N.A.S.A. - The Spirit Of Apollo
N.A.S.A. stands for North America/South America, respective birth places of Squeak E and DJ Zegon, the brains behind ‘The Spirit Of Apollo.’ The two began collaborating some years ago and this album is the result of all of those years, miles travelled back and forth and musical connections forged. In this we have the sound of American Hip Hop paired with the dance laden rhythms of Brazil and it makes for one hell of a record. Add to that a stack of famous names queuing around the door to get their lungs involved and we have one of the most intriguing albums of the year so far.
It’s nothing new for a Hip Hop album to feature guest contributions, that is part and parcel of the scene and many of today’s biggest stars have caught a break in this way. The difference here is not only the sheer number of contributors (40+!) but the people who have found their way onto this extraordinary album. Alongside Hip Hop stalwarts Method Man, Rza, Ghostface Killah, Scarface, Chuck D, Kool Keith and KRS-One (to name a few!) there is the unlikely appearance of Tom Waits and David Byrne. That’s right you heard me correctly, TOM WAITS and DAVID BYRNE. Now, David Byrne has always been an eclectic artist operating on the fringes of scenes rather than inhabiting them wholly so his inclusion does kind of make sense, but Tom Waits? I found myself crossing my chest and praying there would be no echoes of Bowie’s Drum N’ Bass fiasco; please Lord, do not let Tom Waits rap. More of that later but I can reassure you all that there is a God.
One quick listen to ‘The Spirit Of Apollo’ tells me that this is no ordinary Hip Hop album, the production is inventive, friendly and paints with shades of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest rather than NWA. The hefty amount of culled samples swim with plenty of live instrumentation making the overall sound much warmer than the average Hip Hop release, and it benefits from this immensely. David Byrne makes his appearance early on, contributing vocals to the chorus’s of ‘The People Tree’ and ‘Money’, both tracks are big anthems featuring verses from Gift Of Gab, Z-Trip and Chuck D that pulsate from the speakers directly into your cranium. Method Man rears his head on ‘N.A.S.A. Music’ peppering the excellent production with his now familiar rasp, he hasn’t sounded so fresh since the first Wu-Tang album.
Recent single ‘Hip Hop’ is a big ‘arms in the air’ anthem that features the welcome return of the legendary KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions and manages to sound like everyone involved was having one hell of a party when it was recorded. The next two tracks ‘Four Rooms, Earth View’ and ‘Strange Enough’ pair the unlikely vocal abilities of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O and (posthumously of course) Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Not sure it would work? Well it bloody does and everything is tied in by music that transcends the Hip Hop boundary and dips its toes into another dimension somewhere. The production never constrains itself within the usual break beat/sample template, it simply embraces everything and fuses it together with super strength rap super glue.
‘Spacious Thoughts’ sees Tom Waits take centre stage alongside Hip Hop oddball Kool Keith, famous for the legendary rap crew Ultramagnetic MC’s. This paring actually makes complete sense, both artists are viewed with a certain caution by people, neither could be described as predictable and both have attracted dedicated fan bases over the years. Hearing Kool Keith rap brings a warm feeling to me, it’s been a while since I last had the chance to listen to his off kilter rhymes and strange expressions but I feel all the better for it. Tom Waits has a gruff voice at the best of times and has always used it to his advantage. In ‘Spacious Thoughts’ he sings the chorus SO gruffly that at times he sounds as if the singer from Napalm Death had smoked a ton of weed and decided to jam with the Hip Hop kids from next door. This is no bad thing by the way, the track is excellent and both artists sound amazing next to each other.
Kayne West pops up on ’Gifted’ and appears to have pulled his head out of his own backside long enough to remember how good he used to be before he began believing his own hype. George Clinton casts his funk spell all over ‘There’s A Party’ and M.I.A. contributes her beautifully relaxed style to ‘Whachadoin?’, an electro funk monster that the aforementioned Kayne West would sell his silly sunglasses for; if it reaches the clubs be prepared for tales of endless bouts of carefree and joyous dancing from your friends.
‘The Spirit Of Apollo’ is a stunning piece of work that really deserves to be listened to and at least respected for what it aims to achieve. Many people shy away from Hip Hop because of the gangster theme that tends to run throughout most of it. Let me assure you, this isn’t about ‘bitches’ ‘gats’ or ‘benjamins’, ‘The Spirit Of Apollo’ is pure old school in its delivery, it wants you to smile and have fun, not be intimidated or wary. A good percentage of Hip Hop can be grating with repeat listens, the music stale and harshly structured whilst the rappers do little but brag about how much money they’re choking on. This album attaches itself more and more with each listen. My neighbours now know each track by heart and whilst they sound like they are banging on the wall, a little part of me likes to think that really they are just dancing with total carefree joy and love having imbibed the Spirit of the Apollo.