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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released March 30, 2018 | Mello Music Group

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Jean Grae is surely the most talented female rapper of her times. On the scene for over twenty years, she has always been in the forefront of what has sometimes been called alternative rap, alongside Talib Kweli, Mr. Lif and 9th Wonder. Her music is set apart by her gobsmacking technique, her constant research, and an unparalleled sense for mockery. At her side, Quelle Chris is an extremely creative all-rounder who takes great pleasure in subverting established conventions, whose roots are in J-Dilla’s Detroit. The major thing he shares with Jean Grae is a heightened sense of independence, a determination to follow his one’s path. They are both lodging in today’s best label for independent innovation: Mello Music Group.The encounter of tradition and experimentation brings a multitude of colours to Everything is Fine. Full of improvisations that verge on free jazz and analogue distortions, Quelle Chris’s production and Jean Grae’s ideas open up a mysterious space. Jean Grae takes centre stage lyrically with lines that always contain the right dosage of cynicism and a regal performance, in particular on the bouncing “Gold Purple Orange”. Quelle Chris always punctuates these bravura sequences with his own deep and enveloping voice, adding a different flavour with a ludic touch. The boundaries are fluid. Over a psychedelic rock breakbeat, the duo indulge themselves and invite offbeat comedian Hannibal Buress onto “Ohsh” for a pitch-perfect sparring match.In fact, contrary to what the title says, nothing’s going well, everyone knows it, and the duo uses this double discourse to develop some very intelligent little pieces on the nature of happiness. By working on the idea of “wellbeing” in the modern world, they create some often-dystopian vaudevilles recalling the finest hours of MF Doom, Cage and Run The Jewels. These echoes sound the loudest on the labyrinthine “Zero”. With some very filmic synths, the album closes on some lighter notes, in particular drawing on some brilliant turns from Anna Wise. Very profound, Everything’s Fine is a masterpiece among the output of these two artists; it’s a joyful meeting between two rebellious spirits whose content is sure to inspire reflection on a number of subjects in our societies – while having a lot of fun with the form. © Aurélien Chapuis/Qobuz  
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 29, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Concluding an astonishingly productive decade which brought collaborations with Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Joell Ortiz, and countless others, beatmaker Apollo Brown penned a love letter to his home city with the expansive, masterful Sincerely, Detroit. The album's guest list includes what seems like practically the entire Detroit rap scene, or at least everyone within Mello Music Group's orbit, including Guilty Simpson, Boog Brown, Crown Nation (Quelle Chris and Denmark Vessey), and Chris Orrick. As with Brown's previous top-billed albums like The Reset and Grandeur, the producer has such a focused artistic vision that it's just as cohesive as his collaborations with a single MC, and it never feels like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Simply put, he knows exactly the right people to work with, and how to channel their energies into deeply inspired, powerful work. Brown's productions are heavy on vintage soul -- several tracks begin with a slow, weepy sample seemingly grabbed from a scratchy old 45 or a late-night radio broadcast. He then flips them into meticulously crafted beats, with some edits approaching microhouse-level precision, yet it never sounds cluttered or random, and there's always plenty of room for the emcees to shine. The lyrics, as to be expected, are all informed by the struggles of daily life, touching on pressing issues such as denial of medical care and the city's ever-growing gentrification, as well as the rappers' personal concerns, related to mental health or loss of loved ones. Still, even as some of it gets intensely soul-searching, there's no shortage of confidence on display, and highlights like the mighty Slum Village's "All Day" and "What Up" (featuring 87, One Be Lo, and A Minus) are absolutely triumphant. The album is a testament to the strength of Detroit's hip-hop scene, as well as Apollo Brown's brilliance. ~ Paul Simpson
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Soul - Released May 17, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 26, 2018 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released September 20, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released February 24, 2017 | Mello Music Group

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As with every Oddisee record, The Iceberg adheres to a high concept; in this case he's taking aim at the tendency to accept surface-level information and forget about underlying complexities. Much to his credit, and possibly disdain, the entire album can be enjoyed for its musicality alone; his production skills are on point as always, if a little less organic and broader-sounding than the more overtly jazz-leaning Odd Tape. However, much like an actual iceberg, the album's true mass lies in the underlying message, which Oddisee actively encourages the listener to consider -- see opening track "Digging Deep" -- and ultimately invest in for greater reward. Both approaches to The Iceberg seem appropriate by design; Oddisee's keen ear for both vocal and melodic hooks becomes something of a test, a challenge even, to divide those who critically analyze and those who just want to hear a good beat. With a surface that sounds this smooth and soulful, it's easy to imagine casual listeners -- particularly those who aren't aware of Oddisee's worldview -- accepting it at face value. This is no more exemplified than by second track "Things," with its uplifting tempo and catchy chorus belying the lyrical plea to remember that we all have relative problems to deal with. Oddisee has always had a reputation for personal honesty, and even though this album finds him tackling many prevalent issues (Islamophobia, police brutality, Donald Trump), every message is conveyed from that same personal perspective. This isn't Oddisee making the issues all about himself, though; if anything, the opposite is true, as he openly muses about the limitation of perspective with "If I was last in line I'd probably be the first to whine." Lending to that singular vision is the relative lack of collaborations, the prevalence of which has become something of a trope in hip-hop. Instead, Oddisee's all-round strengths as producer, mixer, and lyricist make for a more cohesive record, allowing for his personality and message to shine that much brighter. As a side effect, this gives the two present collaborators, Toine and Olivier St. Luis, greater emphasis, making them symbiotic to the overall vibe of The Iceberg. Despite the potential for broader appeal, it's something that Oddisee has never been that interested in; for a start, he defines success based on his own terms (an attitude that by all means is the right one to adopt). The result is a finely crafted niche that allows for Oddisee to sound off on his personal perspective, have all the creative freedom he could desire, and make a decent living in the process. Whether you're along for the ride based on aesthetics alone, or because of a deep relation to the lyrics, with The Iceberg everybody wins. In reality, however, Oddisee's point remains: we need to stop reacting to surface-level events and start analyzing the causes instead; it's the only way things will change. ~ Liam Martin
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 13, 2016 | Mello Music Group

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Released during an extremely busy year for the producer/rapper -- with one EP and an LP also dropped on shelves -- The Odd Tape is Oddisee's beat tape for 2016, but by no means should it automatically come in third. The left-field Brooklyn-based producer does much to elevate the all-instrumental niche of beat tapes with this cool slice of jazz and soul, much of it smooth and soulful and none of it sounding like demos in search of an MC. The mistitled opener "Alarmed" sounds like a superior Earl Klugh cut from the '70s, while the stuttering vocal samples on the great "No Sugar No Cream" finally convince the listener that this is Oddisee behind the boards and not some organic beat combo wearing flares and dashikis, and jamming late into the night. "On the Table" touches upon deep house in a more chilled version of the releases found on the Naked Music label, and "Out at Night" brings reminders of the retrograde and exotica revolutions of the mid-'90s, as lush strings dance about, then break into shards as they fly by. The closing piece, "Still Sleeping," evokes a sentimental song that has faded from memory, where just a few riffs and the overall mood are all that remain, and it all plays out in an order that feels right, like a fully designed LP rather than just a demo reel of beats. Highly recommended for returning fans, aspiring producers, and those who desire a cooled, soul-filling background mix. ~ David Jeffries
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 24, 2016 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 15, 2018 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 25, 2010 | Mello Music Group

A fast-rising beatmaker from out of Detroit, Apollo Brown introduced his brand of soul-flavored, sample-heavy production on two instrumental albums -- Skilled Trade (2007) and Make Do (2009). Now inducted into the ranks of respected indie rap label Mello Music Group, Brown adds some tweaks and twists to a selection of beats from his archives, pairing them with choice vocals from labelmates such as Kenn Starr, Oddissee, Declaime, and Hassaan Mackey as well as a handful of underground mainstays like Prince Po, Grap Luva, and Big Pooh of Little Brother. The result is an extraordinary hodgepodge of next-level lyricism and impeccable behind-the-boards craftsmanship. Detroit's underground hip-hop scene has received renewed scrutiny in recent years with the passing of J Dilla as well as commendable efforts from Guilty Simpson and Black Milk, among others. What sets Apollo Brown apart is that, unlike some of his Motown brethren who tend to follow Dilla's beatmaking formulas to a T, Apollo Brown shows he can excel at a variety of production styles. And while James Yancey's legacy can be heard at times, it's clear that Brown was raised on the works of East Coast masters like the RZA and DJ Premier. The beats featured on The Reset waffle between brooding slow burners ("Lower the Boom," "Seasons," "Brainwash," "Propa") and soaring, battle-happy headnodders ("Hungry," "Streets Won't Let Me Chill," "Ghetto Soul Music"). Furthermore, he displays a meticulous attention to detail in his programming that's too rare in contemporary hip-hop. Consider how the chunky bassline and crisp drums of "Real Detroit" are given an adrenaline rush with the addition of baseball bat cracks and roaring crowd samples when the chorus drops. Similarly, the jazzy guitar chords and echoing vocals lingering behind "Seasons" provide a haunting backdrop to Kansas-born lyricist Stik Figa's woeful vignettes of his home state. Ultimately, The Reset shows and proves Apollo Brown's mettle as a versatile and highly talented beatsmith while serving as a fine showcase for the Mello Music Group roster. ~ Matt Rinaldi
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released September 30, 2016 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 4, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released April 21, 2015 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 12, 2012 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 23, 2015 | Mello Music Group

"There are Madlib-esque moments of abrupt soundbite drop-ins, narrative or otherwise, some of which -- like the 34-second anti-police-brutality interlude 'Justice (Brotherhood & Understanding) -- provide a deeper emotional core."
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 21, 2013 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released April 28, 2015 | Mello Music Group

Mixing the bright retro soul of Aloe Blacc with the literate and alive lyrics of Kendrick Lamar, underground rapper Oddisee's work is more persuasive than usual on his 2015 LP The Good Fight, an excellent album that strives to crossover but doesn't pull any punches. That crossover bit comes from the music's endless supply of grooves and hooks that can lock the listener into place, but these aren't beats built for just the lowest common denominator, as "Book Covers" creatively unfurls with a singalong intro somewhere between a gospel choir and Tony! Toni! Tone! Still, the intro's lyrics, "Don't judge a book by its cover if you don't even read/There's no shame in saying that you're not up to speed" are quintessential Oddisee. The kinetic "Counter-Clockwise" sticks in the head after a first encounter, and yet it's a complicated song full of strife with a layered argument that haters across the world aren't helping matters much. "Want Something Done" is a luminescent blast of retro soul that fights the good fight with "I'm a new angel and they only want the old demons" being aimed at the music industry, adding "if you've got a message in your records then you're collecting dust" in an ironic manner, as this is Oddisee's tenth album in just seven years. He may be prolific, but he certainly isn't spread too thin, as The Good Fight is inspired, infectious, and artistically grand. ~ David Jeffries
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released August 25, 2017 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released January 26, 2018 | Mello Music Group

In 2013, Ghostface Killah recorded Twelve Reasons To Die with producer Adrian Younge. The result: a distillation of groove, an unprecedented orgy of sharp rap and vintage soul. But the Wu-Tang Clan rapper also asked producer Apollo Brown to concoct an alternative version of this album. Dubbed The Brown Tape, it only came out on cassette tape… Five years later, this rarity has officially surfaced - and so much the better! Not least because Ghostface has brought together several Wu-Tang colleagues like Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, Cappadonna and RZA are also the narrators here. Behind this concept album that's packed with gangsters, treachery and crime in general, the Detroit producer has thought up a framework that's even dirtier and more punchy than the original. A soundtrack that fits perfectly to Ghostface's prose and his unique flow, which owes more to Wu-Tang than to Twelve Reasons To Die! And what if RZA had produced this Brown Tape all on his own? © MZ/Qobuz
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released March 1, 2011 | Mello Music Group

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Mello Music Group in the magazine