(AllHipHop Features) Exactly 10 years ago, the Hip Hop world was formally introduced to Gregory “Skyzoo” Taylor. The then 23-year-old emcee out of Bed-Stuy hooked up with North Carolina producer 9th Wonder for the critically beloved project Cloud 9: The 3 Day High.
Skyzoo would spend the next decade dropping solo albums as well as other collaborative efforts with Illmind, Torae, and AntMan Wonder. Earlier this year, Sky journeyed to Detroit in order to once again create a masterful body of work with a single associate.
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The uber-compatible combination of rapper Skyzoo and producer Apollo Brown (born Erik Stephens) spawned a 15-track opus. While Sky spent a total of 10 days in the Motor City, it only took the duo a week to record what would become The Easy Truth album.
“Apollo was a little nervous because he didn’t know if we would have enough time to knock everything out. I said, ‘Nah, trust me.’ After six to seven days, we got fourteen to fifteen records done,” Skyzoo tells AllHipHop.com.
The quick turn around was a result of Skyzoo’s natural writing process that originally began with him penning his words into notebooks and eventually advancing to typing bars into his iPhone. He recalls 2009’s The Salvation being the final collection that has accompanying pages of lyrics.
Whether it's on a piece of paper or on a cellular device, every Sky line is written in the studio. The atmosphere of the recording space plays a vital part in what the lyricist recites into the microphone.
“I feel the emotion of the music live on the spot,” explains Skyzoo. “If I get excited about a beat and I write to it today but I'm not going to the studio for another three days, I don’t want to have to bottle up that enthusiasm, that emotion, that excitement and open it three days later.”
Similar to Skyzoo, Apollo is the owner of a résumé filled with musical releases conceived with various colleagues. O.C., Guilty Simpson, Planet Asia, Ras Kass, Rapper Big Pooh, Verbal Kent, and Red Pill have been the recipients of the Gemini XL-500 and Roland XP-50 generated beats from Brown.
Despite both of their open-mindedness to cooperation, the idea for a Skyzoo/Apollo Brown LP was not born from either creator. Social media followers pushed for the tag team to happen.
“Actually, the people told us to do it. They see me working with 9th Wonder and Illmind. They see Apollo working with O.C. and Guilty. They started hitting us on Twitter," Sky discloses. “Apollo texted me one day last year like, ‘I know you see all these tweets, bro.’ Every day we were getting tweeted by random people that don't know each other saying, 'Your next album should be with one another.'”
Prior to the conception of The Easy Truth, Skyzoo and Apollo Brown’s earliest interactions took place when both of their careers were still in its infancy. Sky tells the story of how an unknown Apollo sent him messages via Myspace back in 2006. Apollo remembers applying for a contest to get production placement with Sky around the same time.
The two would later cross paths at events such as the A3C festival in Atlanta and during tours. They finally worked together on tracks like "Got It From Here" off Skyzoo & Torae’s Barrel Brothers and “Neva Eva” off Apollo’s Grandeur.
Unlike those previous single-song collabs, The Easy Truth was not constructed by back-and-forth correspondence over the internet. Apollo has a “no email-album” policy. So when an artist is looking to unite to forge a long play product, only in-person sessions are acceptable for the Michigan native.
“I have to be in the studio with the person if I’m making an album,” says Apollo. “It’s one of the lost arts of Hip Hop. I understand technology has evolved, you don’t even have to know the person. It’s one of those things I want to keep around. At least for my career. I want him to see my face when he comes out of the booth after spitting a 16.”
The throwback crafting of tunes is a must for the Mello Music Group representative, but Brown is also quick to point out that he is willing to adjust when it comes to the actual making of the music.
“It’s not my album. It’s not his album. It’s our album. I made a lot of compromises on this album. He did too,” Apollo explains. “I think making this album, we made each other uncomfortable. That was one of our goals - to get the other person out of their box.”
Sky admits he blatantly confronts subject matter on The Easy Truth that has not been at the forefront of his prior projects. He still delves into the coming-of-age theme presented throughout his discography, but this time the wordsmith shines a light on topics he believes the Powers That Be attempt to disguise.
Drawing from real life occurrences, Sky uses Apollo’s soundscape as a canvas to paint lucid semi-biographical tales. The Easy Truth plays as an audio docu-series about the protagonist's expedition through urban America.
Skyzoo experienced a negative encounter with police officers as he was leaving the funeral services of Queens rapper Lionel “Chinx” Pickens last year. You can hear him express frustration with certain law enforcement practices on “One In The Same.”
Skyzoo was raised in Brooklyn, a borough that is now becoming the epicenter of a gentrified New York City. You can hear him question the results of the changing demographics in his hometown on “The Vibes.”
Skyzoo was raised in a world where many inner-city children are subconsciously taught to make bad decisions just to attain material items. You can hear him illustrate the dangers of uncontrolled desire on “Visionary Riches.”
Skyzoo has family members and friends that are incarcerated. You can hear him address the high recidivism rates associated with the criminal justice system on “Care Package.”
“I look at all the things going on in the world, from police brutality, gentrification, and everything going on in our society from a social standpoint, and I feel like a lot of things were being glanced over for a while,” states Sky. “It was an ‘easy truth.’ It was a way of saying, ‘There are some things happening out here in the world.’ No, there’s some real things happening out here in the world. Let’s really break down what’s going on.”
He continues, “There's nothing easy about the truth. It’s going to come at you for real.”
Another reality The Easy Truth subtly touches on is Skyzoo and Apollo Brown’s respective positions in the Hip Hop hierarchy. “Basquiat On The Draw” ends with a vocal sample describing 1980’s neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat as a painter having an underground feel that was not initially accepted in high art circles.
Apollo purposely selected the soundbite about Basquiat’s lack of acceptance to reflect his views on the relationship between particular rap performers and the mainstream audience.
“We can make amazing music, we can make some of the most heartfelt music, but we won’t have the open arms of the commercial world,” says Apollo about his underground Hip Hop brethren. “That’s like Basquiat. His paintings are going for $2 million, $3 million right now. But at the time he was considered an outcast, somebody who was making paintings that weren’t the norm or weren’t something people would necessarily hang on their living room wall.”
Brown adds, “I think that’s the same with us underground artists. Twenty years from now people are going to be like, ‘Yo, this dude was amazing. This group was amazing. This emcee was amazing.’”
Skyzoo has an interest in his final place in Hip Hop history as well. His music does cover the goal of building wealth - typically from a perspective that is different from the radio-friendly brand of rap - but future listeners’ responses to his art is just as valuable as the number of commas in his bank account.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t trying to get this bag. I’m definitely trying to do that. Success for me is that, but it’s also the legacy I leave behind as far as my music and the way people speak of me,” Sky says. His partner echoes that sentiment on the mark he wants to leave for subsequent generations.
“I don’t have to be the greatest producer ever. I don’t have to be everybody’s favorite producer ever. But if I can make an impact to where people are saying, ‘That dude is dope. He made amazing music that I can feel.’ That’s success to me,” conveys Apollo. “It’s not about how much money I make in this game, how many records I sell, how many times I'm on the radio, or how many placements I got on somebody else’s song. That’s not what it's about for me. It’s about making a long-lasting impact in music period.”
The Easy Truth is one more addition to the catalogs of Skyzoo and Apollo Brown that will certainly be revisited by die-hard Hip Hop fanatics for years to come. Like Sky suggests on the closing cut: “Go ahead and nod to it. I swear all the content is relatable… Just let it play its course.”
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Purchase a limited edition vinyl version of The Easy Truth on UndergroundHipHop.
Stream The Easy Truth below.
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