Ugly Heroes are three guys: underground production supremo Apollo Brown, and two blokes that rap. That’s unfair on Red Pill and Verbal Kent, but most people will be checking this album out because Apollo produced it. I actually enjoyed Verbal Kent’s “Save Yourself“ album that once again, made me listen because he had Pete Rock producing some of the tracks. This is how I discover whether a lot of artists are worth checking out – purely by who they have worked with. The irony of this is, Ugly Heroes has made me want to check out more of Red Pill’s work.
“Long Drive Home” feels like it was left off OC’s “Trophies” album, but becomes a standout record here, with Red Pill taking a more literal direction while Verbal Kent offers a more vague verse. This occurs quite often throughout “Ugly Heroes” with Red Pill sounding a lot like Brother Ali stylistically, even though his voice is more akin to Grieves’. Either way, he is certified dope and surprised me on this album. Verbal Kent has always had a distinct presence but never been that great lyrically, which is fine (especially when using dope Apollo Brown production). He just comes off as good rather than great given the performances that Apollo and Red provide. A good example of this is “Graves”, a mildly morbid track about life in general that at first feels like it isn’t eventful enough musically, but grows and grows in to a monster. “Heroes Theme”, “This Is Life” and “Push” are all equally excellent, but one of the highlights is “Heart and Soul” – a real screwface beat with Verbal Kent delivering a fierce verse. They work the ugly heroes theme perfectly, and repeat the formula on “Sweet Love”. There isn’t really much else to say other than the fact Apollo Brown is now code for Must Purchase. “Ugly Heroes” has a few subdued tracks towards the end of the record, but they just feel a bit journeyman compared to what happens in the first twelve tracks. This is up there with “Trophies” and “Brown Study” in terms of Apollo Brown’s best work, and surpasses “Dice Game” by being more consistently dope. Verbal Kent may not feel as strong as Red Pill to me personally as Red Pill is new to my ears, and Verbal Kent’s whole style can feel monotonous (almost emotionless). Somehow they complement each other well, and with Apollo killing near enough every beat, he has ensured he is the most wanted producer in the underground. If he is still putting out work this consistently great in ten years’ time, he will not only be pushing for legendary status, I’ll have a whole ton of great albums on my shelf.
NB. Ensure you check out the recently released “Ugly” featuring DJ Eclipse. That track is straight bananas and bumps this score up to my highest score yet.