While the album purports to “transcend preconceived divisions,” the first songs on N.A.S.A.’s guest-crammed debut, The Spirit Of Apollo, seem divisive. On “The People Tree,” Chali 2na and Gift Of Gab expound upon the merits of faith in a very Christian God, while in the next song, Chuck D and Ras Congo rail against money as the root of all evil. Big Love scorer David Byrne cameos on both tracks, which raises the question “Are all these people Mormon?” Not likely, as the subsequent track pits a socially mindful E-40 against Method Man, who uses the opportunity to inquire whether a particular “snow bunny” spits or swallows.
Naturally, Sam Spiegel (a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean, and Spike Jonze’s brother) and DJ Zegon’s attempt at album unity is flawed. The real question: Can The Spirit Of Apollo transcend its built-in Achilles’ heel? The short answer is yes, as there’s something to like on every song. If Kool Keith’s oddly coherent verses don’t do it for you, Tom Waits’ accompanying grumble should. Not a Santogold fan? “Gifted” also features Kanye West and Lyyke Li. The production also bridges all gaps, virtually meat-grinding dancehall, gritty soul, favela funk, and electro-rap into an organic collection of club-ready bangers. Still, one problem remains: N.A.S.A. (“North America South America”) is supposed to be a cross-continental collaboration, but beyond the contributions of Sao Paulo’s Zegon, there’s a noticeable lack of Latin input. Perhaps “NAFTA” would have been a better acronym.