N.A.S.A., "Spirit of Apollo"

N.A.S.A, Spirit of ApolloN.A.S.A.
Spirit of Apollo

In the late 1990s, a new phenomena proliferated through commercial hip hop. Deejays began releasing albums overloaded with guest vocals and uninspired tunes. If you were a fan of rap music it was hard to escape this constant barrage of “exclusive” albums. Most were 15 tracks too long and you could tell every emcee was more concerned about the paycheck than the rhymes.

So when I stumbled upon N.A.S.A.’s (North America South America) new disc, The Spirit of Apollo, I was skeptical. There seems to be at least two guests on every song. The duo, Squeak E. Clean from the United States and DJ Zegan from Brazil, didn’t ring any bells. I wondered if this was to be yet another slapdash disk of high-profile stars and low-profile music.

But “Spirit of Apollo” is not one of those disks. The album’s intro mixes precise scratching and laid-back bongos to welcome you to the party. It uses a parade of scratchy voices to explain the mission of the record–to bring the world together through music.

N.A.S.A. succeeds where most compilation albums don’t. I was surprised at the cohesion of each track. The songs seamlessly blend together making this a complete record, not just compilation. For all this cohesion, N.A.S.A. has made sure that the sounds aren’t stale. Each track could easily stand by itself but you also get the sense that they wouldn’t find a home anywhere but here.

Like DJ Shadow and RJD2 before them, N.A.S.A. seem to be true crate diggers. The music on this album comes from everywhere: East Coast rap, dancehall, dusty samples, Brazilian drums, all are melded together in a natural way.

The guest list is just as eclectic as the music. N.A.S.A. took the time to put together surprising collaborations that sound natural. On “Spacious Thoughts,” Tom Waits and Kool Keith craft their own version of music’s history. George Clinton brings his funk to “There’s A Party” as Chali 2na raps. “Way Down” combines John Frusciante’s haunting guitar with RZA’s slinking rhymes. As I listened to the music, I found myself wondering what these recording sessions were like.

And this might be the album’s biggest selling point, for unlike a mash-up artist like Girl Talk, N.A.S.A. isn’t sampling copyrighted songs. Spirit of Apollo is a studio album. These artists sat down together and generated original content. The result is a party record that the whole world can enjoy.