The debut album from N.A.S.A. (an acronym meaning North America South America) pairs hip-hop hall of famers and alt-rock luminaries. No matter your musical taste, a quick glance at the list of collaborators yields the reaction “I gotta hear this!” Under the sturdy Brazilian and old-school beats of DJ Ze and Squeak E. Clean (otherwise known as pro skater Ze Gonzalez and hipster DJ Sam Spiegel), the worlds of some of rap’s most venerable and popular MCs collide with the likes of Tom Waits, David Byrne, John Frusciante, the Cool Kids and George Clinton.
One might expect a scattershot record splattered with too many styles to have a focus, but The Spirit of Apollo is almost disappointingly static. Luckily, it has a heck of a party beat shaking, and there is just enough flair from the guests (how could there not be?) to make it one of the best hip-hop albums in years. The straight-up hip-hop tracks bump hardest: Method Man and E-40 proclaim the meaning of “N.A.S.A. Music” in a Timbaland-esque number; KRS-One, Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre ride a sweet keyboard wave on old-school tribute “Hip Hop.”
Then there are the more eclectic collaborations. Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs moans a chorus about “being strange enough to change” around a previously unreleased Ol’ Dirty Bastard verse (about whatever it is ODB muses about). We discover that Tom Waits and Kool Keith draw from the same well of abstractions and sound pretty good together. Kanye West can’t stop bragging, but his dwindling flash still sizzles next to the mellow vox of indie songstress Lykke Li and the worldly flair of Santogold.
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The Spirit of Apollo is a fun record, and at times, it’s a record that lives up to the considerable “wow” it initially elicits.