- Mon, 2011-07-25 12:42
Independent Arizona-based hip hop label Mello Music Group is fast becoming a major force on the U.S. underground, issuing release after release by top quality emcees and producers. Their latest project sees two of their charges combining forces; Detroit’s prodigious beat-maker Apollo Brown and New York emcee Hassaan Mackey, whose debut album Soul For Sale marked him out as one-to-watch back in 2007. The fruit of their combined labours is the new album Daily Bread.
Brown’s production work on Daily Bread is flawless. Sample-based throughout, he has opted to draw exclusively from late ‘60s and early ‘70s soul records. The warm crackle of vinyl permeates the entire album, as do the exquisite strings, subtle trumpets and simple but resounding bass-lines that characterise that period of soul’s history, all underpinned by heavy boom-bap beats. Of the tracks that he has chosen to work with a handful are well-known, but he frequently opts for a less well-remembered version of the track, rather than its most famous rendition. Going In Circles, for example, provides the sample for the track Elephants, but Brown doesn’t appear to use either The Friends Of Distinction’s original or the Isaac Hayes cover. Such decisions, along with Brown’s talent for manipulating his raw material, makes the album feel both classic and novel at the same time.
Brown doesn’t just provide a great atmosphere with his production; he contributes to Mackey’s narrative as well. At several points on the album he drops in lines of dialogue from classic Blaxploitation films of the ‘70s. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Superfly, The Mack and The Education Of Sonny Carson all feature, helping to indicate the sort of subject matter that is being addressed; the struggle to make a success of oneself having grown up in difficult circumstances.
As far as inspiration for hip hop lyrics go, it’s hardly original territory, but Mackey succeeds in making it his own. First and foremost, his flow is excellent. Heavily assonant, the high degree of internal rhyming makes for a very smooth delivery that sounds consistently effortless. Beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, though his lyrics may deal with well-covered topics he always offers a sufficient level of personal detail to ensure that he has authenticity.
On Dollar Hill Bill, for example, he remembers freestyling in the lunch hall to beats sounded out on the table, and on Megaphone he recalls his grandma’s disappointment in him when he got in trouble with the police. He is equally comfortable exploring personal loss; both his own and that of others. On Something he dwells on a relationship that never quite happened with a girl that he loved, and her subsequent death, while Mackey’s Lament tells the story of another girl whose alcoholism and destructive relationships also lead to a tragic end.
It is The Note and Like A Diamond, however, that offer the real key to understanding Mackey as an emcee. The former expresses his disdain for mainstream rappers who care about money more than their art - “[they] put the paper above pride of the pen” – and for major labels: “labels turn tables, it’s you versus them.” The latter completes that thought, explaining that Mackey raps for himself and no-one else: “written in my own world for my own view.”
Daily Bread is an excellent album. Hassaan Mackey is an accomplished, interesting and personable emcee who captures and maintains your attention with ease. Apollo Brown, however, is the real star of the show, his impeccable choice of samples and skilled production ensuring that every song sounds like an instant classic.