Apollo Brown has delivered some very quite impressive collaborative albums with the likes of everybody from Guilty Simpson to Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Skyzoo and Locksmith over the years. Some of the most revered emcees in all of Hip-Hop, but it’s on his latest collaborative album, Mona Lisa, with Brooklyn emcee, Joell Ortiz, that he delivers easily his most timeless piece of art to date.
The marriage of Ortiz’s razor sharp lyrics and wordplay over Brown’s very soulful boom bap backdrops blending so seamlessly together throughout the 11-track effort. From the very opening track, Brushstrokes, where they say how, “People don’t make art no more. People don’t make music as if it was a canvas. They don’t even care no more. I remember when – when makin’ music was like takin’ a stroke of the brush and creatin’ somethin’. That would live on for years, that would last a lifetime. Maybe somethin’ out there like a Mona Lisa,” you know you’re in for an album that was crafted just like a Mona Lisa. Time sensitive and where a lot of time, effort and quality where put in, so it could be remembered for years to come as a true masterpiece of art.
Ortiz shows his true grit and wordplay as a true emcee from the very beginning too. Whether it be him recalling with these deep and reflective bars, “Headphones, dead in a zone like Rick and Michone. I’m feelin’ better on my own. Took a sec for me to accept that next time I’m on the road won’t be no Crook, won’t be no Royce, won’t be no Joe.” on Reflection. Which is him reflecting and truly realizing his group with those other three emcees, Slaughterhouse, is really no more. Or whether it’s him referencing something holy, biblical or to do with God, like on, My Block and Grace of God. Where he raps, “Only time of servin’ squares in my circle is at the table. Add ‘em a lil’ water. That Eve, I hit the block. Long as I got that ‘caine, I’m able to flip the rock,” on, My Block. The latter one featuring DJ Los, easily the most powerful record on the album, as well as one of the most standout records. Which finds Ortiz spitting very introspective rhymes about his comeup in the crack-era and how by the grace of God he was able to get out of it through his music. It’s also a surefire fan favorite by me and many others. That Place, is also another very amazing record that truly shows the Brooklyn-bred emcees great wordplay too.
The first two singles, Decisions and Timberlan’d Up are easily two of the most standout and arguably even top two tracks on the whole album. Both tracks giving off some of that grimey and raw Brooklyn-bred, New York realness we’ve come to expect from Ortiz. Decisions having him ponder the eternal question of “the studio or the streets?” like so many other great BK emcees as Big Daddy Kane, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. and Jaz-O, before him. It really hitting home with these middle 16’s of his first verse that he rhymes, “Decisions, decisions. Writtens are sick in the kitchen. Rhyme flex or Pyrex, shit, which is your vision? Hit the block or book a studio block? Push all the rock or push yourself to rock a number one spot, hmm? Hit ‘em with that bounce and find a nice pocket or stash another 8-ball in your side pocket? Kill ‘em with the talent or kill ‘em with talons? Metaphors and similies or meddle with chimneys?” While the very grimey and raw, Timberlan’d, finds Ortiz along with his friend and fellow former Slaughterhouse member, Royce Da 5’9” giving some of their realest and rawest rhymes. Proving why they’re two of the dopest and realest emcees in all of Hip-Hop right now.
Just when you think Ortiz couldn’t spit anymore brilliant rhymes he continues to do so on the very piano-laden, Come Back Home and the very insightful title track. The very vivid, yet still somewhat simple rhymes and storytelling he so brilliantly paints on, Mona Lisa, to close out the album really truly showing how brilliantly great a piece of art and masterpiece both Ortiz and Brown delivered with this album.