N.A.S.A., and their worldwide debut The Spirit of Apollo, is an ongoing creative collaboration between two lifelong music aficionados, Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, and their friends, friends of friends and musical heroes.
While N.A.S.A. stands for North America/South America and contains a number of superstar artists from both coasts of the U.S., it is about as far from a tension-building geographical showdown as a record can get. Rather, The Spirit of Apollo was born with the righteous goal of bringing people together through music and art, and that is exactly what masterminds Sam Spiegel (Squeak E. Clean) and Ze Gonzales (DJ Zegon) have done.
Unexpected collaborations abound on the seventeen track release. Tom Waits growls over Kool Keith, Karen O taunts while Ol’ Dirty Bastard gives shoutouts to Wu Tang and N.A.S.A from the grave, and David Byrne, Chuck D and others expound on the evils of "Money." In
spite of the range of performers, the pairings seem organic, inspired and make perfect sense on the first listen, never coming off as ironic or impulsive.
Spiegel explains that the tracks themselves dictated who would be approached to lend a voice, revealing the larger vision behind the project: "we never said, ‘let’s make a track for this person.’ We’d usually make something we liked, and then as we were starting to write the song, it would tend to go in a direction that we’d be like, ‘this sounds like George Clinton,’ or ‘this sounds like Method Man.’ We would start to feel the song out, and feel the artist through the song as we did it. Basically, we’d sit around as we were making these tracks and say the nuttiest combination of names, like our dream of who we could get on the song. It’s crazy, a lot of times they actually happened."
That passion and appreciation for music is the driving force behind The Spirit of Apollo. Conceived in a crowded party in Sao Paulo and nurtured by a shared love of vintage Brazilian soul and funk records, N.A.S.A. was born when Spiegel and Gonzales got together in a studio and hit "record." "WE met at DVNO's studio party," Spiegel reminisces. "The next day we were flipping a Toni Tornado sample at my studio which later became the
song ‘Hip Hop’ with Fatlip, KRS One, and Slim Kid Tre."
Five years later, after thousands of miles traveled, many favors called in, countless hours spent in recording studios, bartered, traded and out of pocket, N.A.S.A. landed at Anti Records, a label that is home to other likeminded visionaries such as Zack de la Rocha, Nick Cave and N.A.S.A.-guest vocalist
Characteristically, N.A.S.A. is more than just a record. The enthusiasm and connections of Sam Spiegel and Ze Gonzales cannot be contained by a single album, so the project naturally expanded into other mediums. A full-length documentary film is nearing completion, including interviews with many of the artists who contributed to The Spirit of Apollo and behind-the-scenes footage from the studio sessions. Highlights include fun at Sizzla’s compound in Jamaica, Method Man showing off his magic tricks and the altered consciousness of the George Clinton recording session. In addition, other N.A.S.A. friends have lent their visual talents, and animated music videos for several of The Spirit of Apollo’s tracks have been created by some of today’s most highly-regarded street artists such as Shepard Fairey, Sage Vaughn, Barry McGee, Marcel Dzama and others.
A remix record is already in the works, and Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon will put their turntable skills to good use as N.A.S.A. goes live with Brazilian percussionists, visual effects, art installations and special guests.
The N.A.S.A. project is permeated by Brazilian funk, which provides the roots of the songs and binds them together into a cohesive whole, but from there, the imagination behind The Spirit of Apollo ranges far and wide. "Whachadoin?" featuring M.I.A, Santogold, the electrorap ingenuity of Spank Rock and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is spontaneous and playful, and is perhaps the first song to get funky with a dial tone. "The Mayor,"
featuring Ghostface Killah, Scarface, indie-darlings the Cool Kids and Hollywood scenemaker DJ AM has a laidback Superfly vibe, while "Electric Flowers," with Cardigans singer Nina Persson and Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, has a downbeat chilled-out feel. "Strange Enough" pairs Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Fatlip and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, on the last song ODB recorded before his untimely death in 2004. On "N.A.S.A. Music" Method Man gives a shout out to Spiegel’s recording studio, Crack Alley, while E40 chews on his vowels and together, the two wrap up The Spirit of Apollo into a single chorus: "from New York to the Bay yo / Sao Paulo to LA yo / nobody move until we say so / they wanna know who got that
Spiegel sees it as more of an extension of the rest of his life. "No rules. That's the M.O."