The year was 1961. President John F. Kennedy had just witnessed the first men set foot on the moon, a project he had championed, and he said, “Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share." Yeah, that’s right, JFK said some deep s**t (kind of like another current president). Now, more than forty years later, another group of courageous men have set out to further fulfill JFK’s vision …
DJBooth Album Review
Unlike their rocket launching brethren at the National Aeronautics and Space Association, this N.A.S.A. stands for North America/South America and is comprised solely of two musically obsessive men, Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon. Well, not only two men. For the duo’s boundary breaking debut album The Spirit Of Apollo they’ve also brought along a few of their closest friends, a star-studded roster that includes the likes of Kanye, KRS-ONE and the resurrected voice of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. If you’ve ever wondered what it would sound like if Public Enemy’s Chuck D and alt-rock pioneer David Byrne did a track together, and I know you have, then Spirit Of Apollo is for you.
The NASA space program was all about transcending borders, so it’s no surprise that The Spirit Of Apollo brings together some musical combinations the likes of which have never been seen before on Earth. Some of these combinations aren’t particularly unshocking, like peanut butter and chocolate, and some are weird but surprisingly tasty, like waffles and cake frosting, but they’re all exciting in their freshness. We’ll start on the safe side with The Mayor, one of the most overtly hip-hop tracks on the album. The Mayor is built around an east-coast-esque beat that’s equal parts grime and bounce, but things really get interesting on the microphone. Scarface contributes some beautiful verbal brutality on his verse and The Cool Kids do their usual new-wave thing, but the day really belongs to Ghostface Killah, whose dominating performance is more of a testament to his greatness than any wackness from Scarface or The Kids. As longs as we’re orbiting planet hip-hop we’ll have to stop by N.A.S.A. Music, a cut that brings together the Bay’s E-40 with another infamous inhaler, Staten Island’s very own Method Man. Strangely the usually frenetic Method is almost calm on N.A.S.A. Music, or at least he sounds that way on next to the vocal gymnastics of 40-Water. The cross-coast chemistry doesn’t quite work on N.A.S.A. Music, but not every experiment works our perfectly. What’s more impressive is that N.A.S.A. even tried in the first place.
In the grand scheme of The Spirit Of Apollo, tracks like The Mayor and N.A.S.A. Music are about as predictable as a Kanye tantrum at an awards show. Speaking of which, Mr. West stops by for a verse on the atmospheric Gifted, one of the album’s most unapologetically up-tempo tracks. By Ye’s standards it’s a relatively unimaginative verse, but when paired with a verse from uber-hyped singer Santogold the track becomes a testament to artists who can switch styles like Mariah Carey switches dresses. Even more mind-blowing is the lead single Money, a track that brings together...ready for this: political rap legend Chuck D, Brazilian singer Seu Jorge, the possibly insane alt-rocker David Byrne, Ras Congo and Z-Trip. In less skilled hands that eclectic mix would sound blandly forced or chaotic, but N.A.S.A. manages to combine their expansive talents into a well-crafted track. For pure experimentation it’s hard to beat Way Down, a darkly tuned track featuring hypnotic vocals from Barbie Hatch and a verse from the always unpredictable RZA. Or maybe the album’s most unlikely duo is rapper Kool Keith and folk singer Tom Waits, whose voice is so gravelly he makes Young Jeezy sound like the Jonas Brothers. Then again, how can you beat Ol’ Dirty Bastard spitting from beyond the grave on Strange Enough? You get the point. The Spirit Of Apollo is not the album to throw on if you’re looking to romance that special someone or get the party truly cracking, but if you’ve ever dreamed of pushing hip-hop so far it broke free from Earth’s gravity, I’ve got an album you need to listen to.
Listen to More: N.A.S.A. Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Gifted, ft. Kanye West, Santogold, & Lykke Li" (2008)
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