“Thirty Eight sounds like Detroit transitioning from Heroin to Crack in the late 70s and early 80s.”
Apollo Brown’s Thirty Eight is a contemporary throwback, inhabiting the realm of reverent reinvention and innovation. It deftly bridges the gap between ’70s Blaxploitation soundtracks (e.g. Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye) and the hip-hop records that sampled from them.
The tracks on Thirty Eight are presented in gritty, heavily saturated Technicolor, the scratches and cigarette burns as purposeful as they are happily accidental. These are suites sounding from long barrels held by lone men lurking in grimy project hallways. Tinged with revenge and regret, shrouded in thick tendrils of hollow-point smoke, the songs have all the makings of an epic gangster tragedy. They’re also great when paired with anything Raymond Chandler.
Crackle and sample hiss run like electric current throughout, charging the record with a retro feel and resonant warmth. Yet these qualities are only secondary to Brown’s impeccable ear for instrumentation. Thirty Eight is full of funk, soul, jazz, blues, hip-hop, and everything in between. The bluesy guitar twang of slow-burner “Black Suits” and the lush, orchestral strings of “The Warning” are just two examples of the depth and diversity Brown brings to the table.
All singing on the album comes in the form of brief samples, some high-pitched and sped up, others left untouched. Taken together, they amount to glimpses of an emotionally affecting narrative, enabling the listener to fill in the plot and words between the booms and baps.
Brown enlists New York mercenary Roc Marciano for the soundtrack’s two features. With the sharpest of eyes and the frostbitten wit of a Polo clad hustler slanging in the dead of winter, Marciano delivers his best verses in recent memory, his vivid narratives perfectly suited for Brown’s soulful production.
Whether you buy a physical copy or download Thirty Eight digitally, don’t call it a beat tape. With this project Brown has created an expansive cinematic composition for the theatre of your mind. Listen, envision, and enjoy the show.