Apollo Brown On Working W/ Ghostface Killah + Ugly Heroes [The Okayplayer Interview]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Apollo Brown on Ghostface Killah, Ugly Heroes

Apollo Brown is back for more. Only a year removed from releasing two critically adored albums, the Detroit producer returns with not one but TWO new albums that are sure to continue his long-running winning stream. After working with the likes of O.C. and Guilty Simpson in 2012, he’s continued to work with hip-hop heavyweights with the release of his alternate version of Ghostface Killah’s “12 Reasons to Die.” The Brown Tape was originally issued only on cassette, but will get a full release in June. The Brown Tape--which Brown called the most challenging project he’s ever worked on--offers a more traditional sounding hip-hop album that stands nicely alongside Adrian Younge’s lush, orchestral version on the original.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Brown has also assembled a Little Brother-type group called Ugly Heroes, which consists of himself and two MCs – Detroit’s Red Pill and Chicago’s Verbal Kent. Brown said he wanted to do a project with two up-and-coming rapper--and also that he personally feels the album  is among his best work.

Okayplayer got a chance to chat with the Mello Music Group producer about the reaction to his two big LPs he released in 2012, how he landed the opportunity to work with Ghostface, the myth of an ugly hero, his tenth album and more. Read on, player (and hit the links below to cop Ugly Heroes, which dropped today).

>>>Purchase Ugly Heroes (via iTunes)

Okayplayer: Last year you had a couple of highly acclaimed albums (“Trophies” and “Dice Game”), do you think those releases put you more in the spotlight?

Apollo Brown: Yeah I would probably say so, doing a big release with O.C. and a big release with Guilty Simpson. I think I was already in the spotlight, but I think those kind of solidified my place in the game, especially dropping those two in the same year. And also getting critical acclaim and certain accolades like being number one of DJ Premier’s top (albums) list of the year.

OKP: You just dropped that remix album for Ghostface Killah’s 12 Reasons to Die, how did you get involved with that album?

AB: That’s the thing man, it’s not a remix album. Everybody thinks it’s a remix album, but when I did the album, it’s actually an official album. When I did the album, I didn’t even hear the original yet. It’s considered another version – an alternate version of the album. I basically created all of the beats around the words. Like most people do the opposite, you know spitting to the beats. Basically I’m making the beats around the words, and it was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done because of the bar structure and the arrangements. It was crazy to do.

It’s definitely not a remix album. It’s just another version – the cassette tape version. It was crazy, making that album was one of the most difficult things ever. It came out good; people love it. I got a phone call one day from Soul Temple (Records), and they’ve enjoyed my music over the past few years, they thought I could be the perfect producer to complement Adrian Younge and come up with an alternate version. I took as a compliment because I’m a big fan of Adrian Younge and obviously a big fan of Ghost. I was just like, let’s do it man, and they gave me a short amount of time to get it done.

I didn’t hear the original version until after it came out, so it was interesting to hear his take on it, versus my own and it’s completely different. I think it was a good thing for the Ghost project.

OKP: Do you think that will open up opportunities to work with Ghost some more or other Wu-Tang members?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

AB: It possibly already has. Not just Wu members, but other people have taken notice as well. People who might have heard of me, but kind of shrugged me off. You know, people who didn’t know how to get a hold of me at point or were thinking about it, now they really want to. Yeah, anything you do that’s in the spotlight, it definitely creates opportunity for people who otherwise maybe wouldn’t have hit you up.

OKP: The other big release you've got right now is the Ugly Heroes project with Red Pill and Verbal Kent. How did that come about, did you sort of head up the whole thing?

AB: It was a project that I had in the works in my mind for a while. The whole theme of the project, and people would always ask me, ‘yo, why would you go from working with O.C. and doing this Ghost project and working with Guilty, to working with two kind of vitually unknown MCs?’ For me, it’s all about making good music. I’m not one of those people who are stuck on status and stuff, man.

What I wanted to do is take two up-and-coming MCs and myself and create a group and kind of start from scratch. That’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to take established, well-known MCs and put them together. I wanted to start a group from scratch, kind of on the Little Brother platform – two MCs and a producer. And I wanted to see where I can take that.

So we came together as Ugly Heroes – mind you, I don’t work with anyone I’m not a fan of. So despite them being more up-and-coming and not established as O.C. or Ghost, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m a fan of Red Pill; he’s a dope MC. He does his thing around here. And Verbal Kent – he’s a dope MC, he does his thing in Chicago. I’ve worked with both of them. And I was like, yo these dudes would sound dope together. They didn’t even know each other, and now they’re actually pretty good friends. And we all get together, it’s crazy. They’re some funny ass dudes.

Making the album was so easy; it was fluid. It’s beautiful music and it’s life music. Ugly Heroes is considered a myth. When you think of an ugly hero, you can’t think of anyone. Superman was all chiseled and perfect, you know Batman is like chiseled and perfect, all these heroes out here are always said to be like perfect individuals. So when you think of an ugly hero, you’re like what is that? Basically to me an ugly hero is everyday people who make the world go round. You know, blue collar individuals, factory workers, mechanics – just everyday people who take care of their families and do whatever they can to make ends meet. That’s why we named it Ugly Heroes. And these guys – Red Pill and Verbal Kent – are so just like regular dudes. They’re so relatable and that’s why I chose them for this project because they’re just everyday people, and I think the listener can relate with everything they’re saying. They’re just regular cats spitting their life story and I’m providing the backdrop.

OKP: You say that they have never worked together before the Ugly Heroes project, but Red Pill and Verbal Kent seem to have some great chemistry on the record. How was it getting these two artists to work together so well?

AB: Yeah man that was crazy, putting them together. I knew they were both dope, and I knew they had their own style and own sound. You know, Red Pill is more of a life rapper, and Verbal Kent is more of a rah-rah, ‘I’ll do this to you’ MC. And putting them together to conform to each other and complement each other, the shit was so easy man it was crazy. Before we recorded it, they got to get to know each other for a few months. I don’t like to work with people and not really get to know that person, I hardly ever do it like that. I like to build with the person first.

OKP: I know you already got two projects out and it’s only May, so do you got any other projects coming out this year?

AB: I coming up on my tenth album, so I’m deciding what I want to do with that. Whether it’s going an instrumental album like Clouds, it’ll probably be a little harder than Clouds. I’m thinking about either doing an instrumental album like that or doing just an unbelievable compilation record with a bunch of MCs. Something like 16 songs, 20 MCs, something like that, with artists I have worked with or want to work with

I am also working on another project right now, trying to get that further underway. I can’t really mention that right now because it’s not really set in stone. It’s something that’s being worked on right now, but for all the people, I should have another project coming out this year – towards the end of the year.