The Brown Tape

Apollo Brown / Ghostface Killah

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The Brown Tape Review

by Paul Simpson

As Ghostface Killah and producer Adrian Younge were working on the concept album Twelve Reasons to Die, the vocal tracks were given to Detroit beatsmith Apollo Brown for the purpose of creating an official alternate version. The track listing is identical (except that the instrumental title track is omitted), so the ambitious story line, heavily inspired by Italian giallo films, is fully intact, as are the guest appearances from fellow Wu-Tang members such as Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa. While Younge's live band production paid tribute to Ennio Morricone as well as RZA, and attempted to sound like a genuine film score, Brown's version sticks to the tradition of golden age hip-hop, with booming breakbeats, diced samples, and scratching. The original version is undeniably a colossal achievement in terms of production, concept, and overall presentation, but The Brown Tape proves to be just as worthwhile, and possibly an improvement in some aspects. Younge's arrangements, as impressive and complex as they are, can feel a bit samey after a while (particularly the drum sounds), and Brown's version has far more variety. He manages to find samples and breakbeats that match Younge's arrangements so well that one could easily assume that Brown's production is the original and Younge's is a cover version. A thick layer of vinyl crackle is heard throughout the album, and while some listeners might find it distracting or a gimmick that's over-relied on, it does greatly contribute to the album's atmosphere. Ultimately, it seems like Twelve Reasons to Die is meant to sound like a movie, while The Brown Tape is more of a purist rap album. It's up to the individual listener to decide which version works better, but they're both equally worth hearing. The Brown Tape certainly isn't an unnecessary rehash, and stands just as well on its own.

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