The title of Apollo Brown and Planet Asia’s new five song EP is a reference to the stitched-together sample loops that the producer (Detroit’s Apollo) uses to reframe Planet Asia’s street-reflective hustler bars. The “original” versions of these songs appeared on last year’s Abrasions, the full-length collaboration between Fresno, California’s Asia and the SP1200 worshipping Gensu Dean. Both producers in these endeavors are Mello Music Group artists and Planet Asia is an underground journeyman MC whose lyrical fundamentals fall into perfect line with MMG’s boom-bap revivalist stance.
Viewed from afar, then, the three principles involved in Abrasions: Stitched Up and the original Abrasions begin to swirl together in a self-referential ‘90s haze, the way much Golden Era evangelist rap created in the 21st century does. This isn’t necessarily a critique, but it does speak on the state of rap music as the genre celebrates its 40th (or so) year in existence. DJ Kool Herc beget DJ Premier who beget Gensu Dean. Apollo Brown, the youngest of these names, is a RZA disciple and, save for his knocking take on “Faces On The Dollar”, he applies a minimalist’s approach by trading Abrasion’s hard slaps for obscure soul loops on Stitched Up.
The RZA school of sample flipping usually involves finding enough character in the sampled material such that the instrumental part of the track offers just as much personality as whomever is spitting the bars. Wu rappers rise to the occasion nearly every time. Planet Asia, for all the great moments he’s had in a deep and practiced career, won’t ever cause you to forget the names of the Staten Island nine, so hearing him rap over a track like Apollo’s dense, meditative “God Hour” leaves you wondering why you’re not just revisiting similarly-minded Wu material like the Ghostface lament “I Can’t Go To Sleep” off The W.
That’s not to say Abrasions: Stitched Up is a waste of time. Planet Asia and Apollo Brown create an engaging, visceral menace on “Chuck Berry” (featuring Shawn Pen), and the rapper’s stark imagery of presidents speaking from beyond the grave on “Faces On The Dollar” shows why he’s had a nice run of success since the late ‘90s. Still, though, there’s a reason why the phrase “They don’t build ‘em like they used to” is uttered time and again: it’s because they don’t. The further away we get from rap’s ‘90s heyday, the more clearly rendered that decade’s classics become, and the easier it is to pass over lesser impersonators. It’s not out of bounds to say there will never be another RZA or DJ Premier; everything from here on out is just flattery.