An old great retreading old ground.
Once you start digging into the underground of rap you begin to find this time capsule of raw talent. A lot of artists, older than average, spitting with the same ferocity and slickness of the 90’s- and they’re aware of this. The “golden era is best era” stigma is still very much alive with these acts. And no one exemplifies this more than rapper Apathy. The guy’s a rapper’s rapper: bold, hard-hitting punchlines, incredibly tight rhyme schemes, hell, he still drops “faggot”s like it was the 90s. Along with the Rugged Man, these two are some of my idols when I write my own shit; they might be stuck in a bygone era but their talent is as great as ever. Apathy has had his own run of mixtapes and albums, most recently were 2 albums acting as homage to his Connecticut and New England roots. New album Handshakes With Snakes breaks away from those ideas and aims to deliver a traditional Apathy album with collaborators old and new.
Handshakes begins with a crowd-cheering intro into first track “Pay Your Dues” flipping obscure Busta Rhymes sample and The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”. It’s weird. The Supremes’ vocals are more heavily used and don’t exactly mesh well with the darker tone of the production, they’re just too bubbly and cheery, and it takes a while for the mix to settle in. The sampling takes the floor for the first minute alongside brooding pianos and succinct percussion. Apathy soon jumps in dishing out all kinds of shade to
newer generations of rappers saying how
“Everybody wanna rap, but nobody wanna work”
(hence the title). Between the constant berating of the new age, he does shout out rappers like Kendrick and Cole, but warns, “you can’t replicate the greatness of a star”. The rhyming is a bit simplistic and so are the lines. The criticisms aren’t all that new in Apathy’s corner of the rap world and fail to hold up the verses. The most interesting it gets is the endearing insinuations towards Apathy’s own struggle, like a bitter old man angry at all these new stars getting rich and famous so quick while he had to put in years of work.
Follow-up “Amon Raw” features long-time friends Celph Titled and Pumpkinhead. Apathy and Celph hold ground over strings and hard drums but Pumpkinhead comes through at the end to body both, which makes sense as Ap gives a few softly spoken words to honor the rapper who passed away last year. “Rap Is Not Pop” follows as Ap’s hand begins to show. Even though he’s clearly improved with much more laugh-worthy punchilines and the occasional delve into layered internal rhyme in the middle of a verse, the content of these albums is becoming paint-by-numbers. If you’ve listened to Apathy in the past, you’ve already heard most of this album. Again, his rapping has definitely improved, but I can’t help roll my eyes as he covers the same ground over and over again. Thankfully, there are some tracks on here that stray just a bit. “Don’t Touch That Dial” features eerie, Captain Murphy-like production with Ras Kass and Apathy rapping their assess off. Apathy hits line after line harder than the last and I had a huge, dumb smile on my face listening. The hook leaves a little to be desired, but it’s quick and Ras Kass immediately jumps in with ferocity. It’s nice to hear from O.C. again. The man makes another appearance later and both are solid verses that prove he’s been cooking up some talent of his own.
Producer Oh No tackles the Peanuts-themed “Charlie Brown” with Apathy getting a
little introspective, which is pretty new to his work. He retreads some of his career and childhood, likening himself to Charlie Brown when he’s feeling down. Now, near the middle of the album is track “Attention Deficit Disorder” and it has to be the most jarring track and most experimental Apathy has gotten in a while. If you know the guy you know he doesn’t deviate from his standard book of flows. His flow is just a means to a punchline or a jab at new-aged rappers. So when the track started I got a palpable sense of whiplash hearing Apathy rap fast and still keeping all the tight rhyme schemes. It’s incredibly refreshing, although accompanied with another weak hook that gets flipped into the opening bars of the next verse. “No Such Thing” continues the high with some fantastic boom-bap production and samples. “Run for Your Life” opens with O.C. bursting out the gate hot over electric guitar loops and live drums. Apathy delivers one of the best verses and even the hook is pretty damn good with a chorus of female vocals.
Ap returns with another fast, inventive flow on “Moses” with Bun B and Twista. I’m a huge fan of Twista and his features and he does not disappoint. The mixing is a bit off and hard to hear him at some points, but it’s a quick 16 with the same intensity you expect from Twista. Bun B has been pretty quiet when it comes to his features; he’s pretty much religated himself to jumping on some southern tapes. It’s nice to hear he still has the talent that can stand against some other greats. Closer “Handshakes with Snakes” features a fictional tale reminiscent of his New England tapes before underground artists B-Real and Sick Jacken steal the spotlight. All three deliver great verses but it’s still an underwhelming note to leave the album on compared to something like “The Grand Leveler”.
Handshakes feels like a return to form for Apathy, but returning to your old ways doesn’t mean you can’t bring anything new. The content of most verses is pretty worn-out but are worth sitting through for verses where Apathy can stretch his emcee skills. The production on most songs is painfully average and for a veteran with years of connections I’m kind of bewildered he still can’t get some solid production. The features brought in are phenomenal and when Apathy does try to change things up it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s a lot of old, with a bit of new, and if you can look past stale production on most of the album you’ll find an underground great looking to flex his talent again.