Apollo Brown and Locksmith have carved out strong fan support, courtesy of their no-frills approach to hip-hop. Bay Area’s Locksmith is arguably one of the most underrated wordsmiths around, with a penchant for poignant subject matter and a breathtaking flow, while Michigan’s Apollo Brown has a sound that is certainly of the '90s boom bap variety, but with a millennium polish.
It’s a wonder that these two haven’t worked together sooner, but the timing was right early this year as they cooked up their hard-nosed effort, No Question. The title says it all; there is literally no question that you’ll be hooked after hearing this seven-song project that is nothing but dope beats and dope rhymes.
With Billboard giving you a sneak peak of the album one day before it releases on June 15, we sat down with the duo to discuss how this all came together, Apollo Brown’s amazing run of projects with a single emcee, Locksmith concocting his rhymes with no pen or pad and why 2018 has become the year of “grown man rap.”
How did this project come together?
Locksmith: It was maybe two years ago. Mello Music Group had reached out to me like, "Hey, you know we're definitely fans of what you do over here. Would you wanna do a project with Apollo he'd produce?" And I said, "Yes, absolutely. Let's make it happen."
But the timing was off then. Earlier this year, I reached out to Apollo through Instagram for production and he suggested that if I had the time we could do that joint album we had discussed a year ago. I came out to Detroit and in three or four days we recorded everything. He sent me some of the beats ahead of time. I started writing and then we just locked it in the studio. It was just really easy to just sit back and worry about rapping and nothing else.
Apollo Brown: Mello hit him up, per my request a couple years ago, because I've been a fan. This dude has an incredible mind. So I'm like, "We need to marry these lyrics and these beats real quick.” But he was right that the timing was off. Earlier this year, I think I saw a window. And even if there wasn't a window in Lock's schedule, man, I tried to convince him that there was and I needed to make this album.
Locksmith: He was like, "Yo, we gotta get this done by April 1," and I was like, "Damn, that's soon!” It literally was like a few weeks before that. He sent the beats and the songs just wrote themselves.
Apollo Brown: It was an easy marriage. He was doing one hitter quitters the whole time and not a piece of paper, not a cell phone, not an iPad, nothing. Everything was straight off the head. Like, damn man, this dude's mind is incredible.
Apollo, what song on this particular project blew your mind the most when you got a chance to listen to it, knowing that he was in the studio with nothing to write on?
Apollo Brown: It's hard to pick out one, but when we did “Litmus," I was flabbergasted. It was 64 bars of him just going. No pad, no paper, no nothing. How personal the whole EP is blew my mind. It's real personal and you can tell that everything that is said is meant, and it's not just words put to a beat.
I kind of wish we would have added three more songs, just to make it a full-length album. But it is what it is. Everything right now is an EP or a really short album. So, it kind of comes right on time anyway, so it's all good.
Lock, you mentioned earlier that you don't have to shoulder the burden of producing on this project. How much does that kind of give you a release knowing you can just focus on rhyming, and the production is going to be there?
Locksmith: I guess it just allows my mind to be creative in ways and dive into things, and I think that's what made it possible for it to just happen. When we were talking about doing it, I was like, "Well, yeah, I know every beat is gonna be banging, so all I have to do is be creative and come up with the subject matter." I feel like I got to spread my wings at the studio and just let go. It was liberating.
2018 has been the year of hip-hop with mature themes that appeals to fans over the age of 35. Why do you think it took so long for people to recognize that people over 35 still listen to hip-hop?
Apollo Brown: The 35-and-older crowd, we're the ones who grew up on it and lived our lives off of it, so we're not going anywhere. This is ours as far as I'm concerned. It's funny, the more trap rap, or the more bubblegum or mumble rap, or any of that other stuff, the more of that, the better we're off I think, as far as the grown man or whatever grown man rap whatever you want to call it. Because what's the alternative?
So, the more of that other stuff, the more the listener is going to be listening to our stuff, like, "Damn, I hate that, I need some of this alternative." And it's sad that we've got to call ourselves alternative, when we were the main ones who grew up on it. What they fail to realize is that the fan base for the grown hip-hop, for boom bap, whatever you want to call it is not going anywhere.
Locksmith: Yeah, I think that the reason it exists is because hip-hop has been around for 40 years now. Hip-hop has been around long enough to where you have people who were 10-years-old in the golden era, now their 35 years older. You have grandparents who grew up on rap. Just like when our parents were listening to whatever they would listen to in the '70s, now when they're older and they're in their 60's and 70's, they still love that kind of music. There's no reason why somebody can't make contemporary music that still caters to them.
You look at somebody that's outside of hip-hop, like Bruno Mars, who won the Grammy for best album, but he basically made a new jack swing album. It sounded incredible and the production on it was from that era. So there's a lane for adult music, because hip-hop now has gotten to the age where hip-hop is an adult you're gonna have adult hip hop fans, and obviously we're adults.
Apollo producers don't get the opportunities that you have had these past few years where they pick and choose one artist and create a body of work. You haven't failed your audience yet with these collaborations. How did this journey begin? Was there a dream list?
Apollo Brown: It's funny man, as a producer, I've gotten to a point where I can pick and choose kind of who I want to work with and who I don't want to work with. I only work with people I'm fans of and I respect what they're doing. If I don't, if I'm not feeling you or if I don't respect what you're doing, no real amount of money could make me sit down and do an album with you. I gotta keep my integrity.
So all the people that you've seen me do albums with, or heard me do albums with, these are people that I respect as an artist. It's not really a dream list or anything where I've listed out these people I hope to work with. It just comes to me. Or the fans will be like, "You need to work with such and such," I've got that a lot. A lot of people were hitting me up, in DMs and on Twitter, like, "You need to work with Locksmith, you need to do an album."
This one dude's in my DMs right now, trying to take credit for this album. He's like, "I know it's me, I'm the reason why you made this CD with Locksmith!" I scroll up on his DMs, it is literally like, all this dude was sending me for the last two years was Locksmith videos and Locksmith songs and you need to do this with him. It was crazy when I looked up I was like, "Damn dog, you know it wasn't really because of you, but you might have put the bug in my ear a little bit, you might have been part of it."
As a producer I love to hold down whole albums, it's one of my favorite things to do.
You just mentioned that you kind of wish you added three more songs, is there gonna be a sequel to this? I think a lot of people are going to want more of this. So is it a possibility we'll see another one down the line?
Apollo Brown: There's always a possibility of that, bro.
Locksmith: Always, I mean yeah. I'm definitely down with that, if people want it.
Apollo Brown: Once I work with an artist, the door is always open, period. Once we do something together like this, my door is always open. Especially when the music came out as amazing as it did, and the chemistry is there and everything is just like, damn this is what I'm talking about. My door is always open.