Apollo Brown Tells The Root He’s Sticking to What He Knows

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Photo:  Jenny Risher
Photo: Jenny Risher

What’s the purpose of an artist? To grow? To evolve?

Not according to Detroit producer Apollo Brown; he’s showing no interest in evolving and sticking to what he knows, making timeless and classic boom-bap hip-hop.

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“I’m not reinventing the wheel or creating my own genre,” said Apollo. “I’m just continuing a sound that I grew up on, a sound that I love, a sound that comes from the DJ Premiers, the Pete Rocks, the Havocs, and the Large Professors. These are all people that I look up to and consider mentors of mine.”

Working on collaboration albums with the likes of veteran MCs such as Skyzoo, Joell Ortiz, Rass Kass, OC, Planet Asia and Ghostface Killah, Apollo is no stranger to working with some of the sharpest lyricists out right now. But for his 2022 album, This Must Be the Place, the Detroit producer doesn’t need an MC.

“I consider myself a revolver and not an evolver,” said Apollo. “I kind of circle around and circle back and keep doing the same sound that I’ve always done or listened to because that’s what makes me happy.”

Apollo’s resistance to evolution hasn’t hurt him, his supporters have come to expect a specific sound from him. He’s not interested in experimenting or trying something new because he doesn’t want to alienate the fanbase he’s amassed.

Despite that, Apollo’s sound is very distinctive. His drums are crisp and his beats evoke a certain bounciness when you hear them. I recall listening to the 2014 collaborative album from Skyzoo and Torae, Barrel Brothers. The moment I heard the bonus track, “Got It From Here,” I immediately knew the production was done by Apollo.

But, why make an instrumental album now? It’s been eight years since the release of his last one, Thirty Eight, in 2014 and 11 years since the release of his first instrumental album, Clouds, in 2011.

Brown felt now was the best moment to take some time away from working with artists and focus on his music.

Photo:  Jenny Risher
Photo: Jenny Risher

“This album is a continuation of Clouds,” said Apollo. “Everything on this album is built from sound design, it comes from other musicians sending me the sound design that they have created, for me to chop up and sample.”

And for Apollo, there’s no offense taken if listeners perceive his instrumentals as background music.

“I make these instrumentals for background music,” said Apollo. “Background music is some of the best music you can listen to, it provides an ambiance for whatever you are doing. Whether you’re cleaning your house, sitting down drinking your tea or if you’re on a long road trip. What do you think a score is? A score is background music.”

And just like in a movie, Apollo is setting the scene. Every instrumental on This Must Be the Place is somber and melancholy and is a reflection of where Apollo is from, Detroit.

“Michigan as a whole has a melancholy feel to it,” said Apollo. “Out of 365 days a year, probably like 250 of those days are gloomy. That’s kind of the feeling that we have. When you walk outside, you don’t even have to talk to anyone or even have to see a soul. You just look up at the sky and you can feel it.”

Described as the “King of Melancholy,” Apollo thinks that the most relatable music tends to be melancholy. Music that makes you remember or forget something. Music that makes you think about a loved family member that passed away or something you went through that makes you wonder how you got through it. It’s music meant for reflection and it’s not a process that Apollo rushes.

“It takes me a long time to make a beat,” said Apollo. “I’m happy to make four beats a week. That’s 16 beats a month, which is an album’s worth of beats. That’s good for me.”