Apollo Brown – Clouds

written by: August 25, 2011
Release Date: March 1, 2011


Be advised, rappers: Apollo Brown’s faire includes some of the most ingenuitive instrumentals available on the market. In a genre where borrowing is common and stealing is an expected part of the game, there’s a feeling of community among verse writers and beat makers. Not many producers have the audacity to put out an album composed solely of instrumentals and expect it to sell. This product though, is one that will attest to its own worth.

A Detroit native, Brown is part of a lineage that traces its origins to J Dilla with his jazz-hop and broken beats—a scene that has only silently exploded in the last decade or so. Make no mistake, there isn’t a shortage of glitched-out, jazzy or overdriven beat makers—they just haven’t been given the exposure that a million would-be “producers” have, relying on tired 808s, siren sounds and voice-altered hooks. In short, a million would-be Swizz Beatz. Nor is Brown in a class all of his own these days; his sounds are reminiscent of younger acts such as B. Lewis, Oddisee and Casual Women, who are not content to mash with contemporary “beats” releases.

Clouds begins with the laugh-out-loud yet genuine epigraph song, “Sound of Guns,” where a blue-eyed baritone croons, “Have you ever dreamed of a place/Far away from it all/Where the air you breathe is soft and clean/And children play in fields of green.” It may seem like an ironic sentiment, but the 26 songs that follow all seem to be a part of that world. Rather than concern himself with gangsterdom, Brown pans bizarrely into the pastoral, and the result works.

These aren’t just songs begging for a quick 16 bars, these are slow-tempo, grooving and contemplative loops. If they are as repetitive as a hip-hop beat, it only helps to instill the music in the listener’s mind—you don’t have to think about Clouds, it just happens.

Though Brown has put his name on previous efforts with MCs (on the albums Gas Mask and Study), his songs seem more open when not siphoned by a rapper’s verse into one interpretation. The exception would be “Shoot the Heart,” a sunny ballad that samples The Pharcyde for the hook, “I should quit chasin’ and look for something better/But the smile that she shows makes me a go-getter.”

This is a languid and breezy album, but never beyond head-bopping goodness.  Check out the jolty sampling on “The 11th Hour,” complete with booty bass.  Intricate and smooth textures line the album, on “Drinking Life,” a string sample balances on a minimalist synthesizer exploration, while a funky, descending rhythm section drives the thing along. It’s a bright, sunny yet soulful take on hip-hop from a producer who has no need to list his credentials.

If it is a bit bulky, a bit repetitive or without direction, Clouds at least succeeds atmospherically. If you don’t plan to rap over it, then you can at least plug in, tune out and dig its chill vibes.

Apollo Brown Clouds Tracklist:

  1. “Sound of Guns”
  2. “Blue Ruby”
  3. “Never in a Million Years”
  4. “Balance”
  5. “The 11thHour”
  6. “Wisdom”
  7. “Black Pearls”
  8. “Shoot the Heart”
  9. “Push”
  10. “One Chance”
  11. “Human Existence”
  12. “Know the Time”
  13. “Heirloom”
  14. “Seed of Memory”
  15. “Bridge Through Time”
  16. “Just Walk”
  17. “Shadows of Grief”
  18. “Time Passed Autumn”
  19. “Choices”
  20. “Father and Son”
  21. “A Conscious Breath”
  22. “Drinking Life”
  23. “Imagination”
  24. “Tao Te Ching”
  25. “Heart of Glass”
  26. “The Bagdad Sun”
  27. “A Day’s End”