By Emma Roller
Although stoners have to rely on their imaginations when thinking of possible musical collaborations of their musical heroes in heaven, kids with a penchant for crisp rap and new-wave yelpers have found the earthly equivalent in The Spirit of Apollo, the debut album of L.A. disc jockey outfit N.A.S.A.
N.A.S.A. (North America South America) is comprised of DJs Squeak E. Clean, aka Sam Spiegel (and brother of director Spike Jonze), and DJ Zegon, aka professional skateboarder Ze Gonzales. Apollo has been six years in the making, and judging by the prestigious lineup on the album, it appears to have been six years well spent.
“The People Tree” blasts off with fat raps accenting David Byrne’s characteristic tin-ear chorus. Byrne continues on “Money,” this time with fellow veteran Chuck D providing the rhymes in between Ras Congo’s refrain, “Money is the root of all evil.”
“Way Down” gives listeners a break in the form of a down-tempo jam with haunting vocals from Barbie Hatch, some funky guitar and RZA presiding admirably over it all.
In “Four Rooms, Earth View,” Method Man explodes on the track with chants of “Wu! Tang! Wu! Tang!” followed by power chords, blips and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O topping it off with a raw, monotone refrain.
“Spacious Thoughts” employs Tom Waits’ Cookie Monster vocals, horn blasts and Kool Keith to throw the album back to a time period that never existed, one that is frankly a bit frightening.
“Gifted” lends a sufficiently danceable, euro-club beat supported by dark synths and sci-fi effects to Kanye’s boasts like, “I could never be too big for my britches.” Thankfully, Swedish indie darling Lykke Li takes the song’s ego down a notch with her airy chorus, while Santogold’s self-assured drawl adds subtle depth to the cut.
On “A Volta,” Amanda Blank plays the bad girl rapping in the bathroom alongside rasta ruffian Sizzla, who matches her line for line. Lovefoxxx, frontwoman for Brazil’s Cansei de Ser Sexy adds flavor with backup vocals.
Next, in “Whatchadoin?,” Spank Rock’s punishing rhymes meet M.I.A.’s whines about infidelity to create a banger almost as big as the infant that recently emerged from the woman’s burgeoning womb. Jungle beats and guitar licks courtesy of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner push the track over the edge to make it the best song on Apollo.
The album is downright exhausting by the time “The Mayor” rolls around—after all, one can only rock for so long. The requisite “this is a DJ track” police sirens and vinyl scratching don’t help, but Ghostface Killah’s kung fu sauciness is tempered well by The Cool Kids’ trademark mellow swagger.
“N.A.S.A. Anthem” ends the album as the intro began it, with a cheesy quote from a moonwalk voiceover: “When those two Americans stepped from on moon, the people of this world were brought closer together. And it is that spirit, the spirit of Apollo, that transcends geographical barriers and political differences.” A bit preachy, but it’s a nice closing sentiment nonetheless. Without the star-studded lineup, however, it never would’ve made it past liftoff.