Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz Discuss Their Album, Slaughterhouse & More (Video)
Apollo Brown and Joell Ortiz released their Mona Lisa album on Friday, October 26 (embedded below). These two stalwarts of the culture have put together 11 tracks of soulful, insightful, and competitive-spirited Hip-Hop. Having had a chance to digest this nuanced body of work, Ambrosia For Heads‘ Editor-in-Chief Jake Paine linked with the two veterans on October 24 in hit-maker Rsonist’s Midtown Manhattan recording studio.
The interview covers the making of an album that is pivotal to each artist’s career. The extensive conversation also finds Ortiz addressing the breakup of Slaughterhouse (which he raps about early on Mona Lisa, care of “Reflection”). Besides music, Joell had remained very quiet in the public space surrounding the events that have transpired since April. The duo describes their chemistry, as Joell describes enduring lessons from Cooper projects, and Apollo breaks down his longtime passion for muscle cars.
After working with his group, The Left, and artists like Boog Brown and Hasaan Mackey, Apollo Brown began building with respected veteran MCs from around the country. He did so on a deeper level, teaming for albums. According to the producer who is from Grand Rapids, but relocated to Detroit as an adult, it was out of necessity. Shopping beats was not a way to sustain his career in the 2000s. In 2011, his Trophies album with D.I.T.C.’s O.C. started an apparent series that took one of Mello Music Group’s core producers (along with Oddisee) and made him a sought-after source of Soul. Noteworthy volumes included releases with Ras Kass (2014’s Blasphemy), Planet Asia (2017’s Anchovies), and a since-sanctioned remix LP on Ghostface Killah (2013’s The Brown Tape). He first encountered Joell Ortiz while making 2016’s The Easy Truth. The joint, “A Couple Of Dollars” eventually became a video that premiered at AFH. The two artists crossed paths in person, striking a bond.
Rapport is essential for Apollo Brown. Ahead of 18:00, he explains, “I vibe well with good people. Period. That’s a requirement of mine, really, to make music. I tell people this: my beats are like my kids. In order for a babysitter to watch my kids, I’ve got to interview you first. I got to know who you are, what type of person you are. Come into my home, let’s talk and see what type of person you are. That’s for my kids; it’s the same with my beats. In order for me to work with you, I have to develop a rapport with you.”
Even though Apollo and Joell live more than 600 miles apart from one another, their bond shows. The two artists make fun of one another with the playful energy typically reserved for former classmates or family members. Behind the capping and the laughter about clothes, cars, and beat-selection, mutual respect is apparent.
Just after 6:00, Joell Ortiz is asked about his choice to address the disbanding of Slaughterhouse on wax versus social media and other platforms. In April, KXNG Crooked announced his exit online, citing that the group was not active and he wanted to rap. Royce 5’9 responded to the news, confirming the Shady Records collective had disbanded. As recently as last month, Joe Budden has frequently discussed the news on The Joe Budden Podcast at a time when the New Jersey MC is retired from Rap. Joell Ortiz largely sat back, and his words on “Reflection” make the statement for him.
“I’m feelin’ better on my own / Took a sec for me to accept that next time I’m on the road / Won’t be no Crook’, won’t be no Royce, won’t be no / Joe Just lookin’ at the Hudson River right now, sittin’ on the rocks feelin’ like my reflection’s life reflection, is it not?,” he raps on the LP’s third single. Joell explains his choice and his silence to AFH. “I have never been the guy to dive head first into anything that’s surrounded with negativity. I felt like a lot of that was…there was so much back and forth with opinions, strong opinions. Everybody’s their own man, so I’m not going to be the guy that’s like, you shouldn’t have done that, or you could’ve did it this way. I can only account for myself.”
At 35:00, the conversation comes back to a beloved Rap group of the last decade. Ortiz is asked—if he had to guess—if another song from the quartet will ever happen. Thanks to KXNG Crooked’s appearance on the official “Timberlan’d Up (Remix),” Mona Lisa listeners get three-fourths in 2018. “If I had to guess, I’d say, yeah. Because the fans formed the group once [a decade ago]. This was not a plan of me, Royce, Crook’s, or Joe’s; the fans kinda formed the group. We put out a song called ‘Slaughterhouse’ with all four of us on it, and that sh*t turned into what it turned into. So, there’s always room for that again, I’m sure. There’s some differences and some behind-the-scenes stuff that probably needs to be ironed out, as men. It’s not gun-beef. [Chuckles] It’s not like, ‘when I see you, you’re dead.’ It’s never been that. We all grew up together; that’s how I look at it. We were all at different walks of our lives, musically, and we all came together for the same common denominator of rapping really good over beats and wow fans that appreciate lyricism and wordplay and things of that nature. And it’s always been about that. With that said, we’re all—we’re solo artists first. That’s why you still get music from us. It’s not, ‘Hey man, the band broke up so let’s do solo sh*t.’ It’s, okay, now snap back to who you are. That’s just what it is. I’ll tell you this: we all miss it. All the members miss it. [Eminem] has just said that he misses it too. All parties involved know that it’s something special. We can’t do anything, individually, without it even being mentioned anymore. That’s when you know you caught a piece of something—like caught a moment. Running away from that is idiotic to me, because it’s about the music. That’s what it’s always been about. It’s about them fans that have [Slaughterhouse] tattoos. It’s about the kid in Dublin that f*ckin’ came up on stage and rhymed and [was blown away by the experience]. It’s about getting on magazine covers and [doing press] and running into legends that [supported us]. Royce said [on ‘Say Dat Den’] ‘It’s just an excuse for us to reunite at Coachella.‘ Who knows.”
Apollo Brown adds, “All I know is, if they make some new Slaughter’ sh*t, then I need to be on it.” At a time when Joe Budden called into question some of the group’s production choices, especially surrounding 2012’s welcome to: OUR HOUSE, Brown’s sound would be a welcomed marriage with the group. “Timberlan’d Up” is evidence enough.
Elsewhere in the interview, Joell Ortiz describes how the competitive nature and values surrounding money in Cooper projects inform his path to this day. “You don’t realize the value of it, until it’s not there,” he says of his upbringing. On Mona Lisa, “My Block” invites listeners to this very environment. “I wish there was moments that everybody got to see. Like, ‘one more time.'” Meanwhile, Apollo explains how Michigan’s climate and social conditions have shaped his soulful sound. Together, both vets examine Mona Lisa‘s theme that “the beauty is in the flaws.”
“That’s what adds character to your life,” Apollo states. “That’s what adds character to you. It’s the flaws. Nobody’s perfect. What do they say, perfect imperfections? That’s what makes you you…you have to embrace the fact that there’s gonna be flaws, whether it’s on the album, whether it’s in your life, whether it’s in your relationship, whatever. There’s gonna be flaws.” Joell weighs in,”I feel like everybody wants everything to just be whole. Whole. Complete. The bottom line is everything has space. My body, it looks complete, but if you break it down on a molecular level and atoms, there’s space between sh*t. That means there’s room. There’s room for mistakes, there’s room for everything. Without those flaws you wouldn’t be able to appreciate [things]. You wouldn’t be able to take a step back. If you look at me [closely], you see [the small flaws]. But when you take a step back [you see the whole work of art]. That’s how life is to me.”
Earlier this year, Brown teamed with Richmond, California’s Locksmith for No Question.
Press photograph by Photo Rob provided by Mello Music Group.
Additional Reporting by Jake Paine.