Apollo Brown, Planet Asia - SARDINES
The names Apollo Brown and Planet Asia evoke a rarefied set of expectations. The raps are as hard as galvanized steel. The syllable placement is meticulous and intricate. The beats bang: simmering in a soulful but warped inferno. They are maestros of raw and unalloyed hip-hop: full of as much grit and craftsmanship as anyone to ever incinerate a microphone or master an MPC. After all, high standards are essential.
The bar was raised long before their first Mello Music Group opus, 2017’s Anchovies. If you are familiar with the last quarter-century of independent hip-hop, you have probably been a fan of the Fresno MC since he showed you the “definition of ill.” As a solo artist and as a member of Cali Agents and Durag Dynasty, he exists as a permanent reminder that West Coast rhymers can bring a caustic hyper-lyrical carnage as ferocious as anyone on the other side of the continent. For the last dozen years, Detroit’s Apollo Brown has been a direct heir to the inheritance of J Dilla and Pete Rock. He has hover-converted the fossil fuel burners of classic boom-bap into something that exists in a proud lineage, but refuses complacency (see also: his slick, candles-lit R&B collaboration with Raheem DeVaughn that singlehandedly increased America’s birthrate).
But something atom-splitting and explosive occurs when they work together. Your face automatically curls into a mean mug. Your lips tighten into a sneer. Your fingers ball into fists and your knuckles turn to brass. Press play and the wind starts to howl and you hear glass shattering somewhere outside. This is hip-hop as hard-bodied wizardry. Apollo cauterizes soul samples offering new alchemy out of old spells. Planet Asia spits acid rain. As he declares, it’s “magically majestic.”
This is curb-checking minimalist hip-hop: sharp, efficient, and well-executed as a guillotine chop. No wasted bars or rhythmic excess. Just poetic verses and night-time vulture vibes. Apollo sums it up best: it’s “dirt, grit, mud, sticks, stones, all that. Leave your boots on.” The title’s name is a flip on their revered first album. Like sardines, anchovies are a love it-or-hate it proposition. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s laser targeted to your interests.
On “Get the Dough,” Apollo creates a slab of stick up kid abandoned projects rap. The drums are so quiet you can practically hear the footsteps behind you. Planet Asia kicks slick talk venom reminiscent of Roc Marciano, Prodigy, and Ghostface. But that isn’t an empty comparison, he’s their peer –a legend of the West Coast, the first major rapper to ever emerge from the Central Valley. On “Wide Awake,” Planet Asia paints “exotic portraits of the third-dimension.” Apollo digs deep into the crates to discover a breezy and gorgeous orchestral jazz fusion loop that balances out the grime. While “Peas and Onions” is an example of virtuosity that makes you lament the absence of mastery in the modern rap world. Apollo chops a gorgeous Stax-like soul vocal that plaintively wails “that’s what I do,” while Planet Asia raps in an Apache dance with the sample. It’s the culmination of decades of refinement, but still serrated as a steak knife.
This is protocol. Planet Asia unleashing torrents of hilarious taunts and kingpin talk, tangled slang and unimpeachable braggadocio. Apollo inventing his own one-man choirs and sandpaper soul music. The guests are impeccably selected too: fellow microphone fiends like Sick Jacken and TriState, Marv Won and Ty Farris. It’s as cohesive as an album gets. No fluff, no filler. No fakery. Imagine the sound of lightning striking twice.
PRODUCED BY APOLLO BROWN
VOCALS BY PLANET ASIA
MIXED BY MAGNETIC
MASTERED BY JOE HUTCHINSON
ART BY KIP DA FOG
GRAPHIC DESIGN BY AUSTIN HARTSOOK
EXECUTIVE PRODUCED BY MICHAEL TOLLE & ERIK STEPHENS