There’s something immensely satisfying about a well-made hamburger. Beef, bun and ketchup is all it takes, yet to do something so simple well is truly an art. Connecticut-based rapper Apathy delivers something similar with his album Handshakes with Snakes. Only he’s not making a burger, he’s making classic American hip-hop with heavy beats, clever lyrics and soulful samples.
Handshakes with Snakes opens up with “Pay Your Dues,” an ode to his long journey to success in the music business. The sample he uses from the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” serves as the backdrop as Apathy contrasts his struggle to gain respect in the rap game with the easy fame some rappers now find with the help of Youtube and Soundcloud. The difference is succinctly put in the chorus, “I wanna drop vinyl, you wanna go viral.”
Apathy has been around the block since his start in the early 2000’s, and it shows. Handshakes with Snakes is not the work of an amateur. Every beat is a head bobber. Unexpected similes and clever turns of phrase fill every corner. This album oozes polished, professional execution. It’s a relief to hear from a mature MC who knows who he is and where he came from. Apathy is not trying to make a scene or stretch beyond his reach. He is an artist practicing the craft that he spent years developing, and it makes for a great listen.
On “Rap is Not Pop” Apathy rails against the state of popular rap today. Although there’s always been beef between hardcore MCs and pop radio rappers (think MC Hammer) Apathy seems annoyed with the paradigm shift of rap from the streets to the internet. He chastises rappers who “Downloaded, Googled it when an album dropped/ Never ever been inside a record shop.”. For fans of the golden age of hip-hop, his tightly laced lyrics on this track make a powerful argument against the hyper-produced, auto-tuned tracks that dominate the airwaves today, and damn if he doesn’t make a guy miss the heyday of East Coast rap.
Throughout his lyrics Apathy seems to be wrestling with his nostalgia for a hip-hop world that no longer exists. On “Charlie Brown” he intersperses iconic samples from America’s favorite pessimist with his own rhymes about fighting off despair in the face of a changing world. The chorus, “When the chips are down, would you hold me down/When I’m feeling down like Charlie Brown,” gets to the crux of the struggle of keeping on in the face of adversity, just like Charlie Brown does every day he gets his big head out of bed.
There’s nothing terribly groundbreaking on this album, but if you’re listening to Apathy, you’re probably not searching for the next big thing. If you’re like me, you’ll just sit back and appreciate the tasteful combination of classic hip-hop ingredients.