Review Summary: Back to the essence...
To anyone paying attention in recent years, Mello Music has been quietly establishing themselves as one of the most exciting labels in hip-hop. With a roster consisting of yU, Has-Lo, and Oddisee among others, their emphasis is constantly on hip-hop that looks backwards to the genre's golden era while still moving forward. Their secret weapon is Apollo Brown, a producer who contributes to many albums on the label, and who also has a few great solo albums under his belt. "Trophies" teams Brown up with OC, an MC who's been in the game for twenty years, creating one of the hidden gems of the 90s with Word...Life
. Together, the two have combined their abilities to put out one of the better hip-hop albums of 2012.
The album makes its intentions clear right from the intro, which emphasizes creating hip-hop for personal satisfaction over recognition. They're aware they aren't creating an album that will blow up the charts, but instead creating something they can personally be proud to have created. From there, the duo pumps out 15 tracks of head-nodding, nineties-inspired hip-hop. There are no guest-spots, so OCs considerable skills as an MC are on full display. Opening track "The Pursuit"--with lyrics continuing the theme of the intro over Brown's piano-based beat layered with scarred-soul samples--helps set the tone of the album. OCs lyrics are top-notch throughout, made more impressive by the fact that he's doing all the heavy-lifting lyrically.
Still, the secret weapon of the album is Brown. Taking cues from RZA to Pete Rock all while managing to never feel derivative, he pulls of quite a tight-rope act. He makes some interesting production choices, among them being "The First 48", which samples Cream's "The White Room", and the nearly drum beat-less "Signs". On "Walk On", he samples the oft-used Isaac Hayes version of "Walk On By", only he flips it on its head by using it as a foundation for the song instead of the basis of the whole track. He even recycles his own "The 11th Hour" (from his album Clouds
) on weed anthem "Anotha One".
With "Trophies", everyone involved manages to continue to do what it is they do well. OC keeps the album afloat with his lyricism, Brown makes it listenable with his beats, and Mello Music maintains its reputation as one of the best labels in hip-hop. It should come as no surprise to anyone who's followed any of the aforementioned that the album is good. And to those who aren't familiar with any of the above, if you're looking for a hip-hop album that feels nostalgic while still being fresh, there isn't a release this year that will satisfy that sweet-spot much more than this one.