You can find a brilliant documentary on YouTube called Adult Rappers. Directed by Paul Iannacchino in 2015, it features independent artists talking about the realities of building and sustaining a career as an emcee. It’s an honest look at the balance, sacrifices and choices a working musician must make. Throw yourself completely into chasing a dream that will be artistically rewarding, but likely not financially. Or chase that dream realistically by considering it a job, one that you’ll probably have to have alongside an actual job in order to put food on the table. Long story short, if they want to be around for a long time, at some point rappers need to grow up.
There’s been a lot of fluff written in the media since June last year about how JAY-Z created a “grown man rap” album with 4:44. Most grown men aren’t multi-millionaires, however. Some may cheat on their wives, but their wives aren’t one of the most famous and beautiful women on the planet. If you want a real grown man’s rap album look no further than the recent No News Is Good News by Phonte. It covers everything from divorce and remarriage to kids and deteriorating health.
But growing up as a rapper doesn’t have to mean writing about heart disease and other ailments. It can also be about maturing beyond some of the silliness and depravity you committed to wax when you were younger. Eminem takes shots at Trump now instead of Britney Spears or the mother of his child. Cage disappeared when his shock lyrics got boring. Crustified Dibbs became RA The Rugged Man, who is now a dedicated family man.
Apathy has grown a lot too. That’s not to say he was necessarily childish before, but there’s a definite maturity to his last few albums that wasn’t always there. His punchline raps with fellow Demigodz emcee Celph Titled were frequently brilliant, but hip-hop with too much funny shit can get tired. As can Horrorcore, a sub-genre that peaked with Gravediggaz and the Geto Boys in the ‘90s. Apathy has never been full-on Horrorcore, but the often violent and lurid nature of his work with Army of the Pharaohs, Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill bordered on it.
The move to something more thought-provoking kicked up a notch on 2015’s The Black Lodge and 2016’s Handshakes with Snakes, continued last year on the excellent Perestroika with O.C., and Apathy sustains the trend on his sixth studio album The Widow’s Son.
There is still vintage Apathy though, and that’s perfectly fine. From dark songs to witty ones, few can do it as well as this seasoned vet. There are some brilliant punchlines on tracks like opener “The Spellbook,” plus well-structured paranoia, conspiracy-theory raps on the excellent Nottz produced “Alien Weaponry.” It’s all classic Ap, but this time in smaller, more tolerable chunks, and intertwined with that new level of maturity that comes from being a little older, wiser and more experienced.
It helps that The Widow’s Son has a theme: Apathy’s interest in and dedication to Freemasonry. It’s a subject the writer of this review knows little about, but Apathy manages to provide insight without isolating anyone who isn’t interested. Going deeper would probably have been too much, but Apathy sensibly keeps it an overarching theme that nicely pulls the album together.
If there’s one thing that all Apathy albums have in common it’s a dedication to the true school hardcore hip-hop sound. It’s there on every track on The Widow’s Son, but kicks in fully on the DJ Premier produced “The Order.” Smaller budgets mean that an artist like Apathy perhaps only has access to mid-range, off-the-peg Premier beats, but Apathy certainly knows how to get the best out of them.
Another standout is a track you’d except to be nothing less than brilliant. “I Keep On” features guest bars from Pharoahe Monch and a beat by Pete Rock. Apathy and Monch trade back and forth verses to create a song that manages to sound classic and modern, helped by some of those quintessential Soul Brother #1 ad-libs.
Elsewhere, “STOMP RAPPERS” featuring M.O.P. and Apathy’s long-time collaborator Celph Titled is as rowdy as the title suggests (all caps, naturally), in a similar vein to M.O.P.’s own classic anthem “Ante Up.”
Apathy also continues to build on his strong relationship with the mighty Diggin’ in the Crates crew. A.G. appears on “Never Fall Off,” and there’s a typically excellent Buckwild beat to be found on the lyrical beat-down served up with “A View from Hell.” The backing of such a revered hip-hop institution is a testament to Apathy’s standing as a respected artist.
This last point is important. An adult rapper on the independent hip-hop scene knows they probably won’t ever make a massive amount of money from rap, but integrity and respect are currency themselves. Having the ear of your peers and a solid fan base ensures people will want to hear your music. The Widow’s Son isn’t groundbreaking, but it gives us what we expect from an Apathy album, and with an added twist of something more mature.
Notable Tracks: “Alien Weaponry” | “A View of Hell (Hell of a View)” | “I Keep On”