looking like he’s doing bad though.

Arasia: Yeah, he’s massive overseas though. He’s like Prince over there. You should check out his Unsung episode. But let’s get into it. So a lot has changed since the last time I spoke with you. I believe it was two years ago but the first thing I have to ask you about is your wack studio setup. Do you still have that setup?

Apollo Brown: The setup is exactly the same. My setup does not change. I still have the same computer, I still have the same four blown speakers, and I still have the same keyboard that only 16 keys work because it got flood damage. I still have all the same stuff. Only thing that is different is my mouse because my other mouse broke. I had to get a new mouse but I was even working with that broke one but I decided to break down and get another mouse. My setup is very basic, simple and that is what I live by…simplicity.

Arasia: So is this because you are frugal or is it moreso the approach of, it’s not broke so I’m not going to try and fix it? This is just what works for me kind of thing?

Apollo Brown: The latter. I’ve bought new equipment and monitors and all kinds of stuff but I’ve taken it back the next day. One, I get buyers remorse and two, it just didn’t have the sound I wanted. I’m used to a certain sound and I’ve been rocking with this setup for over ten years. It’s just the sound. I know how to manipulate the beats within this setup to make it sound good on record or good live in the big speakers. I just know what I’m dong with this set up. Sadly to say, if my setup ever had to change, it would be a learning curve, or not necessarily a learning curve but a hearing curve because I’m so used to a certain sound and knowing how to manipulate it. But yeah, my setup is basic because I choose to have it this way. Not because I’m frugal. It’s the sonic part of it. It’s what I’m used to and what I prefer.

Arasia: So have you ever had an opportunity to go to a bigger more grandiose studio with more expensive equipment?

Apollo Brown: Yeah, I do it all the time. I don’t make beats on that stuff though.

Arasia: So what do you do?

Apollo Brown: I’m usually mixing records or mastering. That’s usually the only time…usually with all my records, they are all done in three different studios: one for recording, another for mixing, and another for mastering. I don’t do anything all in the same studio because I want three sets of ears. Three engineers and three fresh ears…I don’t want the same engineer for every part of the process, I want fresh ears so I get a different opinion. They hear different things. And it’s just…that’s how I like it but usually when I’m in the big studios like that, I’m just…the creative process is over and now we are recording, mixing, and mastering. But as far as making the beats, no, I don’t want that. I don’t like that. I can buy the equipment but I don’t want to. I don’t need it. It’s a waste of money. Like I said, I know people with $20,000 worth of equipment and half of it sits in a corner because nowadays, you don’t need all that stuff anymore. Literally, just to make beats, all you need is a laptop, headphones, and a mouse. And actually you don’t even need a mouse. You can use the pad on the laptop but a laptop and headphones and you can make a beat so it’s not really imperative that you gotta go out and buy all kinds of equipment. Really, the people who do so choose to do so and that’s what they prefer but I prefer to make my beats on ole janky shit.

Arasia: (Laughing) I dig. So are you still at the box (his studio)?

Apollo Brown: I am in the box, yes, right now. It looks a little different. I got a few more records and albums on the walls but yeah, it’s the same spot. Good place to make beats.

Arasia: Figured as much. Now, I must get into Trophies. I know we spoke the other day and I told you how elated I was when Michael hit me on Twitter and revealed to me that it was OC that you’d be doing this project with. So with you being a hot producer out right now, it seems as though you could’ve had your pick of the litter in terms of who you could have done this project with. So outside of you being a fan of OC’s work, why did you select him?

Apollo Brown: Well, okay, so Mike came to me and was like, “What do you want to do for 2012? Who do you want to work with? He said to name some emcees, groups, it doesn’t matter how outlandish it is and immediately I was like OC. I want to do an album with OC. So it was on our radar and I’m like bet, we are having a hard time getting a hold of him. But a friend of mine worked at a label that OC was on back in the day and he had his contact information. And so, me waiting to do an album with him is solely based on his skills and him being one of my favorite emcees of all time. It wasn’t based on any personal reasons. Obviously, I didn’t know him from Adam so I had not yet met the guy. It was truly based off of skill and I look at OC in awe. So, I got a hold of him…I literally called him out of the blue. To my surprise, he knew who I was already. I was on my fan stuff and telling him in ‘94, I bought Word…Life and ‘97 came around and I bought Jewelz and it changed my life. Jewelz is one of my top five albums of all time and all that good stuff but then he turned the table on me and was like before you get on that let me get on mine and he started naming my albums and songs and stuff. And I’m like, yo, I’m flabbergasted. A lot of people will say I’m a fan but he went as far as naming stuff. So it’s like, OC is naming my stuff so he definitely keeps his ear to this Hip Hop. So off the bat, we were talking and vibing very well so we got to talking about doing some music and eventually we got to talking about doing an album. We didn’t have a title yet but it was like, yo, let’s make an album and it was easy for us to say yes because we were already mutually fans of each others music and we respected each others catalog. So we were like, let’s do it. And he hadn’t done anything for a minute and I had an opening so we were like bet, let’s do it. I basically dropped everything to make this album, naturally. This is OC. If I make an album with someone, I’m going to make an album with them. I don’t believe in e-mail albums. I don’t send beats and you send me back the vocal and all that bull. We are going to make an album and get in the studio and we are going to vibe out together. So before I make an album, I don’t like to just jump into it. I like to build with the person first if I don’t already know them so I went out NY for a while and chilled with him for a while. Just building…not even just on music but going out and just chilling.

Arasia: What was that like because I know you are a massive fan like me.  How many moments did you go, damn, this is OC?

Apollo Brown: It all started the first time I went to NY to meet him. We had talked on the phone for months, e-mailing, and then I told him I was coming to NY for a week. My sole reason for going to NY was to chill with him. It first stated when he picked me up from the airport. So that was like…I texted 12 people like, OC picked me up from the airport.

Arasia: (Laughs)

Apollo Brown: I swear to god. OC just picked ME up from the airport. So we are riding and we go and get lunch and we are talking and it’s going through my head like this is one of my favorite emcees of all the time. He’s littler than I thought he would be and I think I can take him so all kinds of stuff was going though my mind and I didn’t know how he would be. Sometimes they say don’t meet your heroes because you might be disappointed but I wasn’t disappointed. He’s cool as shit. One of the coolest dudes I know. Very humble, good guy, he will give you the shirt of his back. I can actually call him my friend now and that’s crazy because when I was 17, or 14, I bought Word…Life and I’m about to be 32 and I’m producing for this cat and I’m djing all over the world for him. It took a while but it’s cool. It goes through my head all the time. There were a couple of times where he called me and I was over some friends houses and I would hand the phone to them like look at that right there and it would be O calling me and they are like is that OC and I’m like yeah. He doesn’t know this but sometimes I would put him on speakerphone. I don’t do it anymore because I’m not star struck anymore but at first I was on some fan, star struck stuff.

Arasia: Yeah, man, he’s so fucking cool. He’s very easy to talk to.

Apollo Brown: Right, so he came to Detroit and stayed a week here. We had a good time. We ended up recording the album in Detroit.

Arasia: He told me about the recording process but he also…well one of the standouts to him was you actually taking him around Detroit.

Apollo Brown: Yeah, I did. You remember the song, “Options.” It’s the second or third to last song on the album.

Arasia: Yes.

Apollo Brown: Well, that wasn’t an original for the album. That was made while he was here. If you listen to the second verse, which was written while we were riding around Detroit. When I was in NY, he’d take me around Brooklyn, Ft. Greene, and he’d show me the hood and I’m looking around like, where is the hood? And he was like, right here. And I’m like, no, where is the hood?  I live in Detroit and Detroit is a whole other hood. It’s something that people have never seen in their life. A whole…just blocks and blocks of vacant houses and burnt out houses and no one lives in this whole community. So he’s like this is the hood and I’m like okay when you come to Detroit I’m going to show you the hood and show you what Detroit is all about. I’m going to show you why some of the best music in this Hip Hop shit comes out of Detroit. Why, because of the mentality and struggle here and the grey skies that hover over Detroit. So when he came here, we had some downtime so I took him around to the Motown museum, I took him to the hood…the deep East side, and how people lived and how people struggle here and the fact that we only have 600,000 people. We used to be one of the top big cities. Not anymore.

Arasia: Wow, the last time I was there, it was at about 800,000. That was a few years ago though.

Apollo Brown: It’s going down and down every year. It’s not up in the millions anymore so he is seeing broken glass everywhere, dilapidated houses, zombies walking around, little kids barefoot playing basketball with milk crates…the stuff you see on TV. It’s crazy.

Arasia: He was deeply, deeply impacted by it too.

Apollo Brown: Yeah, he was, like wow, he didn’t want to stop. He wanted me to keep taking him around. He was like, man, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. He was like I didn’t know it was like this here. And I’m like yeah, this is one of the biggest reasons why you get the music you get out of Detroit. It provides that inspiration.

Arasia: He spoke about it for quite a while. What I got from it was he almost kind of felt like he wanted to do something to help to make it better but he didn’t even know…. like his mind couldn’t process what his eyes were seeing. He also touched on the history and the legacy Detroit holds in terms of music and black culture and to see where it is right now and how it isn’t being preserved. He said you took him to the Berry Gordy mansion.

Apollo Brown: Yeah, I did. I took him to the Brewster projects. That’s a very historical …it’s all four big buildings…all vacant. Kind of like Cabrini Green but it’s where Aretha and a lot of Motown artists lived and dwelled in those communities over there. It just sits like ghost buildings on the horizon so he wanted to take pictures over there. So we took a lot of our promo pictures over there.

Arasia: Did you take him to Cass?

Apollo Brown: That was tore down. The old building was tore down last year. The new building stands.

Arasia: Wow, I remember the old building was there and the new building was down the way from it. Because of all the people that went there, I didn’t think they would tear it down. I figured it would be preserved in some regard. Wow…

Apollo Brown: Yeah it’s gone.

Arasia: So with you all bonding throughout this project, what prompted you all to come up with the name Trophies?

Apollo Brown: You know what, it was originally called “Trophy Music” then it was called, “The Sum of It All,” which in some people’s eyes, is a trophy or some type of award. And then it went from that to just Trophies. It’s kind of…people will take it and kind of put whatever twist they want but the title is not really that deep. We are touching on the opposite of trophies or what people are striving to get. And like the world today…if you heard the intro, everybody is…society today won’t do anything unless there is an award involved or some kind of reward. They don’t want to make music unless they are going to get a million dollars or they are going to get a bunch of girls or gold chain or car…something that basically tells other people that they did something. People don’t just do it because they love it. They don’t do this music because they love it. They do it because they see so and so on TV making millions of dollars or driving this. And so that’s why they do it. Back in the ‘90s, they did it because they loved it. In the ‘80s, they only did it because they loved it. And it got worse and worse and became a commercial entity and became a corporation. So that’s the sum of it all. No love for this craft anymore. All you want is a trophy or a prize possession and you just want something to prove to yourself and others that you made it. Even though you did it and you know you did it, you still gotta have something to show you did it.  It’s like a football player holding out to get more money. You’ve ’already made 10 million a year but you are holding out so you won’t play and chill at home because you want 15 million a year. It’s getting ridiculous…you got teachers that make $30,000 a year and these are the people teaching your kids and molding them to become the leaders of tomorrow but you have a basketball player that gets paid $200,000 or 200 million.

Arasia: And even the ones that make $200,000 a year are riding the bench.

Apollo Brown: You know what I’m saying? So society is all messed up especially sports and entertainment. We can live without sports and entertainments but we need teachers and doctors so that’s what it’s all about. He {OC} can say it better but that’s basically what it is about. Someone said that it was our way of saying we are the trophies of the industry right now and I’m like okay, whatever, however you want to interpret it.

Arasia: I don’t know if you remember but the last time we spoke, I had an interpretation for The Reset. So this time, I said I’d hear you out first so I don’t look like an ass but I want to share my interpretation of Trophies.  

Apollo Brown: Please do.

Arasia: When I first saw the cover, I thought it meant Hip Hop as a whole had won some type of an award or was being honored for something. Even though you come from that classic era, you are still considered more of a newer producer, if you will.

Apollo Brown: Right.

Arasia: And OC was making records at the time so you have the older generation and the newer generation coming together to create this album that has a powerful message that says old and new do and can get along…there is respect there. You have respect for him and he has respect for what you are doing now. You don’t’ see a lot of that. You see them feuding like Tyler and Rah Digga or some of the younger cats not respecting who came before them and the older cats dismissing the newer cats and their interpretation of Hip Hop so I thought the trophy represented that these two cats came together to create this album…. Hip Hop had gotten its shit together and accomplished something.

Apollo Brown: Word, yeah, everyone will have their interruption but I know it’s a hot title. It sticks and I wanted something that would stick so 20 years from now, it would stick. It’s simple.

Arasia: Like Jewelz.

Apollo Brown: Yeah, I like one-word titles. Like Illmatic. That just boom…it’s right there. There is nothing to it. Like Gas Mask. It was a great title to me. I like all my titles. Clouds and Brown Study too.

Arasia: They are straight to the point.

Apollo Brown: Yeah, they are. That’s my mantra…straight to the point. That’s what I try to give people in all aspects even artwork. I’m really simple. I think simplicity is genius. When you do too much you tend to not stand out.

Arasia: I know you mentioned that you did Daily Bread in 72 hours and OC told me you all did this in a few weeks.

Apollo Brown: Well, Trophies, we recorded the album in two days…17 songs in 16 hours, which is unheard of. Actually, we recorded it in 12 hours but the last four hours, we did fill-ins and things like that but he recorded the first 12 in the first day. He came to work. It took us about 6 months with the building and vibing out and conceptualizing and sending him this and that. That type of stuff but when it came down to it, it didn’t take long. It was a really an easy process because the chemistry was there. It’s a perfect marriage. It was really easy to make this album…there were a couple of times where I wanted this track on the album and he didn’t or he wanted this but that’s with any person you work with. We saw eye to eye on everything.

Arasia: So do you do that will all the artists you work with where you spend time with and vibe out with them before creating an album? Or do you tend to lean towards how it was with Hassaan, which was a pretty fast process?

Apollo Brown: Well, I already knew Hassaan. That was easy as well. We were already friends so that was easy but if I’m going to make an album with someone I don’t really know, just because I’m a fan, because I don’t work with anyone I’m not a fan of…I gotta be a fan of you first. I don’t just work with anybody. That’s the great thing about being a producer, I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to but I have to vibe. We have to build and talk about what we want to do and what kind of song we want to do. Maybe do a chemistry test with one or two joints and see how it sounds if they are local and get in the studio and see how they work and they can see how much of an asshole I am in the studio. I’m a nice guy but in the studio, I’m all about work. I’m not your friend in the studio. I’m kind of an asshole and people will tell you but I get work done. I don’t let stragglers come to the studio…your boys can’t come to the studio. Your girl can’t come to the studio either. If you are not a part of this project directly, if you are not a feature or engineer, then you don’t need to be in the studio. I don’t’ deal with that yes men shit. When you get a bunch of people in the studio, you get a bunch of yes men. Yeah, that’s dope when that shits wack. That’s why Hip Hop is the way it is now…you have a bunch of yes men in the studio saying that shit is hot when that shit is horrible.

Arasia: Do you ever step in and help with lyrics or give alternatives?

Apollo Brown: Very seldom because I work with emcees I trust. I work with emcees that I don’t have to babysit so I’m a fan of their lyrics, their delivery, and them. I’m not too big on telling an emcee on how to do his job because I don’t want them to tell me how to do mine. So I just…I might say, let’s do that again or I didn’t like the way it came out or you fumbled on this word but I wont tell him how to write or deliver it because that’s what he does. That’s why working with him is attractive to me. But if we need to do something, I’ll definitely put my two cents in that. But we will get it done and make it a beautiful song.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion when Apollo Brown speaks on why he prefers to make music like his album Clouds, he addresses the idea of his beats sounding repetitive, if we will ever see that album with him, Boog Brown and Kev Brown, and much more!

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About Arasia Magnetic

Arasia is a contributing writer at and resides in Chicago, IL.

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