Real Quick: Apollo’s video “Call It Quits is currently nominated for freshman video of the week on MTVU. If you enjoyed this interview, or his music, you should vote. We can’t let the dude with Miley Cyrus in his video win.
Upon first listen, the same words pop into everyone’s head: 90′s. Classic. Golden Era. Although only freshly 20, Apollo was raised on a diet of strictly early 90′s beats, feeling no need to explore hip-hop’s current offerings (with just one exception). “A lot of kids in high school these days, they don’t really know too much about Illmatic, or a Reasonable Doubt.” His pen name is a tribute to the classic Greco-Roman god, who represented (among other things) music and poetry to one of the “craziest empires in history”.
38th Street, Apollo’s block in East Camden, New Jersey, is wedged between the second poorest city in America and a middle-class South Jersey suburb. And although he’s a ‘classically trained’ rapper, Apollo is very well aware of what it takes to become an artist who has mainstream appeal in today’s market but retains his artistic credibility. “I always understood both sides…being real or fake, or whatever you wanna call it. It gave me that balance.”
Hit the skip for the entire transcription, plus audio.
Dizzy: You’re just off the release of H.I.M. 2, History Is Made. What was the reception like for the tape?
Apollo: It was good. I didn’t know what to expect, because in my age bracket nobody is really making music like that, nah mean? When I recorded it I was 19 going on 20, and when I put it out I got a real good response. People were really feeling it. Basically because of the lyricism, you know? Just anti-bullshit rap. People was fucking with it. I’m definitely pleased.
Dizzy: How did you approach crafting H.I.M.2 specifically? Did you already have some songs recorded, and you figured you’d fill it out?
Apollo: I was just trying to make good music man. Really. I approached it just trying to make the type of music that I wanna listen to. I didn’t see too many people within my area, or even in the industry, making what I wanna hear today. Like I said, I find myself listening to albums that are 15 years old on daily basis. I wanted to make the music I wanted to hear. So that basically was the motivation for H.I.M.2. Just going about it, like: “Would I play this in my car?” And that’s how it came out.
Clutch: I know when Lebron came into his money he kept his friends as his managers, and they handled his business ventures. In one of your lines, you say: “Give me a promoter and I swear to God I’ll blow up.” Right?
Clutch: Is your team just people you grew up with, or have you tried to find people from the outside to bring you to the next level?
Apollo: Nah, I definitely feel like, for the most part, it has always been my team. When I first out H.I.M.2 in April of this past year, I let it sit for awhile. But when I started pushing it, I believe it was in June that I received a phone call from Aubrey Green, who is now my manager and who I didn’t know at the time. He knew we had some mutual friends, and to make a long a long story short, it turned his aunt and my mom are best friends. It’s family ties, period. And he’s crazy on the management tip. Everything he’s doing, I’m just watching him blow up. I did some tour dates with Joell Ortiz. Me and Freeway were out in Nebraska. Like I said, the music is gonna do what it do. If people are looking for good music they are gonna find it. But with him [Aubrey] backing it and putting me on bigger platforms so more people can see what’s going on, I definitely feel like he has put me in a position where it’s gonna happen. It’s a process, but it’s gonna happen. You can’t get to 10 without going through steps 6, 7, and 8.
Clutch: So the album came out in April. Do you feel your going to be able to ride that for a while, or do you think the next tape has to come out soon? Have you already planned for 2011?
Apollo: I never stop working, know what I’m saying? I never stop working, so….H.I.M. 2 has been picking up recently, especially in the last 3 months. There are a whole lot of new people being put on, also because of the tour dates with Joell and rocking out with Free. I also did a show with Jadakiss in Atlantic City. There are new people that’re catching on to who this dude Apollo The Great is. Once they come once, they are going to come back. To them, H.I.M. 2 brand new. But I am putting a new project out this January, a Thorough Bred Boyz mixtape. The Thorough Bred Boyz are my team, that’s my people. We’re gonna put that out just to warm them up in January, to give them something fresh. Probably in February I’m gonna drop my next mixtape, Apollo 21. I never stop working; it’s coming.
Dizzy: We were talking to Chuck D of Public Enemy who explained the transition of live hip-hop, which started as an offshoot of the 70’s and early 80’s funk and soul, where you had groups and crews and there was a group dynamic on stage. And then there was a shift from crews to focusing on just the MC. What is a master of ceremony to you, and how do you think its changed over the years?
Apollo: An MC is a lot. They’re somebody that can move the crowd, nah mean? I don’t feel its changed that much, but you gotta search a little harder to find the true emcees. Me personally, I hear true emcees. Even my man Nas awhile back was saying hip-hop was dead. And I’d be thinking ‘I don’t feel like hip-hop is dead, it’s just that the hip hop that everybody is looking for is underground.’ But I guess in that sense, that’s were the dead go: underground. You just gotta search harder to find what you’re looking for. I feel like there is a change happening now. I couldn’t see dudes like J. Cole or Jay Electronica being signed 5 years ago. I couldn’t see that happening. But now its starting to shift a little bit. I’m hoping this next decade, from 2011 on, will kind of revert back to what it’s supposed to be.
Dizzy: You mentioned that you were 19 going on 20 when you recorded the album; you’re 20 now. What do you think is the potential of the youth movement right now? Your and Y-Fame, what can you guys bring to the game? You’re trying to be legendary, right?
Apollo: I just feel like for our generation, we could be their early Nas, their early Jay-Z. The newer generation….a lot of kids in high school these days right now, they don’t really know too much about Illmatic, or Reasonable Doubt. They might catch wind of it via somebody, but they don’t really understand the impact projects like that had on the game, nah mean? And I feel like that’s what’s missing right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great music and great artists that are out there. There is not much like Illmatic or Reasonabl Doubt, with the exception of Kanye. Don’t get me wrong, Kanye is the best rolling right now. But except for Kanye, there is nothing that is impacting the game on that next level. Kanye isn’t in my age bracket. So, in my age bracket, nobody doing it like that.
Clutch: How did you come up with the name Apollo?
Apollo: Apollo came from the Greek/Roman god Apollo. He is the god of music and poetry to the Greeks and the Romans. The Roman empire were one of the craziest empires in history, and for someone to be their god, they had to be serious. So I just took that, and defined what I plan on doing with my career. And being that Apollo is the god of music, I wanna be in that realm. So the name is speaks to what will happen in the future. Also influenced by the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and their TV show ‘Showtime at the Apollo.’ So, nah mean, its showtime with the god of music.
Dizzy: In “Through These Eyes” and couple other songs, you talk specifically about what goes down where your from. How has Camden, and the surrounding area, shaped your perspective of the world?
Apollo: Where I’m from there’s a street called Westfield Avenue. It starts in East Camden, and there is a dividing point where it goes from East Camden to a town called Pennsauken, right outside of Camden. This is South Jersey. So, where I’m from specifically is 38th Street. From the lower numbers, from 6th and 7th, all the way up to 41st, is East Camden. Once you cross to 42nd it’s Pennsauken. Pennsauken is a small town. Basically, my perspective on life showed me both sides. I could look down side of the block and see niggas hustling, niggas gettin shot, and all types of crazy shit. And at the same time I could look up the other side of the street and see nice lawns, people chillin playing basketball out front; regular, normal life. It gave me that balance. So I try to keep everything in balance. Even when we’re talking about the music, being real or fake or whatever you wanna call it, it gave me that balance. I always understood both sides. I basically try to put that into my music. I could take you to the block and show you what people are doing, I could show you to that. But at the same time, you could take me to Beverly Hills or something, and I’ll know how to act.
Clutch: Do you wanna talk a little about your creative process? We talked to Guilty Simpson one time, and he said he doesn’t really listen to rap. He likes to close himself off and come out with something that he knows is different, whereas a lot of rappers like to listen constantly and find inspiration that way. How do you balance that?
Apollo: As far as listening and creating?
Clutch: Yeah, as far as listening, and creating, and trying to be different.
Apollo: I don’t really listen to anything new, at all. I just recently found out about Curren$y within the past two weeks. People kept telling me, ‘Yo, he’s dope check him out.’ Two weeks ago was the first time I checked on him. Usually, I’m listening to golden era albums, if anything, and get inspiration from that. But as far as the creative process goes, it could happen in a number of ways. A lot of times I don’t listen to anything and I just let the days and nights go by in the environment I’m in, you know, and let that inspire me. Or whatever happened today, or whatever happened last night. Situations inspire a line, or a song.
Dizzy: Everybody describes your music as hearkening back to 90’s era hip-hop, and there is always talk about the real versus the fake. Do you think there is any middle ground there, between real and fake? Like Jay-Z now, his lifestyle is completely different from what it was back in the Reasonable Doubt era.
Apollo: I definitely think it is. And that’s what my goal is, to walk that line as well as possible. Because, at the same time, I could sit here and read the dictionary and put every word in there on a piece of paper and have people say: “He is the best rapper that every rapped.” But I’m gonna be broke as hell, ya feel me? The whole point at the end of the day is: do you wanna be this dope dude that can rap real good? Or do you wanna make records that people can relate to? And I feel like the hardest thing to do is find that middle ground, and walk it. I think Jay is probably the closest to doing it; the best. Even though he definitely went from Reasonable Doubt to Blueprint 3, and the lyricism and the vividness of his lines definitely watered down gradually. But I feel like he is the closest to doing it. As good as you can do it, but still keeping that balance. So that’s basically what I want to perfect: walking that line.