Apathy has come a long way, from being signed to a major label like Atlantic without a single release to recording a succesful debut on an indie label and now working with legends of boombap like DJ Premier. The 90s throwback champion has just released his new album ‘Honkey Kong’ and TRU had an engrossing conversation with him about the ups and downs of his career.
Your album has a real 90s boombap feel to it, with rough bragging and boasting mixed with more concept-driven songs throughout, similar to your previous work. What stood out to me on this one though, is the hight amount of more personal tracks like ‘Check To Check’ or ‘It’s Only Hip-Hop’ and ‘I Dedicate This To You.’ What brought you to share these aspects of your personal life?
As far as my albums I’ve always been heavy into integrating a lot of personal stories. Like on ‘Eastern Philosophy’ I had the song ‘I Remember’ where I discussed my life and how I first came up and then on ‘Wanna Snuggle?’ there were three or four songs that were super-personal to me. Whether it was about females I was dating or family matters like ‘Hard Times On Planet Earth’ where I was having a direct conversation with my parents, thanking them for putting up with my stuff. I think that on every album and throughout my career I found it very important to be autobiographical and discuss my life and what’s important to me. I think it might be shining through now more than usual only because the older I get, the deeper life becomes, the more serious it becomes, and you tend to reflect that better the older you get. So it’s always been there, it’s just a little more highlighted and poignant now.
You mentioned ‘Wanna Snuggle?,’which initially passed a lot of people by, me included, while ‘Eastern Philosophy’ was well-received by both fans and critics alike. Do you have any idea why ‘Wanna Snuggle?’ flew under the radar for so many people?
At the time of ‘Eastern Philosophy’ I was still signed to Atlantic Records and the album was worked by Babygrande, so I think during the time of ‘Wanna Snuggle?’ we didn’t have our skills at marketing down independently, as much as we do now. Like now, I relate to my fans more, I have more marketing strategies and skills in place. That’s unfortunate too, because that album, to me, ‘Wanna Snuggle?’ is a masterpiece. If you really listen to it and listen to what I was doing on there, I mean, I had a song on there with B-Real from Cypress Hill that sounded like a ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’ throwback type of thing, produced by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, there were just a lot of really good records on there. But we didn’t have our strategies and our marketing and our ideas down pat like we do now. And I think one of the reasons this album is so anticipated now, is because of the heavy line-up. On ‘Wanna Snuggle?’ I definitely fell back from having a lot of outside guest appearances and a lot of outside production. It was primarily me and my crew and then a couple guest appearances here and there.
Why did your deal with Atlantic Records fall through in the first place?
They just wanted me to do stuff that I wasn’t willing to do, and we couldn’t come to terms. They wanted me to change my whole style and everything I stood for and if I would’ve done that I would’ve lost everything I’d worked for. So I decided not to do that and put out the music that I wanted to put out and maintain the images that I wanted to put out. Because of that they just fell back from me and I fell back from them and I asked for a release. It took them a little while and then they gave it to me.
You probably wouldn’t have sounded right over those Lupe Fiasco type beats anyway.
Nah, not at all. I feel real bad for Lupe ‘cause he’s a phenomenal MC, and I know he’s dealing with the stress from Atlantic, a lot of the stress from major label shit. I hate to see that because that dude is so monstrous and I would love for him to be able to make the album that he wants to make 100%.
Did you run into a trouble recording for two labels simultaneously? I can imagine you being hyped for a certain song you created for ‘Eastern Philosophy’ but both labels not necessarily agreeing with that vision.
The thing is that Atlantic allowed me to license that, at the time Atlantic owned that record but they allowed me to license it to Babygrande. They wouldn’t have had anything to do with that record anyway, it’s far too underground and would’ve cost them a trillion dollars to clear all those samples that I had on there. Looped samples and cut samples and everything, that would’ve been like a million dollar album.
So putting it out on Babygrande made it fly a bit under the radar and not have people notice all the samples on there?
In the years after you put out your album on Babygrande a lot of artists ran into conflict with the label, like Talib Kweli and Jean Grae for whom they released albums without their prior knowledge or consent. How was your experience on Babygrande?
My thing with them is that they were definitely control freaks. There were guys who wanted to control everything on the album, down to artwork, shit like that, and I had to remind them that it was just a licensing deal, even though they had exclusive licensing. We had to come to terms on some shit but I didn’t have any nightmares that my peers did. I got a phenomenal amount of money of that album, and I got it upfront. I never had to wait for them, or deal with them on any bullshit. So I don’t like the shit that they did to my friends and my peers but I can’t say that they did anything really, to me. Babygrande invested a lot of money into promoting the album and doing things like making the ‘Winter’ video, so I really can’t complain.
You’re a rhymer with a knack for hardhitting, traditional east coast beats and heavy punchlines. You would’ve sounded right at home in the mid to late 90s. Do you ever get the feeling you were born in the wrong era?
Celph and I have conversations like that all the time. Maybe we could’ve been the first Eminem as far as being accepted as white but at the same time being white at that point in time had a horrible stigma attached to it. We don’t know how people would’ve received us. If we were born in a different era it would’ve been dope, there would’ve been a lot of dope aspects about it but at the same time it’s too hard to say what would’ve happened. But I’ll tell you what, I would’ve loved to have a crack at it. I would’ve loved to try and see to have an album out in ‘94, ‘95, with production from the greats and the legends at their heyday, just have a crack at it in that time.
Well, you did take a crack at working with some of them eventually. Muggs from Cypress Hill produced a track on ‘Honkey Kong’ and so did one of the biggest legends of that time, DJ Premier. How did working with him feel?
Premier has just gone from someone who I started working with to someone I consider a homie. Premier is one of the most stand-up, cool, real dudes I have ever met in the industry. He’s just an exceptional person, man. It’s unreal how cool he is to work with and just be down with. Sometimes it bugs me out and I have to remind myself how lucky I am, and how crazy it is that I work with this guy. It’s an absolutely phenomenal thing.
Apathy – Stop What Ya Doin’ f. Celph Titled (prod. DJ Premier)
Your last album prior to this one was released three years ago. With today’s breakneck pace in hip-hop, with new songs and mixtapes readily available everyday, did you ever worry about not getting your name out enough?
No, here’s the thing, I refuse to be one of those guys who just floods people with release after release. If something happens and my name fades because of that I don’t really give a f*ck because I’m not going to choose quantity over quality. I don’t want to be one of those guys who’s like ”Damn, I gotta start throwing some shit out there.” I don’t want to ever become that. I’m never gonna do that, man, I’m never gonna be that guy. I refuse to. I don’t care what happens or what circumstances come about, I’m not f*ckin’ with that.
So when you do record a freestyle or a track to somebody else his beat or flip that record, what compels you to do those?
The thing that inspires me the most is classic beats. Once in a while I can just f*ck around and be fed with something that’s going on in society like when I did the Kanye thing, but every once in a while I get really inspired by old school stuff. Like I just did the Mobb Deep ‘Eye For An Eye’ beat and there’s other times where I rock over the Gza’s ‘Liquid Swords’ beats, and it’s just whatever I listen to or feel at the time. But most of it is old classics, that’s what’s my era, that’s my favorite time period, that’s the most important shit to me so that’s what I do the most.
Apathy – Word To The 23d
With the shape that the music industry is in right now, it’s a lot harder to actually sell records, but there are also a lot more promotional venues open to artists from the start.
Yeah, but that’s also a double-edged sword because you got a lot of dudes who don’t pay dues like we used to back in the day. Or artists who don’t deserve the exposure, but because they can either buy it or just flood things, flood the internet and the market, people think they’re poppin,’ so it’s false. People are stupid, they’re like “Wow, I see this guy everywhere so he must be dope” and go to his shows and get his shit just because everybody else likes him. It’s not a legitimate sense of “Yeah, I’m feeling this, this guy is stepping up above everybody else.” It’s trendy to like music now. It’s trendy to like what’s popular. There’s people who just follow an artist, specifically just ‘cause they’re buzzin’ not because they’re making good shit. They’re like “Damn, well,everybody else likes him, there must be something that I’m missing.”
‘Honkey Kong’ has its fair share of brag ‘n boast and battle raps but is interspersed with more concept-driven and storytelling songs throughout. Did you spend a lot of time on the sequencing?
I was very deliberate about the sequencing of the album. Because of that, there are songs on ‘Primate Mindstate,’ which is the EP that comes with it, that were supposed to be for the album. Like, I got a Moss beat, God knows I would’ve loved to put that on the album but the most important part of the album to me was the sequencing. I wanted it to be cohesive, to all have a certain flow to it, so there’s some songs that got chopped off the album. I got a song with Bishop Lamont that’s not on the album, specifically because I wanted it to flow a certain way, and that song just didn’t fit into the mix. So I made a lot of decisions like that and figured out a lot of what I wanted to do based solely on the sequencing of the album.
At what point would you consider the album a success?
I think it’s successful when people are feeling it and when the fans feel I’ve delivered them a classic. If I sell, that helps me out because I can continue doing this as a job, but the thing that’s most rewarding to me, is the fans liking it, critics liking it, people saying “Ap got these guys on songs and it doesn’t sound random, it sounds cohesive, some classic shit, something that has replay value.” That’s successful to me. When I work with legends, dudes who I look up to and love and admire, and they co-sign me. Those dudes I look up to saying “Yo, Ap’s album is incredible.” That’s what means the most to me.
Apathy’s ‘Honkey Kong’ is out now.