In this era the term “hip hop producer” has become ambiguous and almost lost meaning. If one person could embody the term and carry on the lineage of the much vaunted DJ Premier and J Dilla, it would be Apollo Brown. After several years he has finally bubbled to the surface with two landmark releases and countless production credits. He’s recently dropped the gritty ‘Dice Game’, with fellow Detroit native Guilty Simpson, and the ‘Trophies’ album with MC legend OC. While he’s yet to post it on Twitter, Brown’s year has been one big #YOLO. To cap it off, he’s making his first endeavour to Australia for two performances. We caught up with Apollo and chopped it up about the collaboration process, technology vs. analogue gear and more.
It’s your first time heading down here, have you travelled anywhere else lately?
I got off a small tour stint with Ill Bill and Vinnie Paz. I’ll be back in Europe in February with Guilty Simpson. And I’ve made a commitment to a festival back in Europe again in July. But as far as lately, [I’ve] been at home just making albums.
It’s been a busy year for you, with the Trophies album with OC and the Dice Game album with Guilty Simpson. How did the process differ working on those two albums?
You’re talking about two different life stories. As far as the process it’s the same. I have a certain way I go about making albums and it was pretty much the same. It’s two different life stories, two different feelings when it comes to the music and when it comes to the words. As far as my way it’s all the same, it’s just the process I use every time I make an album. It really comes down to working, getting into the studio and working. If you say you’re gonna do something you follow through.
Were you in the studio working with them or were you in different places sending each other stuff?
No, we’re always in the studio. I don’t do email albums, I don’t like that. I’m old school when it comes to working on an album. When I’m working on an album with someone I want to work on the album with that person, not sending music over email. We’re gonna get in the studio, that’s how it is and how it should be. We vibe together, go over the music together, and come up with concepts and ideas together. That’s how it as, no email albums here.
You definitely get a sense when you’re listening to the album, you can hear the chemistry and you can tell you worked closely together and you’re on the same wavelength.
Yes sir, that’s cool. Each album was very easy to make, it’s easy when you have chemistry like that. You really don’t have to work hard to make an album like that. It’s not really that hard to make what I like to call a classic-sounding album. As long as you have chemistry, as long as you guys both agree on the type of music you both wanna make it all comes together.
How did both of the albums come together, was it a mutual thing or did they approach you?
It’s funny, with both albums we were both mutual fans of each other, we show a mutual respect for each other’s work. Obviously I’m a big fan of OC, he’s been around a long time, he’s a legend. So I hit him up with the idea of ‘I’m a fan, I wanna work, let’s make an album, let’s do something’. I just wanted to make a couple of songs but to my surprise he was a fan of mine, and he’d heard songs of mine and albums of mine and I was really taken aback by that. So we decided to get together and make an album. I like to get to know the people I do albums with, I don’t like to just do an album out of the blue. We hung together, I went to New York a couple of times, he came out to Detroit. We hung out, we got to know each other and just became cool before we even got to do the album. That process was easy, that came together like that and then me and Guilty [Simpson] we both represent Detroit and we’ve been talking about doing this album for a couple of years now. Finally, he wasn’t busy, I wasn’t busy and we finally got the chance to get together and do it and just make it happen.
Obviously OC and Guilty Simpson have worked with legendary producers. Are you at a point where you’re confident and not intimidated working with guys like that?
I’ve never been intimidated, I feel as if I belong with a lot of the great producers out here. They’ve been in the game longer, still I’ve been doing this since ’96 but just didn’t get the recognition til about 2007. I feel like I belong, good music is good music, there’s no intimidation, a good beat with a great MC, whether he’s a legend or someone that’s new on the scene, good music is good music. Definitely no intimidation factor, I think I can rock with the best of them.
I can definitely see you working with a lot of different people, is there anyone on your list you want to work with in the future?
Man, I really want to work with Jay Electronica. I would love to do a joint or a couple of joints or whatever I can with Jay Elec. That would be amazing. Obviously Nas, Phonte, people like that. But Jay Elec is number one on my list. That’s the person I feel as though he would sound really good over my music.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I just finished something up, putting together a group called Ugly Heroes. It’s two MCs, more up and coming MCs that some people may have heard of or haven’t heard of. I kind of wanted to put a group together from scratch, kind of based on the Little Brother or Slum Village dynamic, the two MCs–one producer type thing. We just finished recording that album, so I’m gonna start mixing and mastering it and getting it all set. It’s a great album, it sounds beautiful. That’s what’s next, so that should be out late March or early April.
With cheap equipment and software it’s so easy to call yourself a producer. Do you think it’s had a good influence or has it detracted from what it takes to be producer?
I think it’s a great thing. When people talk about what it takes to be a producer that’s all just opinion. As far as I’m concerned a good beat is a good beat, no matter how you made it. I don’t care if you use some spoons and some feathers. If you made a good beat that’s what it is, it’s all about outcome. So if you use software or hardware or whatever you use, I don’t care about the path you take, as long as you get to the destination. As long as the destination is a good one. I always hate it when producers or other people say ‘they be using this’, don’t get mad because the beat’s better than yours and he didn’t use an MPC, who cares? Technology is great, all of the new software these days, I don’t take advantage of it just because I use the same program I’ve used since 1996. I use old, old stuff because that’s what I like and that’s what works for me. But those that take advantage of it, more power to them.
I guess when you’re listening to it you don’t really know or maybe care about how that sound came about.
As long as the beat sound good I could care less. And those people who overanalyse and try to read too much into how a beat was made or what sample was used, how do you chop it and what drums did you use, who cares, who really cares? What are you going to do with that information? It’s like, just listen to the song, it’s a beautiful beat, it’s a beautiful song. Enjoy yourself and listen to it, that’s all you need.