CT Rapper Apathy Talks Politics Of His New Collab With O.C.: 'Perestroika'

Conspiracy theories. Spanish Golden Age paintings. Crates of hip-hop cassettes, stacked high and thoroughly played. Freemasonry. Rambo movies.

Such is the conceptual matrix of Apathy (also known as Chad Bromley), whose post-Demigodz career as a rapper and producer took off after the 2006 solo release of "Eastern Philosophy."

Apathy has since put out four more albums — a lot, considering the hours he puts in, meticulously shaping every nanosecond — along with EPs, mixtapes, extended collaborations, guest appearances and production gigs. He started a family.

In September, Apathy released "Perestroika," an album-length collab with rapper O.C. (of Diggin' In The Crates, or D.I.T.C.), on Dirty Version Records, loosely wrapped around a theme: resilience in the face of unrest — economic, social, governmental, self-inflicted.

"I grew up in not the best circumstances," says Apathy, who is from Willimantic and is now based in New London. "We were definitely blue-collar or below."

From the outset — Apathy and O.C. began work on the album four years ago — the lyrics and music jibed with a specific geography and time frame: Russia in the late '80s/early/'90s, the end of the Cold War, the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and glasnost.

"Growing up in the '80s, there was always some type of mystery and intrigue behind Russia," Apathy says. "You picture a guy who can stay the night without a shirt on in sub-cold weather, freezing and drinking a bottle of vodka. That's a Russian guy who's going to be able to handle that."

"Live From the Iron Curtain," the opening track, starts with a sample of Reagan saying, 'Mr. Gorbachev," then a hook: "Reportin' live from the mutherf*ckin' Iron Curtain / I don't think that I'm nice, homie — I am certain." That's a weird thing to hear these days, considering the scandals surrounding the current administration.

But "Perestroika," Ap insists, has nothing to do with Trump.

"When all this Russia stuff started happening, I remember calling O.C. like, 'Yo, this is either going to be the worst thing or the best thing,'" Apathy says. "I haven't figured it out yet, but that was one of my biggest stresses: Why does all this Russia crap have to happen right now? I thought we were cool. Then all this happens, and I'm like, '... just my luck, that I would start a project and have this whole Russia theme, and things go south with Russia'."

From there, Apathy, O.C. and rapper Slaine share successive verses about their hometowns (Willimantic, Brooklyn and Boston, respectively) on "Tomorrow Is Gone." The menacing "Winter Wind," with a verse by rapper Marvalyss, Apathy likens his creative process to what goes down on the Steppe:

Every verse that I write, it's like a furnace ignites

With the snow covered sills in the Bolshevik region

Old women light candles and they pray every evenin'

That on cold dark nights when the winds are freezin'

Ap's distrust of conventional wisdom strikes out on the title track: "Yo, I'm not paranoid, I'm just not stupid / To think the water they give me I'm drinking's not polluted / I watch the television muted lookin' for the mutants / Human beings are bound to change from those pollutants."

Other guests include rappers Kappa Gamma ("Tomorrow Is Gone"), Celph Titled ("Stompkillcrushmode") and Jus Cuz ("Globetrotters"); producers MoSS ("Soviet Official"), Chumzilla ("Gorbachev") and Illinformed ("Globetrotters"); and bassist Chris Brennan ("Tomorrow Is Gone"). Apathy, O.C. and Celph Titled will perform in Zürich, Switzerland, on Dec. 1.

The album, Apathy says, isn't heavily political.

"If anything, I admire the Russian people. The actual people, the ground-level people, not the government, not anything like that, but the people who go through that extreme economic turmoil and that extreme weather and all that. That's got to be some strong people, regardless of what Americans think of their politics or what they think of our politics."

What about the music? You hear vintage breaks, thickly settled, fortified with severe brass and woodwind samples, impenetrable minor-key riffs, stretched and massaged. On most tracks, Ap and O.C. (usually in that order) take long, successive verses, walled off by rapped or sampled hooks.

Apathy first met O.C., who he grew up "idolizing and worshipping," at a concert by Organized Konfusion, a hip-hop duo from Queens, N.Y.

"Hip-hop was like my religion when I was growing up," Apathy says. "I had the tapes. I listened to [O.C.'s] albums and all that. ... O. and I were talking about just working on one song, me producing something for him. We spoke, and he was like, 'Yo, let's just do a whole project together.'"

The album cover, which shows suited figures of Apathy and O.C. standing behind a praying woman, was painted by Samantha McGiver, a Connecticut artist who also designed the front image for "Get Off the Earth" by ChumZilla, a producer who shares Apathy's Danger Room studio in New London.

If four years feels like a long time to work on one album, it's a reflection of Apathy's perfectionism in the studio. After he and O.C. recorded a number of tracks, Apathy swerved entirely, from jazzy, soulful backing tracks to harder-edge sounds.

"I was like, 'This isn't what I'm looking for.' So I told O., I said, 'You know what? I'm wiping the whole thing clean. I'm going to start over,'" Apathy says. "So I took the lyrics that we did and remixed the music to them and created a whole different atmosphere, a whole different energy, and he loved it."

And while stylistic trends in hip-hop, like most popular genres, change rapidly, Apathy's sound isn't going anywhere.

"I stick to the tradition of what I came up loving and the classics. I just feel like that's never going to go out, you know, to a certain degree. A lot of it already is old to the younger kids and the contemporary stuff, but I don't really care, you know. We have a very niche market. We do what we do. It's very traditionalist. I stick to that."

Stream and purchase Apathy and O.C.'s "Perestroika" on Bandcamp.

Press Play is a column by music writer Michael Hamad exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to him at mhamad@courant.com.

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