Brooklyn pen Jedi Skyzoo and Detroit rap maestro Apollo Brown came into their new collaborative album, The Easy Truth, with several joint albums underneath their belt. But this time, something special was in the air as both artists explain to HipHopDX how they made each other “uncomfortable” with their recording process for the LP which only took a week to complete.
Seeing that both Hip Hop vets are well into their 30s, they each gave their perspective on the new internal war within the culture that is “Old vs. Young.”
HipHopDX: Have y’all been watching any of the rap reality shows? Do you there’s a future in Hip Hop by putting everything on TV, having a competition, battling on it, with it being scripted? Will we actually get real artists from that for this culture?
Skyzoo: I think it’s more difficult. It could be something that slips through the cracks. If it were to slip through the cracks, it be one of the kids. Nowadays with technology and social media, the kids, that’s all the know; what you gravitate towards. You got Jermaine Dupri with a little 14-year-old and the kids learn about that said 14-year-old through TV, then they just going to go on Twitter, Instagram or whatever. But us as adults, the way we got music, and the way we’re used to it and accustomed to learning about artists, falling in love with artists, falling in love with their story, what they’re able to do musically, we’re going to look at them at a different light if the first time we see them is on a reality show. So I think with the kids it will work, but if you do it with adults I don’t see it really working. With the kids, it will work, better shot with them. The Rap Game is alright with me, though.
Apollo Brown: And that’s it though because it’s all about the story. All about the background, it’s all about the music. It’s all about the feeling you get from that person. Not just the music, but them as a human being. I don’t know if making Hip Hop show is like the next American Idol and America’s Got Talent. I don’t think it will amount to anything, to be honest with you. Hip Hop it’s not just entertainment, it’s not just a form of making money. It’s a culture. It’s real life. A lot of that’s not real life.
Skyzoo: As it should be. It should be about the culture, at least that’s what we hope it is. We came up and Apollo and I are able to give answers like that because that’s how we came up, that’s what we know. And I’m sure it’s the same with anyone else. I think what people are getting away from is the fact that, for a lot of people now, the culture is the last piece of it. You hear people talk and say you have to get your image together … you have to get your music together. What are we doing? Are we watching rappers or are we listening to rappers? Are we looking at music or are we listening to music? It’s a different thing.
HipHopDX: The culture has indeed taken on a more visual aspect first. The album, The Easy Truth where it is what it is, it’s straight-to-the-gut Hip Hop. It has double entendres, it has metaphors, but who’s the audience for this album? Can this album shift the pendulum or is it just meant for people who you’ve already been talking to?
Apollo Brown: To me it’s something for everybody on here. I kind of switched it up a little bit, kind of catered to certain people and catered to different parts of Hip Hop. Musically, I think it’s for everybody. Sky’s telling stories and giving you relatability, for anybody who’s going to listen. I don’t see this album as “a niche album.” I don’t see this as something that’s going to be pigeonholed. For Hip Hop yes, pigeonholed into a certain subgenre of Hip Hop? Nah.
Skyzoo: Like Apollo said, there’s moments that hit with everyone. The biggest thing with this project, when I make music, I never want to make music that’s “old school” Golden Era. That’s not the agenda, that’s not the motivation. I think I get pigeonholed by that because of producers I worked with in the past … I like certain drums or whatever it is. But if you listen to the content of my music, you can take my acapella’s and put them on whoever the new young guy whoever it is, it will make sense because what I’m talking about is not just Hip Hop set out in the park. I’m not reminiscing on the days sitting on the bench. If I’m talking about sitting on the bench, it’s about my friends selling crack! It’s about my friend selling crack sitting on the bench, and I’m talking about who, what, when, where, why, and how without giving up any names.
I say that to say my music has never been about living in the past. It’s about taking elements in the past, and it’s about being cut from the cloth but it’s about making it nowadays, which is why I always made records like “Luxury,” “Speakers on Blast,” “Range Rover Rhythm” — I’ve always made those types of records because I’m not a kid who’s stuck in ‘88. I’m a product of that because I was born in the 80s. At the same time, I’m a product of what was going down in the 90s and in the 2000s as well. So I merge all that together, and I make music that just makes sense moving forward. Perfect example, they say Melo played like Bernard King, but Melo was really from the era of A.I./Penny Hardaway/Kobe/Ray Allen era but they would be like but his game was Bernard. He was born in that era and he started that young. But he began to develop as time went on. So you’re going to have those elements. You’re going to have Bernard King, you’re going to have Penny, A.I., Kobe, or Ray, you’re going to have those elements. For me it’s not about staying stuck; we got records like “The Vibes,” we got records like “Pay Out,” records like “Nodding Off,” ‘A Couple Dollars,” old school hippity hop records. Those are records that kids in college right now would be into because it has 808s, the synths that Apollo used over the samples, the stuff the Apollo is using, it fits and feels like nowadays, and that’s on purpose. We’re not here to make old school music, we’re here to make music that the old school can be proud of.
HipHopDX: I’m glad you touched on that Apollo. It does sound like you switched it up, it does sound a little bit more geared towards a more accessible realm instead of just focusing on just strictly boom bap, traditional Hip Hop soul. What did you do?
Apollo Brown: I went a different route on this album a little bit. I think that would spark. We kind of made each other feel uncomfortable making this album and we did it on purpose. It’s one of those things where. I wanted to give Skyzoo some Apollo Brown, a certain dirtiness that you don’t necessarily hear him over a lot. But in terms, when you listen to Skyzoo music, you listen to a lot of big orchestral, a lot of instrumentation and I had to do that for him. I had to give him something that was almost like a treat, to making him rhyme over my minimal production. Just giving everybody a little bit of something making each other uncomfortable; because that was really comfortable for me making those type of joints. I was like, “Yo I don’t know” but it turned out to be amazing music. I’m really glad that I did it, stepped out of my comfort zone to touch the 808 kit, that double-time hi-hats and stuff like that; it turned out to be beautiful music.
HipHopDX: So in both of y’all’s opinion, what does stand out for you guys looking back at the body of work you guys created? Neither one of you guys are strangers to the one MC one producer album, so what set this one apart from anything you guys have done as far as anything in your discography?
Skyzoo: For me personally, it’s more of the same but different. People that come to know me and love me but yea the lyricism, the storytelling, the double, triple entendres, all the shit that I do people to know and love me for that. When you get a Skyzoo project, you know what you getting. ‘He’s rapping his ass off, he’s telling a story, I’m a have to listen back, might have to pull up Wikipedia or Google and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be something that I just don’t play it in the background when I’m cleaning my house. It’s not background music, I know it’s something I have to listen to and be like ‘oh snap! But that means this and this’ So it’s that but at the same time sonically, it takes me back to some of the stuff I did early on, specifically [my debut] Cloud 9, because Cloud 9 was ironically a couple weeks ago made ten years, Cloud 9 was something like the loop, the drums, a little baseline.
“Making an album together, a producer and MC album is all about compromise; it’s all about coming together and having that common goal to make good music. — Apollo Brown
Apollo was one of those guys who has mastered that and is one of the best at that for this generation and generations to come. He mastered that style and mastered being able to do that, and crushing it. It’s me going back to that Cloud 9 and music has continued to progress sonically as far as adding instrumentation, adding different elements, I’ve had records where I brought in musicians. One time when I did “Steel’s Apartment,” I brought a tuba player to the studio. The tuba was too big to fit in the booth, we had to book another studio. Had to cancel the session and had to book a session two days later because the tuba couldn’t fit in the tuba in the booth. So the music started progressing on that level. So with this project, it’s dope that it’s similar to what I’ve done as far as the lyricism, the feel and the vibe. But then it scales back to how I started it out.
So it’s good it kind of comes full circle with that. And you’re not losing anything with there being a shift sonically. Making it great. It’s just one day you getting some soul food and then the next day you’re getting some Jamaican food but it’s still all great. It’s the same vibe, but it’s different.
HipHopDX: Why do you guys always release albums in the fall?
The only album I dropped in the summer, was last summer when I dropped Music For My Friends, just because I have started the album early, started in late October early November of 2014. So then in 2015 I was excited it made sense. “Luxury” is a nice summertime record … jeeps ride around. It all lined up to that. It’s been a little while I put something out, so I said let’s roll with the summer on this one. Normally like you said, I’ve done the fall, and Apollo the same thing. We’ve individually before we even worked together in how much we had in common from a business sense. As far as when you put records out, and how you do the artwork. How to even pick the tape on the CDs so that when you autograph it, it doesn’t smudge off so it doesn’t turn fans away from wanting to buy more. Like all these little tricks of the trade, I always thought I was the only person on that. Apollo was like, ‘When we do it, I want to do this, I want to do that,” and I was like “Yo! I think the same way.’’ It was all great synergy it all connected.
Apollo Brown: Releasing albums in the fall … I always release September-October. Mainly because my type of music calls for that. The music that I make is something that you listen to in the fall. I don’t really make a lot of happy music, a lot of going to beach with ya top down type of music. I make somber, relatable life-type music. In the fall, when kids are going back to college, or people walking down the streets, riding around or whatever, it’s the type of gray sky music that you listen to. It just seems like to me the best time for people to buy albums, to buy music. It’s just something about it. Working on this album was amazing.
HipHopDX: How long The Easy Truth take to make?
Skyzoo: It took a week.
Apollo Brown: Seven days, max.
Skyzoo: So the way we did it, I’ve enjoyed telling it because it makes us both laugh. Apollo sent me 40 beats back in January or February. The plan was for me to go down there in April, so I had a couple months to live with the beats, etc. He sent me like 40 beats, I picked a good 14-15 — you swap beats out, that always happens. You hear a new beat, ‘oh that shit is crazy’ and you swap beats out. When we started booking the flights and the timeline, Apollo was like “Write to the beats for a couple months, come down today. Record eight songs one day, seven songs the next,” or something like that. I was like “Um, yeah, I don’t work like that; I write everything on the spot. I need more than two days.”
Apollo got a little nervous because he was like “Ah, man we gotta book more studio time, to budget is gonna get raised; you saying it’s going to be a week, it’s probably going to take a month, it’s going to take mad time. You got to write a whole album!” I said, ‘Bro I promise you, all I need is a week, all I need is a week. We get the whole shit done.
Apollo Brown: I was like ‘Yo at least half the album will be done.’ Because I always had a rule, no writing in the studio. Because time is money. That’s just what it is for me. I’m like ‘Yo write it inside the studio, when we come to the studio it’s work time. It’s all recording. But I mean because Skyzoo is who Skyzoo is, top five MC in the game, it’s always worked for him so I’m not going to stifle his creativity. So I made an exception to the rule this time around. I’m going to let him do what he does. And he did what he did. We got done with that shit in six-seven days, done it on time.
Skyzoo: I think why he was comfortable with it was because we didn’t book the hotel for a month. The fact that all I need is a week. Seven nights in the hotel, round trip flight I’m good, boom, boom; boom and we was done in six and a half days. We took a day off in between, the whole nine; and it was dope. Just making Apollo comfortable with that. After we were done Apollo was like ‘Yo I can’t believe you wrote this whole shit in a week. You wrote this album, the stuff that you talking about the lyrics, entendres, the meaning, whatever, in a week. If I have to write a quick 16 for somebody, a quick feature verse, that shit just takes me 20 minutes.
I’m just a fast writer. As long as it doesn’t jeopardize the integrity of the quality of what I’m putting out. If I’m racing the clock or hit 20 minutes — because everybody knows me for that — but if the verse is corny, then I might as well have waited. It’s really not about me racing the clock. It’s just the way it naturally comes to me. One of my top two favorite rappers ever, Mos Def; was like ‘I write rhyme sometimes I won’t finish today’ but that doesn’t make me like Mos Def any less. Some people write fast, some people take they time, vibe out, sit with it, come back. I’m just a guy who is blessed to be able to write fast without losing the integrity. So we did it in a week, man. A-Z every lyric was written in Detroit, Michigan at the studio. He got to see the process.
Apollo Brown: I got to make beats on the spot that was cool too. Got to make a few beats on the spot and take other beats. So it did work out better. I was really happy with what we had on the way home.
HipHopDX: That’s really impressive. It speaks to the caliber of artists both of you guys are to be able to break out of that comfort zone but still create a project that everyone wants to gravitate to.
Apollo Brown: Making an album together, a producer and MC album is all about compromise; it’s all about coming together and having that common goal to make good music. It was easy man, because we had that common goal, and we have a lot in common when it comes to the music. So it was natural and organic. ‘You like this joint, ya this joint, bet I like this joint to’ we really didn’t have any disagreements. It was cool all the way through.
Skyzoo: Yeah, and personality-wise too, we’re just both easy going dudes. We crack jokes, bug out, laugh at shit on Instagram, listen to dope beats. So from that aspect, getting along was easy. It’s all about having a good ass time; nothing wrong with that.
Apollo Brown: And we worked together before and we’ve been on tour together. So it was all natural.
HipHopDX: What’s your take on Pete Rock’s stance. He went at Lil Yachty, went at Young Dolph. Here’s what I say: Why put energy into something like that when we still have artists like Skyzoo and Apollo Brown carrying the torch for the what many consider to be definitive Hip Hop? Is there a way that all these different genres can co-exist or are you guys like the Last of the Mohicans?
Skyzoo: I personally think there is a way. I think the reason why people get upset is because it seems like all the light is in one corner of the room. If that light was being spread out, if we all in one room; if there’s a little light there, a little light here, a little light on me, I think everybody would be aight. Because people fail to remember, back in the day you had N.W.A and Public Enemy and then after that on the radio, the next song would be De La, and they would talk about how they were anti that without dissing them. We’re more of the flower kids, positive vibes, right after playing “Straight Outta Compton” or “Dopeman.” And they were on tour together. You had people touring like Will Smith with N.W.A, who also toured with LL, it was all together. Kid ‘n Play and The Fresh Prince, touring with LL Cool J and N.W.A. Everybody was okay with it back then, because everybody was getting the light. Because it was Hip Hop and it was young fresh and new. Now this chick has been around for 30+ years and she only paying attention to one corner of the room and I think that’s why people get upset.
HipHopDX:: I remember in the 90s, I only got to see Gang Starr videos on Rap City but on the radio, you would hear Freak Nasty “Put My Hand Up On Your Hip” and the 69 Boyz.
Skyzoo: And I think being in New York, maybe I was a little more spoiled. Even in the 90s we did have it like that on the radio. You would definitely hear Pete and CL Smooth in the middle of the day. You would hear “Down With The King (Remix),” or “They Reminisce Over You” or “Straighten it Out.” You would hear it at like 3 o’clock in the middle of the day. And you would hear again at 4:30 then again at 8. You heard in between that whatever else was going on. You would go from a Wu-Tang record to the Bush Babies to Craig Mack, or whatever it was. Maybe being in New York we was a little spoiled. Even when the West was running around, New York was heavy on that. We had all that playing. The Above the Rim soundtrack, and it’s based in Harlem, the whole soundtrack is Death Row. The only New Yorkers on that album SWV. The whole album is an L.A. album but the movie is based in Harlem. That shows you who was running the game in 93’; it was L.A. But New York though, they showed that love. So maybe it was a little spoiled up here at my radio when I was listening to Hot 97. They were juggling. The corporate aspect is the key. That’s where it came from. They was like ‘Whoa whoa whoa, there’s this much money in what these little negroes is running around doing for the past 20 years, 15 years. But if we get that, we need to control that. I think nowadays that’s become more relevant than ever. It’s a whole ‘nother conversation.
We got some videos in the pipeline coming up. The video for “A Couple Dollars” with Joell [Ortiz] is going to come out at some point this week, I think it’s going to be lined up with the actual release date if I’m not mistaken. Then we have three more in the can and not one more out next week. Lot’s a visuals coming up; a behind the scenes documentary coming out. A 10-minute making of the album where we break it down, show us in the lab. A lot of little tools and things with the project.
And the dope thing about the project is that it’s available in all formats. It’s vinyl, digital, CD, cassette tapes, so nowadays and beyond it gives you certain reflection of what was, which makes people feel good if they were in the what was part of the conversation. 20 years old, you in college. Somebody tweeted me today saying ‘yo I’m so glad you dropping another album this week because it’s right when midterms start and you always hold me down in college. Every year in college you drop an album for me to study to and listen and do what I gotta do in school. This is somebody if they in college, that means they under 23-years-old. You can’t say I’m making old school rap if I’m impacting 22 and 21-year-olds. These guys are the same guys listening to J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Joey Bada$$, and they listening to us. It means more than just being pigeonholed in with what was going on in ’86. I love what was going on in ‘86 because it made us. It made us what we are in 2016.
Skyzoo & Apollo Brown’s The Easy Truth is currently available everywhere courtesy of Mello Music Group. Stream it below and cop it on iTunes.