What happens when you combine one of hip-hop’s fastest rising producers with one of hip-hop’s favorite lyricists on one album? “Trophies.” Apparently they’ve already started handing them out even before this review. Some would say that’s arrogance, and some would say that’s justified, but most of all most would say that’s premature. After all Apollo Brown is pretty good, but he’s relatively new on the scene; and O.C. is pretty good, but his most important and venerated album came out almost TWENTY years ago. Could an album between the two possibly live up to the kind of hype its title implies, or is this overzealous salesmanship for a car that might actually turn out to be a lemon? There’s only one way to find out.

“E’rybody want they trophy.
What is that supposed to tell me that you did somethin?
I don’t need no God damn trophy or award or, recognition.
I do this shit cause I love to do this shit!
All these kids nowadays, all these – all these young people.
They gotta have some type of shiny material posession
or some shit that shows that they did somethin!
They gotta have a trophy, they gotta have an award.
They gotta have a nice lookin girl, and a
a nice car and some rims and a gold chain!
We don’t need to know that you done some shit – just do it!
God damn trophies.”

I don’t know name of the speaker on the opening (and titular) track, but he certainly sets the right tone for this album, by turning the title and the cover art right on its ear. Instead of being a boisterous declaration of what they deserve, “Trophies” instead becomes a wry joke with the punchline being they don’t get them and don’t WANT them either. The motto for this duo is creating worthwhile music and letting it speak for itself without the acclaim or the wealth, and if that creedo seems familiar it’s the same one O.C. so eloquently articulated on the song “Time’s Up” decades ago. If you haven’t heard it take the time to check out the video below, and when you come back we’ll continue this conversation.

Now then, “Trophies” is fifteen tracks (and one intro) of unapologetically unadulterated pure uncut hip-hop. There is no lacking in minerals, vitamins, iron or niacin in the presentation – this is the raw healthy organic hip-hop. Now that’s not to say it’s not well seasoned and artfully cooked – that’s what Apollo Brown does behind the boards. O.C. provides the ingredients lyrically, and AB sautees them up with butter until they are golden brown and delicious while still being healthy and nutritious. Do you doubt that something this good can also be good for you? In O.C.’s own words, “Prove Me Wrong”:

“From whence I came, express my pain
Shape and mold my frame, I go by the name of O.C.
my P/K/A when on stage
Plus in real life this here’s my government title
Idol to many, not the truth to naysayers
Been an avenue walker since British Walkers
Way before Obama was thought to be in office
Lost some friends in jail and some dead in a coffin
Way of life in music has since gone corporate
Picture the days past, now its a whole different portrait
Me dumb it down would be a sign of weakness
Throwin in the towel as Victor Ortiz did
Protect yourselves at all times, my guard’s up
Keepin the odds even with the flow and the bars up
The starchild leave ’em starstruck
Knowin an engine won’t run on its own without spark plugs”

The achingly beautiful instrumental by Apollo Brown is definitely that spark, but what I’d like to focus on in particular is one line by O.C. from that first verse: “Me dumb it down would be a sign of weakness.” THANK YOU. There’s absolutely no reason for O.C. to make a jiggy rap about flossing, trapping, and buying expensive whips in 2012. Not only would it be weak, it would be insulting, and I appreciate that he has the respect for both himself and his audience not to do that. He’s expert enough at flowing and writing rhymes that it would sound credible if he suddenly turned hustler or pimp, but even if it would sell more records he won’t go that route. It may be that it limits the size or scope of the audience for “Trophies,” but it certainly doesn’t limit the quality.

Often times when you buy an album, the song titles can be completely unrelated to the subject matter contained within, but “Trophies” doesn’t make that mistake. “Angels Sing” is a literally biblical track where O.C. says he’s “taking on the role of Van Helsing” and his “holy water’s in the Polish Spring bottle” for him to ward off evil. Apollo Brown’s melody carries him to these heights even as O.C. warns us “everything you hear ain’t the truth/stop relying on the reverends preaching from the pulpits.” The “Disclaimer” is even more literal – you’re warned that this is music that packs one HELL of a wallop and that when “hip-hop is in the building, no security can stop it.” Is O.C. the “People’s Champ” of hip-hop? Even The Rock would have to agree after hearing the song. “We the People” is a declaration alright – a declaration of quality rap music for the people, by the people, indivisible with boom bap for all.

So many hip-hop discs or downloads come and go with the statement that they’re potentially “album of the year” that the phrase loses what little meaning it might have and becomes just another useless platitude from a naive publicist or unqualified reviewer. Let me state for the record that it’s not a phrase I use lightly like that, and for that reason I’m NOT going to use it here given we’ve got over six months left in 2012 and there’s no way to know what we’ll all hear between then and now. Let me also state that if in six months time I don’t hear anything better than “Trophies,” it might turn out to be the case that “album of the year” wouldn’t have been strong enough. It’s hard to imagine somebody who grew up with the golden era of hip-hop not absolutely loving this album, and that might be the only problem. Perhaps in 2012 people would rather hear Joell Ortiz or T.I. on these beats. Perhaps they’d even do a great job, since Apollo’s majestic production would inspire already good writers to greater heights, but for me having heard the totality of “Trophies” I can’t imagine any team other than Apollo Brown and Omar Credle creating something this appealing, with DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles coming a VERY close second.

Apollo Brown & O.C. :: Trophies
10Overall Score