Apollo Brown is best known as the go to producer in the Motor City Hip Hop circuit and has collaborated with artists such as Danny Brown, Oddisee, Diamond District, Rapper Big Pooh of Little Brother, Black Milk, MED, Grap Luva, Kenn Starr, Finale, Magestik Legend, Paradime, and many more.
Having signed to Mello Music Group his album projects include “The Reset”, a series of reworked tracks in true remix tradition, “The Brown Study” as half of a collective with Boog Brown, and the “Gas Mask” LP as one-third of The Left with DJ Soko and Emcee Journalist 103. An LP which garnered respect from Hip Hop legends such as DJ Premier, who named it in his top albums of 2010 list.
In 2011, Apollo started a highly anticipated year off with the instrumental album “Clouds”, that was a being named to several relevant top 10 lists for the year and another collabo album called “Daily Bread” with New York emcee Hassaan Mackey.
2012 has been a massive year for Apollo releasing his most recognized work so far, the collabo LP “Trophies” with DITC founder/head member, the legendary O.C. and “Dice Game” with Detroit’s own Hip Hop heavyweight and J.Dilla protege Guilty Simpson.
What are your earliest memories of music?
Man, good question. Probably just listening to a lot of soft rock growing up, I grew up in a mixed household and I also grew up in a city, I’m originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan and I grew up in a city where there wasn’t many good radio stations or anything like that so there was a lot of top 40 and I’m in my 30s so I grew up in the early 80s and listening to a lot of that, watching a lot of old MTV and just mostly my earliest memories are pretty much either soft rock or Michael Jackson.
Who were your influences growing up?
My biggest influence was probably DJ Premier you know, Premo is the greatest producer of all time, probably always will be in my eyes and he’s the G.O.A.T man so he’s probably my biggest influence, people like DJ Muggs was a really big influence for me. For some reason a lot of people don’t put Muggs in there, in the greatest producer category, but he’s one of the greatest producers of all time for me and one of my biggest influences in the sound of my music so yeah, definitely, those two for sure.
What first got you into production?
I was always into the sound of music, I was never really into the words, I could never just sit down and listen to a song as a whole, I was always picking it apart, over analysing it and I was always hearing those sounds, just listening to the different sounds of the beat in the background and I just wanted to make that, I wanted to be that background guy who makes the backdrop for the song and once I learned how to do that, it was just being able to create something and sit back and listen to it without words, it was like the greatest feeling on earth.
Was there a defining moment when you realised you could make music as a career?
Probably when I sold my first beat. I sold my first beat or a batch of beats back in 2003 and then I realised I could sell beats, I could step away from the bedroom and actually instead of just being a beat maker, I could be a producer now and I could see a song and an album all the way through. So that was probably my defining moment, when I sold my first batch of beats, it was real cheap, I think I sold seven beats the $600. It was just local MCs back home and they gave me half in a cheque and half in cash I actually used that money to move to Detroit in 03.
You entered the beat battles early on in your career. Was it hard to make that transition, participating in those battles to actually making songs with artists?
No, I mean I’ve always made music that was I guess what you would call album type music, I was in a certain mind frame when I was battling, I was making a lot of real hard stuff, a lot of stuff that was real filled up that that you couldn’t even see an MC on because it was so filled up that the MC had no room, there was no room to even spit over. I consider myself a producer, a real producer that makes an album all the way through, I don’t just send beats out and be like “Here, do whatever you want to do with it”, I don’t do that. I get in the studio with whoever I’m working with and we sit down, we conceptualise, we go over the album and in person and no email albums.
It wasn’t a bad transition, man, it was just I had to strip down some of those beats so people could actually rock on them, but some of them just stay as beats, I didn’t need to use them as songs but I always have music that I can use for albums and I always was into making music like “Clouds” where it was just real chilled, you know, thought provoking, reflective music, so I always had that too along with the beat battle type stuff.
What do you think your best quality is as a producer?
Consistency. I don’t necessarily have to make a hit, I’m not out here trying to make hits. A lot of times if I’m on people’s albums, it won’t be the hit song, it will be the glue that holds all the rest of the songs together. It’s all about consistency for me and not going up and down not trying to be all different and doing this. I’m not trying to be different, I’m not trying to be all crazy and reinvent the wheel, I’m all about preservation, I’m all about making music that I love and that’s what it is. I’m not out here trying to create some different genre of music and combine these two things together and make a sound that no ones ever heard before, that’s not what I’m about. I’m about preservation and I’m going to continuously make the music that I like, that I love, that I grew up on with my twist to it so it’s just all about consistency, it’s my biggest thing, simplicity and consistency. I like to stay simple. I like to keep everything really simple, my drums, you know, everything from the way I make music to my album covers to the way I live my life, it’s simple so simplicity and consistency are real important to me.
What inspires you to make music?
I don’t know, I loved music and I wanted to be a part of it, music is my livelihood, it’s my life, it’s something that when all else fails, there’s always music and I always wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to be like a “go to”, you know, when somebody’s having a bad day and they pop into a Apollo Brown joint and it makes the day better or I wanted to be a part of that, a part of that movement, a part of that whole 20 years from now, 30 years from now I can look back and go “I was a part of that”, and hopefully I can say I was a huge part of that.
Detroit have so much quality music coming out of the city. Why do you think that is?
We have so much to say. There is a lot of character in this city and there’s a lot of turmoil in this city and a lot of people just have a lot to get off their chest and there’s just a lot to say and we have some of the most talented writers, some of the most talented MC’s and producers and artists in the game, period. I mean, you look everywhere, everybody’s checking for Detroit, to me it’s where Hip Hop lives right now, Detroit, real Hip Hop lives in Detroit so it’s just a lot of character here and we have a lot to say, a lot to get off our chest.
With so much talent in Detroit, what made you stand out from the rest?
I think I stand out because my sound is not Detroit, that’s one of the biggest things. I grew up on East Coast Hip Hop, I grew up on Gangstarr, Mobb Deep and people like. I grew up on the East Coast, I grew up here but I grew up on East Coast music so my sound reflects that, you know what I’m saying? I don’t have a Detroit sound, I’ve never had a Detroit sound, I never will have a Detroit sound, that’s just not my style and I think that is what separates me from all the rest of the producers here in Detroit, is my sound is not Detroit, it’s more so East Coast, it’s more of old New York sound than anything, you know, when people hear my music and they think of New York, back in the day. I’m reviving something a lot of people are like “Oh”, it’s all about preservation and they say “You are what you listen to” and it’s what it is in my case.
How did you make the connection with Mello Music Group?
You know what, it was January, the first week in January, 2010, Mike from Mello, he called being out of the blue and I still to this day don’t know how he got my number but he called me out of the blue and it was like “I want you to be down with the team” and it was like he saw something in me and saw something in my music that other people were taking a little while to see and brought me a board and we’ve been making music ever since, making quality records ever since. It was cool because I laid off that same week from work so it was very good timing.
We brought Mello Music Group from where it was to where it is now, top five Indie Hip Hop label on this planet putting out nothing but quality music consistently, we bring out nothing but quality music and so that’s what it’s about, we don’t need to make hits, that’s not why we’re here, we’re here to make consistently good music, not hits, not the one hitter quitters or whatever, we make consistently good music so when you know when you’re going to get an album, when you know you pick up and Odissee album, when you pick up an Apollo Brown album or anything off of Mello Music Group, you know that there’s no filler, it’s all good music so that’s good.
What are the benefits of being signed to a label like them?
Creative control, you know, I’m signed to a label but at the same time I’m not really Mello Music is not a machine, it’s not a corporate label it’s run by a man who is a Hip Hop fan so he knows quality, he knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like and it’s really, it’s one of our peers, you know what I’m saying?
So I have complete creative control, he has trust in me to make the best album I can make and everybody else on the label and it’s not a corporate machine, it’s not run by people who know nothing about Hip Hop, all they know is business, they don’t know anything about the music and what’s out and what’s not out and what’s good and what’s hot now or whatever, this is “Fuck that”, it’s like “Yo”, he’s a Hip Hop head as well, he knows what’s going on in the industry right now and it’s a personal relationship, he’s a good friend of mine so it’s not like a strictly monetary situation.
Getting onto your new release “Dice Game” with Guilty Simpson which has just been released. What can listeners expect from it?
The truth, they can expect the truth, they can expect Apollo Brown and they can expect Guilty Simpson, just together, that’s basically how you describe it. If you’re a Guilty fan, you’re going to get Guilty, you’re going to get the Guilty that you want, if you’re an Apollo Brown fan, you’re going to get Apollo, you’re going to get the Apollo that you want. Now in this situation, it’s just combined the two we’re together with him over my backdrops it’s a beautiful thing, there’s a lot of truth, a lot of he’s speaking upon is experiences, he’s speaking upon life, there’s a little rah rah in there, a little bit of everything in there. We got from some real life type joints on there, we’ve got something for everybody on this album and I’ve been getting nothing but great responses for the album so far, a lot of album of the year talk along with “Trophies” which I made with OC, so all I can say is if you’re a fan of both of us or even if you’re a fan of one and not the other, whatever, this album it should wheel you in, it should pull you in. There’s a lot going on.
What’s your favourite track of the album and why?
My personal favourite probably is “Truth Be Told”, the first single that we let out, I’m not sure, there’s just something about listening to that record, you know, I know its a sample that’s been done before, I don’t care obviously, people are “I’ve heard that sample”, who cares? Like I said, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m doing what I want to do so I did the sample again in my own way and I put my own drums on it, my drums and nasty, the feeling is great, the feeling is it’s just a hard record that has like a life seal to it, the stuff that he’s speaking on the record is the truth, it’s why it’s called “Truth Be Told”, I love that record, I love the feeling I get, I’m all about feeling when it comes to music.
Having already worked with the likes of OC, Guilty and many more, is there any other artists you’re wanting to work with?
Jay Electronica that’s my favourite MC period, I want to work with him very much so. That’s the artist that I really want to work with aof course there are others but Jay Electronica is my number one.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?
Be true, stay true to yourself, don’t conform, make the music you want to make, don’t make music because it’s on TV, it’s on the radio or other people are like “Yo this is what’s hot now”, you make the music that’s in your heart, make the music that you want to make and eventually people will follow suit, they’ll like it. I’ve learned over the years that there is a fan base for everything. If I wanted to make a whole album with Elmo rapping over every track there’s a fan base for that, there’s a fan base for everything, it doesn’t matter what it is. So I’ve learned that over the years and just stay true, make the music you want to make.
2012 has already been a big year for you but now coming into 2013 what does the future hold for Apollo Brown?
Very good things. I’m just switching it up a little bit, I’m also going to switch up genres a little bit, so going into the Soul, R&B Soul genre. I can’t name any names or say anything but I got big things happening and hopefully there are some really big placements next year on some big records so there’s a lot of stuff in the works. I’m not going anywhere, the name Apollo Brown will still be an underground household name hopefully and, you know, I’m not going anywhere.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Just keeping it moving, I keep it moving, it’s non-stop, like a shark. Like if a shark stops in the water, you know, a shark can’t stop, a shark has to keep moving just to stay alive and it’s kind of how I feel especially in this industry, especially nowadays with the attention span being really short and there’s so many MC’s, so many producers, so many artists out here and if you don’t keep putting stuff out, you’re not going to be relevant anymore so you’ve got to do whatever it takes to stay relevant and Grindin’ is part of that, keeping it moving, one after the next, you don’t want over saturate but you want to keep it going and you want to keep it moving.