“Celebration,” the penultimate track of Apollo‘s the otherside: an art exhibit, succeeds majorly on two counts. The first is that it is, by itself, a well-crafted song. The beat’s stuttery cadence, laced with syrupy-sweet strings and playful drums, allows for Apollo to best showcase his strengths–his greatest one being how he raps with his voice slightly suspended by an underlying sense of melody, akin to Open Mike Eagle‘s perpetual sing-rapping. The track’s second major success is in its sense of unabashed triumph. The last thirty seconds of the song have Apollo triumphantly singing, “It’s a celebration of what we making / We made it, yeah we made it, we fucking made it,” and it’s a genuinely powerful moment of catharsis.
This moment of catharsis is potent, but the otherside‘s fatal flaw is that the moment feels unearned. “Celebration” heavily references Jay Z‘s “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…),” which is telling in the sense that, compared to Jay Z’s narrative of key-flipper-turned-mogul, Apollo sets the stakes pretty low throughout the otherside. A good amount of Apollo’s angst comes out in the form of worries about keeping up with the banalities of real life. On “i.,” the first of a series of interludes Apollo calls “suites,” Apollo raps, “Tryna make my ends meet / Tryna keep my grades up / Tryna stay about the streets / I really wanna trap, y’all, I’m sick of being broke as fuck / I know, ‘Degree, longevity,’ but school ain’t paying fast enough.” On “memoirs,” Apollo raps on the hook, “I don’t even know what the fuck is going on / I’m just chilling in my room while staring at my phone,” a couplet I’m conflicted about deeming either hilariously lazy or genius in how bleak it is.
Apollo doesn’t have to have sold drugs like Jay-Z did to have impactful things to say about his life, but the way Apollo paces himself on the otherside, it’s easy to get the impression that even he doesn’t fully believe in the gravity of what he has to say. There certainly are moments where Apollo hints that there are areas of his life experience that he can pull something potent to say from; the otherside has too many lines like “First girl I liked told me ‘never touch a mic'” from “memoirs” that suggest potentially good storylines that Apollo simply never develops. Instead, he goes a different direction, as on the second suite, “ii: a love poem.,” a direction-less love song that amounts to little more than a fuck jam that manages to squeeze in generic lines about both fucking–“Wish I could chain-smoke you like cigarettes / You should be illegal ’cause I never had enough of it”–and love–“This is a little more than love, I am conflicted / This is a little more than lust, I am addicted.” One of the album’s other attempts at introspection is on the flaccid “lost pt two,” a song that manages to get derailed by an awful hook that may very well have been written by Jaden Smith: “You’re claiming that you know me / But how can you know me / When I don’t even know me / No I don’t even know me.”
For all the things Apollo has to work on about his writing, he is, for the most part, musically adept on the otherside. “wild one” accomplishes what should be an impossible task, flipping Flo Rida‘s “Wild Ones (feat. Sia)” into something hard, skittery drums propelling the Sia vocal sample and Apollo’s machine gun flow. “Medicine” is gorgeously arranged, the rises in Apollo’s flow anticipating the rises of the beats that gives the track an organic feeling.
On “v. (feat. AG),” Apollo declares himself a “young man bringing old school back.” The line comes off in the moment as little more than a rapper aligning himself with his influences to signify reverence for them, but in the grand scheme of the otherside, it becomes telling of how Apollo should push forward in his career. 2015 in particular has been a year of rappers taking hard looks at themselves; Kendrick Lamar ripped his own heart out and put it on display with To Pimp a Butterfly; A$AP Rocky stepped back from purple to take a look at himself through psychedelics on At.Long.Last.A$AP; Earl Sweatshirt‘s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside featured Earl speaking frankly about his depression. The best thing for Apollo to do would be for him to focus less on bringing back the old school and finding what’s most true to himself.