A Conversation with Apollo Brown & Ras Kass

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Merriam-Webster describes the word ‘blasphemy’ as “great disrespect shown to God or to something holy” but Apollo Brown and Ras Kass mean no disrespect to the creator with their new release. Blasphemy is a joint project by the Midwest producer and West Coast emcee that’s easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2014.

Ras Kass and Apollo Brown masterfully mesh with each other’s styles to produce an album that’ll make listeners thinks, laugh, and bob their heads. Blasphemy is produced entirely by Apollo Brown and features guest appearances by Pharoahe Monch, Rakaa Iriscience, Royce Da 5’9″, Xzibit, Bishop Lamont, 4 Rax, Larina, Slaine, Sick Jacken, and Sean Price.

Apollo Brown and Ras Kass recently chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about the origins of their union, their new album, Blasphemy, and its importance in today’s Hip-Hop landscape.

TRHH: How’d you two guys get together and decide to do this record?

Apollo Brown: Like I tell everybody I’m fortunate as a producer to work with artists that I’m a fan of. Me and Ras are obviously in the same industry and we work with a lot of the same people. We maybe have run in the same circles, but we never have crossed paths until now. I called him out of the blue one day and said, “Yo man, this is Apollo. We need to get together and we need to make some music.” Fortunately enough he knew who I was and was a fan of my work, just like I was a fan of his. I’ve been a fan of this man for years. We got together to make some music, and there you go.

Ras Kass: He could have said do a verse or some shit and I would have said, “I’m all in, let’s go.” Really for me it was the challenge of the ball being in my court now. I was like, “OK, this nigga gonna give me some hot ass beats, what the fuck am I going to do with this?” I like that fear, that nervousness of, yo man, I’m in a really good opportunity I can do something that we can both be proud of or I can fumble on the one. He took it 99 yards so what am I going to do [laughs]? I really feel like we did that and I’m very happy that people are receptive about it.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album Blasphemy?

Ras Kass: Blasphemy is a metaphor. The original title of the album was ‘How to Kill God’, which was still a metaphor. That’s the first song on the album. We’re made in the image and likeness of God, we’re all God’s creations so killing God is being evil, being a hater, being sexist, and being racist. Blasphemy on the flipside is the opposite spectrum of how to kill God. Blasphemy is the American flag, in God we trust on a dollar that some people will sell crack to their momma for, creating wars, droning people, that’s blasphemy. That’s why there’s duct tape on George Washington’s face. They’re both the same metaphors just envisioned differently.

Apollo Brown: We had placement issues with ‘How to Kill God’. It was a very abrasive title.

Ras Kass: It’s potato/potato. The song still exists.

Apollo Brown: Definitely. We still get our point across, so it’s all good.

Ras Kass: I believe in a supreme creator. I don’t want to get too far into my religious beliefs. I’m not trying to blaspheme the creator. I do have some issues that we fight and kill over a dollar and at the end of the day its Fiat money. Blasphemy and How to Kill God are pretty interchangeable conceptually. I’m not really trying to kill God and neither is it blasphemous. They are metaphors. I think it’s a lot deeper than the surface.

TRHH: I think the album in general is important because of everything you just said. I think it’s important to get people to listen. Fans of yours are going to listen to lyrics anyway, but it seems more multilayered than a lot of the shit that we’re hearing right now.

Ras Kass: Yeah.

Apollo Brown: I would say so, definitely. It provides the feeling that you need, it provides the concept, the political undertone, the religious undertone, and Ras Kass doing what he does best.

Ras Kass: And sonically it’s banging. You could pull the raps off and just listen to those beats. The production is A1. The challenge was to make sure we put the right hooks on stuff. Apollo produced it. He didn’t just make beats, he produced an album and I think it shows. I’m very happy with what we’ve done. It’s layered. It’s not just a bunch of raps over beats.

Apollo Brown: It’s definitely a full project. They are songs. You’ve got a lot of people out here that put words over beats, put it on a CD and call it an album. This is a production. This is a full-fledged album from front to back, top to bottom, that gives you everything that you need when you listen to this music.

TRHH: The intro of the album with the Spirit of Truth

Ras Kass: [Laughs] That’s Apollo, the whole concept.

TRHH: That shit was great, man. I loved it [laughs].

Apollo Brown: You know what’s funny, I’m a fan of the Spirit of Truth. I think he’s a funny guy and I think he speaks what he wants to speak when he wants to speak it. I’ve been a fan of this dude for years. I used to listen to him back in 2006. He used to blow my head, man. Let me pause that real quick, he didn’t blow my head…

TRHH: [Laughs].

Ras Kass: Whoa [laughs]!

Apollo Brown: But you know what I’m saying. Originally I had four different interludes that I was going to put on the album with the Spirit of Truth but I didn’t want to give people an overload of him. I think the way I did it was perfect. The intro was perfect. It set the mood to me. It was blasphemy. Everything he was saying was blasphemy.

Ras Kass: He’s me when I’m like 60. I’m probably going to be this guy at some point in my life. That shit was hilarious.

Apollo Brown: The way that he says things and puts certain words with certain words, who puts the word ‘fucking’ next to ‘God’? It’s so blasphemous the way he does that shit. It started off with a light mood and it runs into How to Kill God.

TRHH: That dude follows me on Twitter, which is one of my biggest victories in life [laughs]. He’s a funny motherfucker. He’s the shit. I love that guy. The funny shit about him is he really believes the shit that he says.

Apollo Brown: No doubt. He’s dead serious. He’s not playing or joking around. He is dead serious about that shit.

TRHH: He needs that show to come back on, man.

Ras Kass: He needs a cartoon. I’d watch that on Adult Swim any time. He’s awesome.

TRHH: Another interesting thing on the album is ‘Giraffe Pussy’ [laughs]. That’s got to be the most dope title of all-time. Who came up with that?

Ras Kass: Thank you! It’s an Xzibit hook. I use that phrase “higher than giraffe pussy”. If I was trolling on someone’s site and I saw something called giraffe pussy I’d go check it out. It’s just so fucking random. I’ve got to hear this. Who makes that song? What is this? It just worked out great. We had an interview with a female who was referencing the song and me and Apollo just started dying laughing. It’s just funny to hear other people say it.

Apollo Brown: Especially females when they’re like, “In your song Giraffe Pussy..”

Ras Kass: It’s awesome. It just makes me happy. I smile on the inside.

TRHH: [Laughs] You have to. Who thinks of giraffe pussy?

Ras Kass: No doubt and everybody dumbed out. Salute. I just want to thank everybody that was a part of it. Royce and Bishop, them niggas got it in.

Apollo Brown: No doubt. Hell yeah.

TRHH: Ras, did you approach this project differently from your previous albums? I don’t think you’ve done an album with just one producer.

Ras Kass: I haven’t. Everything is unique to me. Every time I go into conceptualizing where I want to go, sometimes I don’t know the direction at the beginning and this is kind of how it happened with me and Apollo. The cool thing is he wouldn’t overload me. He would send me four or five beats. Out of the first batch I might have picked four. A couple of weeks later he would give me another batch so it was really cool. I could process it, start to write, and then I’d figure out the concept. I approached it like I was getting an opportunity that I want. His production is A1; the nigga is a talented dude, so how do I complement that? He’s giving me his A-game. I’m not getting the throwaway shit so how do I make sure he doesn’t feel like he made a bad decision? Sometimes I have to scout around and say, “I kind of need a song like that,” but with one producer I can tell him the concept and he can create that for me. It’s dope.

TRHH: Apollo, how was working on this album different from doing an Ugly Heroes or The Left album?

Apollo Brown: The examples you gave are group albums so you’ve got a lot of different opinions going on. I approach every project and every album the same, but I do realize that I’m working with an artist that’s totally different from other artists. Every artist has their own walk of life, everybody walks a different path, everybody has their own plight, and everybody has their own thing that they want to say. I’m working with a professional; somebody who can get in the lab and do what he needs to do. I don’t have to babysit him. Like he said I’d send him four or five joints, and let him do his thing. Then I’d send him another four or five when he’s done with that. I don’t have to go to him and say, “So what did you write on that?” or “Why don’t you demo that out for me?” or “Why don’t you spit it over the phone real quick I want to hear it.” Nah I ain’t gotta do that. This is fuckin’ Ras Kass. I’m not going to babysit this man. I’m going to let him write what he wants to write and spit what he wants to spit. I feel as though the beats that I give him and anyone speak to you. Anything that I sent him spoke to him and urged him to speak back. What ever he spoke back that’s what Blasphemy is right here.

With my approach to making a record I’m very pro-getting in the studio with the artist. There are a lot of albums now that are made these days that are e-mail albums. With the way that technology is today it’s amazing that you can make an album via e-mail. That’s amazing, but myself, I can’t vibe with somebody over e-mail. We have to get in the studio together, we have to create this album, and we have to record this album. I want to see his face when I play this beat. I want him to see my face when he comes out from spitting that 16 out of the booth. When he comes out I’m like, “Woo, that was crazy!” Couple it together, mixed down, bounced out, and we’re listening to what we created and we’re vibing out together like, “This shit is going to be hot when it gets done.” You can’t do that over e-mail.

Ras Kass: And to me it’s little things. What if my internet is down? Here is an example, on one song my cadence went down. Do you remember that?

Apollo Brown: That was on ‘Please Don’t Let Me’, yeah.

Ras Kass: I hit a note because I heard it and I wanted it to go down. He was like, “Try it up,” because then it has more explanation because it’s going into the hook. That would’ve taken three days via e-mail.

Apollo Brown: When you get into the studio and vibe out with each other and its organic and natural you get to know the person you’re making the album with. It’s not just some old bullshit. You get to actually hang out. And I think everybody should want to. Why wouldn’t you want to get to know the person you’re sharing your craft with? I’m sharing my most intimate craft with you. This is what I do and this is who I am. This is how I live, these are my workings, and I’m sharing it with you. I want to on a personal level. You can’t do that over e-mail, you just can’t. The process is simple, easy, its organic, it’s very natural, and as far as I’m concerned it’s easy to make a classic.

Ras Kass: I was playing dominoes down stairs in my house in Carson. We were playing all types of CDs and I put my tape in. One of my friends was like, “Who is this?” I was like, “It’s me.” After the third song he was like, “Who the fuck is this?” I said, “It’s me,” and he was like, “Get the fuck outta here. My friend is the best rapper I’ve ever heard.” His name is Curtis Daniel. He owns Patchwerk Studios in Atlanta, which is a journey and a creation of me, Bob Whitfield, and Curtis. It was dope for him to call me today because he’s like my harshest critic. He loves me to death and believes in me but he called me today and said, “This shit sounds amazing!” That’s what I want to hear. That makes me happy.

TRHH: What inspired the single ‘Humble Pi’?

Ras Kass: There’s a movie by Darren Aronofsky called ‘Pi’. He did ‘Noah’, which is not really one of my favorites but he’s an ill dude. Basically the guy shows numerically how to reach God. He figures out the number and rabbis, men in black, and Muslims are trying to kidnap him. It’s an ill movie. Humble Pi was multilayered because a lot of times in rap there are elephants in the room. Not to be a hater but I pride myself in being sarcastic enough to tell a joke that’s really true about people. I’m not hating but I’m saying, “Hey bro, you probably shouldn’t put a Confederate flag on your clothes. Did you make so much money that you lost touch with the fact that they used to chop our dicks off and put them in our mouths and they would have picnics and then go to church?” That’s what happened. There’s pictures of it. They would bring their kids like a spectacle, hang a black man, cut his dick off, put it in his mouth, and you want to put that on your clothes? After you’ve made all this money? Somebody needs to tell you that’s not cool. If I have to be the one to tell you that’s not cool that’s just a pull up. That ain’t dissing. That’s pulling a brother up and saying, “Look man, get your money but that’s some wack shit.” Humble Pi is about that – the mathematics of God, and chill bro, some of that shit ain’t cool.

TRHH: Why is Blasphemy an important record in 2014?

Apollo Brown: It’s an important record in 2014 because it’s amongst so many other important records in 2014. It’s cool to put out an album when nobody else is putting out an album. You’re kinda forced to be the only one to get shine. But when you can get shine when you have albums like Run the Jewels, PRhyme, and Barrel Brothers come out and you’re still getting shine you’re doing something right. It’s important, and this year is a great year for Hip-Hop. You’ve got all these anticipated albums that are dropping and not disappointing including Blasphemy, come on, man. To me right there is why it’s important. Not to mention this collab. You’ve got Ras Kass doing what he does best, you’ve got Apollo Brown doing what he does best, putting that together, creating the perfect marriage, boom, you’ve got Blasphemy.

Ras Kass: It’s funny because Curtis Daniel texted me and said, “I think you’ve met your soul mate in music [laughs]. And that’s cool as shit, because he’s known me since I was fucking ten years old and he’s been my harshest critic. He supports and believes in me, and he’s like, “This is that shit.” That’s good that it comes full circle.

Purchase: Apollo Brown & Ras Kass – Blasphemy

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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