Who Are…Hassaan Mackey and Apollo Brown

Christina Lee

By Christina Lee

on 09.27.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: A mournful return to '90s boom-bap that doesn't lose a beat

From: Rochester (New York) and Detroit

Personae: Hassaan Mackey (vocals), Apollo Brown (production)

During the course of a casual conversation, Apollo Brown and Hassaan Mackey break out into song. (How long did they take to record Daily Bread, their first full-length collaboration? “Se-ven-ty two ho-urs,” Mackey playfully sings.) They trail off and reminisce about times when Little Brother was still together and when J. Dilla was alive.

But as Daily Bread unfolds, the producer and emcee shift their focus to a grim story of greater importance — of how Mackey’s already seen his mother, sister and brother die in his own Rochester, New York, neighborhood.

eMusic’s Christina Lee talked with Mackey and Brown about why their every career move is an act of preservation, and why Daily Bread gets so personal.

On why Apollo Brown will never give up his boom-bap beat:

The thing is, people are like, “This album’s real dope, that album’s real dope or whatever whatever’s dope — but I’ve heard it before, and it ain’t nothing new.” I take offense to that, ’cause I’m not trying to make anything new. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m not trying to create a new genre, I’m not trying to create a new sound. My whole career’s about preservation. My whole career’s about preserving the music that I love and have grown up to, and working with the emcees that I think are just unbelievable emcees. I’m a wholehearted fan; a fan, period. I’m just trying to preserve the sound.

On modern-day, radio-friendly rap:

Apollo Brown: I don’t involve myself in anything that doesn’t have feeling, period. A lot of the music nowadays to me is just sound and words. There’s no emotion, there’s no feeling. It’s just a bunch of producers making sounds — doop doop doop, doop doop, da doop.

On why Hassaan Mackey gets personal:

Hassaan Mackey: Although Daily Bread was made in 72 hours, a lot of energy went into this project. I basically flipped myself inside out, if you will. Not a whole lot of people know my personal story and it’s not like I’m trying to say, “Here’s me. Here’s Hassaan Mackey; this is what happened to me.” I’m just a human being having a human experience, and I know that other people have been grieving just like me. We’ve all been there. I always want to leave something more with the person, and to be able to have these opportunities, I’m always like, “Okay, cool.” I also shout out to my brother, because he was murdered last year. He was a good dude and was pretty much murdered for no reason. I would rather expose than hide behind what I’m doing, because someone has to do it. Everyone want to have fun, everyone want to make a banger, blah blah blah — that’s cool. But at the same time, you have to leave people with something concrete and tangible.

On “Mackey’s Lament,” which is about the sudden death of Mackey’s sister:

Mackey: Apollo would send me beats, and the beats would just tell me what to say. I’m in the studio, we here writing it, and I’m falling.

Brown: I remember you spit that “Mackey’s Lament” over the phone to me; it was the few songs we had that was already written. He spit it over the phone one day and I was just like, “This is unbelievable.” The way that he came up with this — well, he didn’t come up with his life story — but when he spit out his life story over such a dark beat, I was flabbergasted.

Mackey: That’s actually the way things played out, because I couldn’t tell anything different. It ain’t just stories for shock value — it’s real. And for you to be able to give me beats like that to rock over, to pull that out of me… that gets to me, man. I thank you for that, because I listen to it and I get like that. I get that feeling, man. I was bawling from this shit. To release the energy is crazy, because I listen to music from the standpoint of a fan. And it’s like damn — this story is tangible to the world right now. It’s not just me having these conversations with one of my cousins or my brother. I’m actually talking on wax to the world.

On the benefits of the one-producer, one-emcee relationship:

Brown: I’ve always been partial to the one-emcee, one-producer or one-group, one-producer situation — ever since the early ’90s. That’s how it used to be. Everything was cohesive.

Mackey: Everything is a good fit.

Brown: The songs all sound different, but you know it was all produced by the same person. If you hear a DJ Premier beat, you know you’re hearing it, period. And I like when people know an Apollo Brown beat; I like having beats scattered around on different albums — one joint here, two joints there, one joint everywhere. But my real passion comes from producing and holding down a whole record. I love making whole albums. When you start getting 15 songs from 15 different producers, the album is so — it’s just all over the place. I like cohesiveness, and I like consistency.

Mackey: I’m glad we got to do an album person-to-person, producer-to-emcee. That’s the Daily Bread sound — the boom-bap, soulful and gritty all the way through, the music always evolving.