Making one giant leap for music-kind, the rather unlikely N.A.S.A tag team of Squeak E. Clean (brother of acclaimed music video director Spike Jonze) and Zegon (Brazilian pro skater and former DJ for Planet Hemp) use The Spirit of Apollo as the launching pad to express an amalgamation of musical ideas. Bringing together different generations and sensibilities, N.A.S.A's sparkling debut brings back the personal and ritualistic experience of music listening. Taking listeners to a place where labels and categories fall at the wayside and instinct and enjoyment take precedence. A novel idea in an industry where everything is pre-packaged and every artist is boxed in to fit a target demographic, with fates decided by ageing music industry vets out of touch with what the general public is seeking.
It would have been easy, and highly profitable for the record company, to promote The Spirit of Apollo as another entry in Hip Hop's rekindled infatuation with electronic music, after all the lead single does feature chart-toppers Kanye West and Santogold doing their space-age thing over a synthesized concoction on Gifted. That is in addition to appearances from fellow boundary challengers M.I.A. and Spank Rock. But before you can say 808's and Heartbreak, N.A.S.A then hits you with Spacious Thoughts, where sandpaper-voiced Blues man Tom Waits links up with Hip Hop's original eccentric Kool Keith for something truly unique.
The musical kinship between Punk, Reggae and Hip Hop, which began in late 70s New York, is explored in the most organic of ways on the anti-consumerism anthem Money, which involves the mammoth talents of Public Enemy leader Chuck D (sounding better than ever), iconic Talking Heads' front-man David Byrne, the one and only DJ Z-Trip, dancehall/reggae performer Ras Congo and Brazilian musician Seu Jorge (who you may know from Wes Anderson's film The Life Aquatic). Chuck D particularly steals the show with inspired lines like "Go from rags to riches, to spending riches on rags."
Further proving that music fans are like one nation under a groove, the rather funky cut Theirs a Party, has Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5 fame) and legendary keeper of the funk George Clinton sounding like an absolutely natural pair. For rap purists, you will find sanctuary in the form of The Mayor, with the ridiculously diverse line-up of The Cool Kids, Ghostface Killah, Scarface and DJ AM, along with the explanatory Hiphop, featuring KRS-One and Pharcyde members Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre.
The Spirit of Apollo, while a little short of classic status, is really a likable and enjoyable album in every respect, there is not one track that would make you want to press the 'skip' button and the wide-spanning collaborations are so natural and the chemistry so tight you don't even notice the switches in direction. Expect to hear more from N.A.S.A in the future, if there is any justice. Truly a landmark album.
Available through Anti Records.