These days, it’s quite common for artists to flood their listeners with an obscene amount of music. From G.O.O.D Fridays to monthly mixtapes, the Internet age has lead to artists constantly releasing music to appease the click-happy, ADD generation of listeners, often at the cost of quality. So, some might be skeptical to hear that Detroit producer Apollo Brown is releasing another project, having released close to ten albums in the past four years. But Apollo Brown seems to have mastered the quantity versus quality balance equation. He has some how managed to maximize both sides of the scale and consistently release high quality work at an unparalleled rate. His latest offering, .38, is no exception. The instrumental album is a dark, gritty and almost disturbing project that is perfectly sewn together. I caught up with Apollo to discuss why he calls his music “grey,” daytime prostitution and the possibility of another album from The Left.
Mazin: First of all congratulations on your album!
Apollo Brown: I appreciate it.
Mazin: It’s really an amazing listen. What was your vision going into this project?
AB: I mean, you know, let me start of by saying three years ago I put out an album called Clouds. A lot of my fans know what Clouds is. It’s an instrumental album. Clouds is one of those albums where I gave you a backdrop for reflection. And it was something that had a theme to it. It was something that you put on when you wanna get into a certain thought process or you’re having a bad day or your just cleaning that house. Whatever you’re doing. You can put that record on and it will keep things real chill for you. Being that it’s been three years since I put out an instrumental album, my fans in the last three years have been like, “Yo man we want you to do another instrumental album!” And I was real reluctant; I was doing vocal albums and stuff and getting things done that way. But I decided, alright it’s been three years, let me go ahead and put out another instrumental album.
So the thing is I didn’t want this instrumental album to be anywhere near, or even close to, Clouds in comparison. I didn’t want it to sound anything like Clouds. I wanted to go a whole different route. I wanted to go a dirtier route, a grimier route, a less polished route. I’m a big fan of OST [original soundtrack recordings]. I’m a big fan of scores and things like that man. I wanted to make an instrumental soundtrack, basically, that went along that format. That gave you something to listen to and kind of create a story in your head. So I would say that this album is gonna create a different story, unique to each listener. Every listener is gonna have their own story. Every listener is gonna try and figure out what’s going on in the album. I myself don’t know what’s going on in the album. Everybody’s different. It changes for me every time I listen. I think about something else. Each song. So I wanted to come with that aspect. When I listen to the album, it reminds me of, basically… back alley 1981, pool hall fights… and day prostitution.
AB: You know what I’m saying? Not night prostitution. DAY prostitution. Right in the open. Right in your face. There’s no hiding about it. There’s no around the corner. There’s day prostitution. This shit’s right in your face.
Mazin: No shame.
AB: Right. And pool hall fights and back alley 1981. It’s not so much, it’s kind of been driven down the path of this 70s Blaxploitation. It’s not really that. That was kind of a mistake. Another thing I say is, the transitional years between heroin and crack. Which is about 1981/1982. If you think about shows back in the early 80s, old movies back in the early 80s, just that type of vibe to it. You’ve listened to it. It’s definitely not Blaxploitation. But there’s a certain vibe to it. And that’s what I want people to understand. It’s, unapologetically, not for everybody. It’s not for everybody. There’s gonna people that love it to death. There’s gonna be people that hate it. There’s always gonna be people that are doing the comparison factor with that and Clouds. You can’t compare this album to Clouds.It sounds nothing like Clouds; you can’t compare the two at all. You kind of have to be in a certain mind set when you listen to the album. You kind of gotta coach the listener on how to listen to this album. Cause if you go into it with a certain mindset, like Clouds or any other album that I’ve made, you might be disappointed. Now if you go into it knowing why I made it, how I made it, the reasons behind the sounds and just where it’s at, then you can understand and listen to the music and be like, “Oh, I get it.” You know what I’m saying? So that’s .38 in a nutshell.
Mazin: That’s a brave choice, to decide that you’re not making an album for everybody. But often the best albums are albums that take you to a certain place and define a certain mood.
AB: No doubt.
Mazin: This album, like a lot of your work, is dark. It’s quite eerie almost depressed at times. You once described your sound as “grey.” Why is it you opt for that sound?
AB: Grey is life basically. Not everything is sweet. Not everything is all peaches and cream. For most people, life is grey. More often than not, a lot of people are broke; a lot of people are homeless. A lot of people have problems in their lives. A lot of people have things going on. Issues with their family. Whatever. Not everything is all peaches and cream. You don’t see anybody that’s happy every single day and they’re like, “Ohh everything’s great!” No, it’s not like that. So you gotta kinda make music for those people. And it’s pretty much the majority of people. You know we all have a our problems. Yes, there are happy moments. Yes, we have a good time and a good life and all this other stuff, but there’s a lot of things that we need music to help us cope through. Or help us get through. Music helps us get through a lot of things and that’s just life to me… I think grey is definitely the color of my music. I don’t make a lot of happy music. I don’t make kill-yourself music either.
Like .38. It’s a certain sound for a reason. You’ll notice when you listen to .38 that there’s a lot of repetition. There’s a lot repetitive stuff. When I have repetitive music or repetitive bars, it’s for a reason. I do things for a reason. I’m a producer, I can manipulate sounds. And if I didn’t want it to be repetitive then I wouldn’t have be it repetitive. To me, it’s one of those things, you hear this from producers to emcees. When I hear other peoples work, [I say] “Why didn’t they keep playing that one part?? That one part is dope!” Then they switch the beat to this other part that I don’t really like. “That part of the sample’s dope. I just wanna hear that part, cause that’s my favorite part.” You know what I’m saying? That’s what I do. I hear a part that I just love, I absolutely love, and I’ll just repeat it. I’ll just repeat that shit, it’ll be repetitive. Some may like it, some may not. I do it for a reason. I do it for a certain feeling. Again that “grey” feeling and to me grey is life man. You got music for people out here that are… struggling, man. Struggling everyday. Some of us aren’t, but we still have those moments where we need that type of music.
Mazin: That’s quite a negative perception on life. Do you think that’s Detroit influenced at all?
AB: I mean I have a lot of Detroit influences, obviously. I look out my window, I’m looking at a grey gloomy sky. I mean you’re from Windsor, you share the same sky that I do, and 200 days out of the year, it’s grey. It’s gloomy.
Mazin: It’s pretty bleak.
AB: Not to mention, Detroit is a working class city. People are working hard. Things aren’t always going well, but things are on the up. It’s just one of those cities that has a lot of character. The people in the city are resilient. They have a lot of character. You can walk out your front door man, and just look down the street and have an idea for lyrics or a beat or whatever. You don’t even need to leave your block. You can make a whole album. It’s amazing. The characters that this city has and the influence that this city has on the music by the people that make it here is amazing. To the producers and the emcees that make their music here, the influence is ridiculous. And yea, it’s a grey sky. Gloomy sky. Sometimes the shit that’s going on in this city is not so colorful. So it’s definitely a big influence on my sound.
Mazin: You picked Roc Marciano as the single rapper to appear on this album. He was a perfect fit for the sound you were going for. His sound is also very grey and gloomy. Have you guys ever talked about making an album together?
AB: We’ve definitely talked about. A lot of people don’t know that… if I wasn’t making this .38 album, most of those beats would’ve been for Roc Marciano. That was one of those things that, I had to put him on the project because those beats were pretty much for him. So it was only right. I didn’t think of any other emcee, I didn’t want any other emcee on the project. I just wanted Roc on it. And he agreed to help me out and I was like, “Yo, let’s do it.” So I put him on the 5” vinyl. And it just fits man! He has that voice. He has that delivery. He has that content. It just fits. Me and him together, it’s an amazing thing. Obviously, I was busy working on some stuff [and] he was busy working on some stuff, so we couldn’t quite make an album. Just kinda giving the people a little clue, a little teaser into what might have been if we would’ve made an album. Or what could still be if we decide, “Yo, let’s do this.” So it’s a perfect marriage. I think he sounds amazing over my stuff. Obviously, he’s an amazing producer as well. Just to hear him spit over my stuff is always good shit.
Mazin: So it’s not a write-off, it still could happen in the future?
AB: Oh, without a doubt.
Mazin: Cool. Much has been made of your infamous $200 setup, the one you’ve had since ’96. Did you make this album on that same setup?
AB: Of course man. I make everything on this setup. Setup’s horrible. It’s the worse. I wouldn’t put this setup on my worst enemy man. You know, if anybody comes into my little lab, they’ll look at my shit and be like, “What is this? What are these speaker?” These speakers are old stereo speakers from an old Phillips dorm room stereo. They’re blown. They’ve been blown for like ten years man. My computers old, my programs, everything I have is old and pretty much obsolete.
Whatever though, it works for me. I know how to manipulate sound on it and it’s what I’ve been using my whole career. I can change. I can buy new stuff if I want too. I don’t. I choose not to cause I like the sound that I get from my old shit. I make everything on this. Everything I do, I make it on this
Mazin: I understand the mentality of, if it’s not broke don’t fix it –
Mazin: But do you envision a time that as you grow as an artist, you might want to evolve your sound, where you would consider moving into other gear?
AB: You know what man, it’s funny that you say that because while everybody else is evolving, I’m revolving. I’m a man of revolution. That’s where .38 came from. It was actually called Pop’s Revolver. At first, it was actually called Revolver. Then it was called Pop’s Revolver and then I went to .38. Now the reason why it’s called .38 is because in its prime, in its heyday, the .38 was the most sort after, most reliable caliber weapon on this earth. It was police issue, all cops used it. It was that gun that was in your grandma’s purse. It was that gun that was in your grandpa’s shoebox up in the closet in his room. You know what I’m saying? When all else fails, when all the automatic’s jam, you can always count on that trusty .38 to fire. You can always trust on that .38 to do the job. That’s why I called the album .38, in reference to revolver or revolving.
I’m a master of revolving man. All the other producers and all the artists go ahead and evolve all you want too. I don’t care. But as long as you are all evolving with that same sound, you’re evolving and evolving and evolving, guess what? You’re leaving me back here by myself, in a lane by myself. Which is fine with me. If I’m in a lane by myself, I couldn’t be happier. That means those people who want my sound or who want the type of music that I make, they come to me for it. And if they want to listen to that type of music, they come to me and they listen to my music. So keep evolving. That’s amazing. You know evolving is great, of course. But I’m just a master of revolving man. I’m all about revolving. I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel. I’m all about preservation. I’m about preserving a certain sound that I love to listen to and love to make. So I’m a revolver man.
Mazin: You seem to like this theory of repetition. You were saying on the album, you chose to repeat a lot of the sounds. It’s about mastering a sound as oppose to growing with in it. Is that fair to say?
AB: I don’t know man… it’s not necessarily mastering a sound. Like I said, it comes down to preservation and me liking what I like, making what I like to listen to, enjoying the records that I make, and tryin’ to be in a lane by myself. While everybody else evolves. And I don’t mind it. I’m not gonna be doing this for the rest of my life, so I’m gonna do what I like to do. I’m gonna make the music that I like to make while I can still do it. While I can still hear. While I still have the most important piece of equipment there is and that’s your ears. So, I don’t know man. Repetitiveness and revolving, it sounds like an old man stuck in his ways, but if that’s what is, then cool. Whatever. But as long as I make consistently good music, that’s all that matters. That’s all I live by is consistency. I don’t make hits. I’ll never make hits ever. If I accidently luck-up on making a hit, beautiful! But I’m not a hit maker, that’s not me. I’m one of those dudes that has number seven on the album. I make that track that is the glue that holds everything else together. The mortar that holds the bricks together.
Mazin: Those raw album cuts.
AB: You know what I’m saying? I’m all about consistency man. I just wanna make consistently good music. I believe that consistency brings you to longevity. As long as you’re making consistent music, then you’ll be in this game as long as you wanna be.
Mazin: That brings me to my next question. How do you produce so much music, in such a short amount of time and maintain that level of quality?
AB: I don’t put out garbage. I don’t do throwaway beats. There are a lot of producers out there that give people throwaway beats, depending on the skill level of the artist or the quality of the artist, they give them a less desirable beat. And they don’t realize that their name is on that. No matter who the artist is, why would you give somebody a throwaway beat? Your name is still on that. So when somebody says, “Damn, that song is horrible! Who did that beat? That beat is wack!” Your name is on that! People are gonna be like, “Yo so-and-so did that.” So I try to keep the quality up. Like any other producer, I have some of the worst beats you’ve ever heard in your life. But I won’t let them see the light of day. I’ll burn my catalogue before somebody here’s that shit. I got some of the worst beats ever bro. Some shit that you’d be like, “What is that horrible beat!?!” But I don’t put that out. They’re experimental stuff. Stuff that I was, maybe, learning different things or whatever. But I’m not gonna put it out. I try to put out quality. I try to put albums where there’s no skip-thru joints. You can listen to it all the way through. That’s what I pride myself on, is consistent albums. From number one to number sixteen. You can listen to the whole thing, a variation of sound, but consistent sound as well. Something that is cohesive and meshes. And you know that one producer did this whole album. I try not to put out horrible music and I like to think I have a good taste in music. It starts from being a fan first. What would I wanna hear from me as a fan? So that’s what I do.
Mazin: You seem to make one project with the artist you collaborate with. One great album with, like you said, no skip-thru’s, but you seem to only work with the artist once. Is that intentional or do you just wanna keep working with different artists?
AB: It’s sort of intentional. I’m kind of leery about the sophomore curse and the sophomore comparisons. This industry is all about comparisons. It’s one of the things that we as artists hate the most. I hate it the most. I don’t make music to be compared to somebody else’s music. I don’t need to be compared too another producer. I’m my own producer. He’s his own producer. There’s no comparison. I don’t like my old music being compared to my other music. If I’m putting out something now, why are you comparing it to something that I made three years ago or four years ago? The whole comparison factor bothers me. So you’re basically barking up that tree by doing a sophomore. That’s inevitable if you do a sophomore to an album that you put out that everyone loves.
Say we put out another Gas Mask album. To a lot of people, that’s a cult classic. They love Gas Mask. Everything from the music to the cover to everything about it. How do you re-do that? How do you top that? I don’t know how to top that. I can make something that’s equivalent. I can something that may sound, quality wise, as good. But how do you really top that? How do you make a whole other album without people always comparing that album to the first one? Always. That will be the first thing they say. “Well they just made a new album blah blah blah, it’s called this… it ain’t as good as the first one though!” Or what ever, it’s always a comparison factor, and I don’t really wanna go through that man. I’m sure I’ll do a sophomore with someone that I worked with and I’m just kind of reluctant to do cause of the whole sophomore jinx and the comparison factors that are involved.
Mazin: So does that mean we’re never gonna see another album from The Left?
AB: That’s done. That won’t happen. [Journalist 103] is doing his stuff, and that’s dope. I think he’s making another album right now. [DJ Soko] is doing his stuff out in New York. It’s not even possible to get together to make another album, and plus, I don’t want to. You know, I love Gas Mask. Gas Mask is an amazing album, just like all the rest of my albums. They’re all my kids and I love them all differently. But I love them. Wholeheartedly, 100%. I just love them all differently. They all have different characteristics about them that I love. Gas Mask, I love that album. I don’t wanna even try to do another one.
Mazin: Fair enough. You used to be really active in the photography scene. Are you still taking photos?
AB: It kind of went to the wayside man, I haven’t really had time to go out and shoot. I’ve just been focused on music, 100%. My camera’s just been sitting here, getting dusty. You know? Not really being used. I need to get back out and start shooting and stuff, doing a few gigs. Shooting artists, that’s something I used to love, was shooting artists. A lot of times I shoot my self though.
Mazin: Are you still working on your book about producers?
AB: Kind of. It’s slow. Because it’s a traveling job to do that. Last few times I’ve traveled to other people’s studios, I didn’t bring my camera. I just got back from LA and it could’ve done at least three different sections in the book from that trip. But I’ve just been [on] music man. It’s kind of taken over 100%. It’s kind of crazy.
Mazin: Well man, you’ve been doing this since 1996. Almost twenty years in the game now, over ten albums and widespread critical acclaim. Most artists don’t make it this far in the game. Did you envision that you’d reach this point and how does it feel to be at this point in your career?
AB: Nah man… I didn’t think I’d be making music at all. After I quit in 2005/2006, I didn’t make a beat at all. I didn’t pull out the equipment or anything. For me to get back into it and get to where I’m at right now is kind of crazy. I never thought I would. And it’s definitely a blessing. I owe most of that success – I mean obviously I did it myself as far as the music – to Mello Music Group man. Michael Tolle and Mello Music Group kind of put his faith in me and he’s biggest reason why I’m at where I’m at today. Mello Music Group has been in my corner since day one. I’ve been with them for four years and I’m not going anywhere. And I love it there and they’re a big reason why I’m at where I’m at. And I never thought I’d be where I’m at and only getting bigger.
I’m sure I’ll hit a glass ceiling. Being that I’m a sample producer and being that I don’t really make commercial based music. I’ll hit a glass ceiling, I can only go so far. But I’m happy with that. As long as I’m comfortable, I can make a living doing what I love and I can provide. I’m well respected and I stay consistent. I’ll be fine with that.
Mazin: So you’re happy with where you’re at right now?
AB: I’m very happy with where I’m at right now. Obviously, we can all be better and do better and make more money. All that good stuff. That can always happen. But I’m definitely happy with my life right now.
Mazin: What do you see for the future?
AB: Just finished an album.
Mazin: Another one?
AB: Another album. I’m just mixing it right now
Mazin: What are the details on that, another instrumental album
AB: I can’t really give too many details. All I can tell you is that it’s a dope ass album with some dope ass features and it will be out September/October this year. So, the year’s not done. .38 is coming out and then the next album to ride out the year is coming out at the end of September, early October. So it’s gonna be an amazing year. This next album… wooo! This next album is crazy.