“Space… the final frontier.” Much can be inferred by that statement, especially if the term Hip Hop were to replace the first word of that line made famous by the ’60s sci-fi television series, Star Trek. With the increasing cross-pollination and globalization of lifestyles, cultures and musical genres, it’s not hard to see that this once inner city American phenomenon in the ’70s has now thoroughly been embraced by cool kids all across the world, from the sleepy suburb of Anaheim, California to the rough streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
N.A.S.A. is a boldly daring embodiment of this particular movement in Global Rap. The moniker stands for “North America/South America” and is a side project of the Los Angeles-based duo of Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon who attempt to showcase the sub-genre’s colorful past, present and hopeful future with an infusion of Latin Funk, Pop and Electronica. On The Spirit of Apollo, the crew takes their space metaphor a bit further, enlisting the aid of critically lauded emcees as diverse as Chuck D (of Public Enemy fame) and E-40 [click to read] alongside veritable singer-songwriters (e.g., Tom Waits and David Byrne) to round out this far-reaching experiment in beats, rhymes and life.
The most enjoyable aspect of the group’s major label debut is how the guest vocalists are able to thoroughly balance their unique styles and still manage to keep the music entertaining and funky yet profound. For example, on “Spacious Thoughts,” who would have imagined Kool Keith‘s [click to read] cleverly bugged-out rhymes about society being totally in sync with Tom Waits‘ gruff existential ruminations? Another stellar collaboration, “Way Down,” occurs with Wu-Tang‘s abbot, the RZA [click to read], as he melds his extraterrestrial verses with Barbie Hatch‘s vocal musings alongside the hauntingly beautiful melodies provided by famed Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist, John Frusciante. Furthermore, on “Gifted” [click to listen], Kanye West does a fine job of effortlessly combining his Louis Vutton Don flow with the likes of Indie darlings, Santogold and Lykkie Li. Other noteworthy joints worth bumping include the boogie-ooogie bounce of “A Volta” (Sizzla, Amanda Blank and Lovefoxxx), the boom-bap goodness of “Hip Hop” (featuring KRS-One [click to read] and the reunion of Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre of The Pharcyde [click to read]) and the soulful funkiness of “N.A.S.A. music” (featuring E-40, Method Man and DJ Swamp).
With the cooperative achievements made throughout the full-length release, the minor complaints about The Spirit of Apollo are far and few in-between. The biggest one (if you can call it that) has to do with the name of the group. Although the album is supposed to showcase the connection between the North America and South America, there is still not enough Latin flavor to warrant this particular release as a truly global endeavor. On “Samba Soul,” Del tha Funkee Homosapien [click to read] manages to add pep to the track but the additional vocal help of a Spanish/Portuguese-language rapper would have greatly been appreciated. Another example of this minor misstep is “Wachadoin?” featuring Santogold, M.I.A., Spank Rock and Nick Zinner. This particular song borrows heavily from the raw Funk of Brazil’s “favelas” but the guest vocalists on the track lack the grittiness and youthful zeal of their Latin counterparts.
There is much to be said about Hip Hop’s continuing influence on the world community. Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, the duo known as N.A.S.A., are not afraid to push the creative envelope and this is highly evident on their remarkable debut, The Spirit of Apollo. The heady mixture of diverse lyricism and unique musical sensibilities found throughout the album (thanks to the various talents enlisted) make this experiment a joy for all to hear, even if the lack of authentic vocal accompaniment from emcees south of the border is slightly noticeable to the most discerning ears. All in all, the Spirit of creativity, celebration and brotherhood permeates this talented Rap duo’s venerable debut.