There is hip hop, and then there is hip hop. N.A.S.A., the brainchild of New Yorker Squeak E Clean (Sam Spiegel) and Brazilian DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales), falls into the latter category – rap music that adheres to the founding principles of the genre. Soul searching, musically adventurous and no trace of bling and bitches in sight.
N.A.S.A. may crib its name from the famous organization of the same name, but here it stands for North America/South America. This is a true cross-cultural fusion of influences in the spirit of the age.
Where to begin? After a brief intro that gives a flavour of the Latin influence on this wonderful album we launch into The People Tree. Two tracks in and already we are hearing the massed talents of David Byrne, Chali 2na, Gift Of Gab and Z-Trip. Not a cover of patchouli acid-jazzers Mother Earth fortunately, this People Tree locks into a funky groove over which Byrne and the MCs spin their morality tale.
Byrne is all over the place at the moment, and he crops up again here on Money alongside Chuck D, Seu Jorge and Ras Congo. Spiegel and Gonzales might be parading their star-studded phonebook, but when the music is this infectious then who cares?
Old school hip hop is represented on N.A.S.A. Music by Method Man and E-40, with Beck‘s master turntablist DJ Swamp also on hand to liven things up. A nice nod to The Wu-Tang Clan as well, which leads us nicely into a burst of RZA on Way Down. Just in case you were feeling bored, John Frusciante is on hand to lend some typically fluid guitar to the track.
After some more old-school vibes courtesy of KRS-One, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Fatlip on Hip Hop and Strange Enough, we then move into even more wonderful territory. A Tom Waits and Kool Keith duet; have I died and gone to heaven? Yes indeed, and Waits’ inimitable growl works so well with Keith’s deranged flow that it is a wonder that no one has ever suggested a collaboration before.
The surprises keep on coming on the second half of the album. Hip movers and shakers Kanye West, Santogold, Lykke Li, M.I.A. and Lovefoxxx show up to give The Spirit Of Apollo a contemporary edge, but they are arguably outperformed by the old rascal himself, George Clinton, on the dizzying There’s A Party. One nation under a groove indeed.
Whacadoin?, O Pato and Samba Soul drive the album home in style, with the latter featuring the always welcome cool flow of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Then it is over to Spiegel and Gonzales to bring things to a close with the fat beats and massed sing-along chorus of N.A.S.A. Anthem (there are no credits, but it’s tempting to think of all the guest stars getting drunk one night and laying down the vocals).
The curse of the hidden track is even banished on The Spirit Of Apollo, the album playing out with a genuine curio full of weird sound affects and spooked vocals.
The spirit of hip hop lives on in N.A.S.A. Investigate this album if you have any taste, and if Spiegel and Gonzales can get all their guest stars on tour then start phoning for a ticket immediately.