Happy 5th Anniversary to Apollo Brown & O.C.’s collaborative album Trophies, originally released May 1, 2012.
By 2012, students of hip-hop had long heralded Omar “O.C.” Credle amongst the top tier of skilled emcees that unquestionably remained true to the form, and we anticipated every opportunity to sit in on his chalkboard brand of lyricism. Since the release of “Time’s Up,” which lead his acclaimed debut album Word…Life, released in 1994, O.C. consistently added honorable mention LPs to his illustrious catalog, with a heavy dose of rhymes that dropped jewels like tutorials for aspiring emcees or put frauds on notice for misrepresenting the culture.
Working almost exclusively with his D.I.T.C. cohort, which isn’t bad company, for the first decade of his career as a solo artist, O.C. rarely strayed from the nest. Even when venturing away from his home base, he remained within the confines of close-knit affiliates, namely DJ Premier, the Beatminerz, and Organized Konfusion among others. It wasn’t until his fourth and fifth albums, Star Child and Smoke and Mirrors both released in 2005, that O.C. experimented with sounds outside of the comfort of his five boroughs.
Fortunately for the distinguished listener, Professor Credle’s well-trained ear for solid production made its way to Michigan, where he eventually paired with the up-and-coming beat-smith, Apollo Brown, who appeared to be cut from a similar cloth as Detroit’s late great J Dilla. Together, the duo created what was quite possibly the hidden gem of 2012.
From the initial shots fired toward the participation award generation across the monologue of the eponymously titled intro, this album appeared to be headed in the right direction even before the first beat dropped or O.C. offered as much as an adlib. Less than a minute into the album, the listener’s mind is nearly blown away with the Jerry Butler sample that Apollo chooses to carve for the opening track “The Pursuit.” Reminiscent of 9th Wonder’s “Speed,” from Little Brother’s 2003 debut The Listening, we hear not only the use of the instruments within a soul classic, but the signature wails of a soul man helping to season the well prepared track. Like a veteran pitcher knowing he is in full command of his best stuff, O.C. uses the track to deliver a rarely attempted analogy concept to compare his emcee intellect with high-speed sport racing.
The chemistry between the two masters of their respective artistry continues down the track list with “Prove Me Wrong,” which is another example of hip-hop done right, as we witness the gel of two eras prime to take their contemporaries to school like Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard clicking on all cylinders.
Delivering an ode to their working class demographic, Apollo constructs another neck snapper for O.C.’s flow which is as comfortable as we have ever been privy to since hearing his debut rhymes on Organized Konfusion’s “Fudge Pudge” in 1991. Having grown into the role of an elder statesman, O.C.‘s maturity and self-awareness is far beyond a smoker’s anthem for the 20 somethings on his way to the club. Instead, it’s a simple head-nodding piece for the working class homeowner, taking a mini-retreat to his favorite secret place as he explains, “the essence I breathe, be the pleasure I crave when I spark and blaze” on the track “Another One.”
Trophies continues to entertain, as the veteran emcee and promising producer continue to complement each other’s strengths. On “Disclaimer,” O.C. convincingly proclaims his ability to annihilate any lyrical challenger, as Apollo charges the battery with a fiery track that includes a well-placed sample of Erick Sermon’s “Hostile” for the hook “for your protection, go sit in the R&B section, for this session.”
On “We the People,” O.C.’s observations broaden beyond the state of music, as he laments the continued blight of urban America: “Grandma’s scared to walk, last week she was robbed by a thie / People dying over frivolous beef.”
O.C.’s additional social critiques go on to complement Apollo’s impressive stockpile which contains a vintage arsenal of hardware like Cream’s 1968 “White Room” which he uses for “The First 48.” O.C.'s pen and genuine street savvy create an interesting perspective on the current generation's loss of the forgotten oath of omerta.
Another highlight on the formidable LP is “The Formula,” the OG moment when O.C. renders a fitting tribute to one of the game’s unsung heroes of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Dallas-bred rapper and Dr. Dre affiliate The D.O.C.: “I acknowledge him like Slick Rick and G Rap, I mean that / portrait of a masterpiece, believe that.”
As any good teacher can attest to once being an apt pupil, O.C. specifically details the influence The D.O.C’s style had on his own, two decades earlier. “Ridiculous wordplay / with every syllable pronounce clear and efficient / growl in his voice vicious.”
The album concludes on an autobiographical note as O.C. avoids boasting, but merely acknowledges the fact that his highly regarded brand has garnered and sustained a loyal fan base over “People’s Champ.” Next, he offers the final subject of his emcee 101 course syllabus “Options.” The tenured professor almost ends his class with disgust, asserting, “The last few years for me has been to lie low / 40 years your senior, but what the fuck do I know?”
For the finale of this stellar album, Apollo again reaches deep into the war-chest for an obscure sample of the 1970 track “Fantastic Piece of Architecture” from the band Bloodrock, which serves as the backdrop to the song “Fantastic.” Anchoring the other 15 tracks, “Fantastic” somberly drives home the theme of the LP, as O.C. recaps the highs and lows of his acclaimed yet underappreciated career.
Undeniably a great listen, the album represents the growth and maturity of hip-hop, bolstered by the organic blend of the unlikely Detroit-meets-Brooklyn duo of a blue chip producer and highly respected lyricist.