As a member of eccentric collective D.A.N.K (Dope Ass Negro Kids), indie-musician Apollo Akembe thrashes on the 15-track OK ABACUS. The project arrives following the three-day Melanincholy Festival at the Milo-Grogan recreation center in late May, an event that Akembe had a hand in creating, bringing out the most innovative artists in Columbus.
Akembe’s influences are apparent on ABACUS: between his vocal punk riots, there are also moments of spoken word, recalling a young-Saul Williams. The album opens with the acoustic “March Like A Jordan”, in which Akembe allows listeners to peer his thoughts, finding that he’s not so different than them: “I don’t pick up the phone when you call, ‘cause I don’t wanna say the wrong word and have you hate me forever.”
The guitar-wailing “Killer Queen”, follows the first track, and while the instrumentation is energetic, listeners may find it hard to understand what Akembe is vocally projecting. This follows for the next few songs on ABACUS, but the flawed vocals are reminiscent of Black Messiah, the 2014 album by D’Angelo and The Vanguard. Much like Akembe, D’Angelo’s voice was warbled and hidden; yet, you could feel what he was trying to convey. Fans also discovered that D’Angelo wanted them to listen more closely to understand, which Apollo Akembe may have also been purposely doing on OK ABACUS.
The album refreshingly stands out in a saturated hip-hop Columbus market, with Apollo Akembe being one of few black rock musicians in the city. Throughout the album, Akembe admits to his faults in love, revealing his social anxiety with approaching a potential partner on the lighthearted “Send This 2 Ur Crush If Ur Brave”, with an audience sound effect cheering him on. From the garage-influenced “Best Girl” to the sincere “Oh Lorde”, Apollo’s comes alive with clear, pristine vocals and emotional outpour.
OK ABACUS takes a downturn on the rapturing, whirring “Lazuli” where Akembe laments on “the best things in life [coming] right on time”, and “Wet Hot American Bummer”. The latter song features a poetic Akembe speaking over faint, sobbing vocals and a scattered production. The track echoes “Mushrooms & Roses” from Janelle Monae’s 2010 debut full-length album The Archandroid.
Apollo Akembe has something to say, whether showcasing local talent during the annual Melanincholy Festival, or sharing his own art through music. OK ABACUS is a refreshing, mind-opening listen, in which Apollo Akembe prevails.