Steve Lacy’s first solo full-length is full of funky summer jams that establish the twenty-one-year-old’s musical identity.
Steve Lacy has called his music “plaid.” His songs are a “mash of inspiration, going in weird patterns, but all in unison.” Apollo XXI, The Internet guitarist and producer’s debut LP, is filled with plenty of plaid music – but also slick white leather and funky seventies polyester. Although Lacy has already built a prolific music career, most of his past work has been somewhat behind-the-scenes. His contributions to The Internet’s last two albums, while vital, were tempered with the other members’ creative control. He’s also supplied his production talents to artists from Kendrick Lamar to Vampire Weekend all while keeping out of the spotlight. Besides a short EP of experimental, iPhone-recorded songs released in 2017, this is Lacy’s first solo project. For the first time, he is speaking fully for himself, defining his identity on his own terms rather than by his associations.
Apollo XXI is an ambitious mission statement but also a self-reflection, as tightly constructed as if it were an essay. “Only If” gives the album a modestly confident introduction, preparing us to accompany Lacy on his musical and personal journey through space. “Like Me” is the thesis of the work. “This is about me and what I am,” he begins, “I just wanna relate to everyone.” Caught between defiant independence and the understandable desire to connect with all his listeners, Lacy compromises. In this rolling nine-minute epic of off-kilter guitar, he discusses his internal struggles with bisexuality both as a powerful statement of identity and as a way to reach others who are dealing with the same situation.
The rest of the album’s tracks offer supporting evidence of Lacy’s sensuality, self-reflection, and musical prowess. The songs are horny and sexy, sweating with synth, funky falsetto, and bass (keep “Playground” and “Lay Me Down” around for those hot summer nights). But don’t be too quick to respond to those DMs, Lacy warns on “In Lust We Trust,” or you might get “tired of the meaningless, feelingless fucks.”
As fun as the sensual funk and R&B daydreams are, Lacy keeps it real with a thread of early-20s insecurity and confusion. “Fuck, why is falling in love so hard?” he asks, and who hasn’t? Later, the seductive “N Side” offers a self-conscious refrain: “Is it inside?” But the album’s conclusion, “Outro Freestyle/4ever,” dives into hip-hop with nothing but chill confidence. “I’m a big boss like I’m Rick Ross… I’m so, I’m so hot, you’d think I was from Hell,” Lacy raps with a cocky but easy flow.
The album’s title, sound, and art borrow heavily from the seventies, and Lacy himself wears the decade’s mustache and suit trends with effortless cool. But he’s a modern star through-and-through, from his iPhone production to his clever lyrics to his off-center, experimental sound. Apollo XXI pulls back the curtain on Lacy’s solo identity, but you get the sense that it only gives us a glimpse of his capabilities. His blend of hip-hop, funk, indie pop, and R&B songs, like a resume, shows the twenty-one-year-old’s range of talent, but I’m excited to see him explore each genre deeper. This is the liftoff; Steve Lacy’s space odyssey is only beginning.
Listen to Apollo XXI here.