If you’ve followed Steve Lacy since he started producing beats on his iPhone, the release of Apollo XXI is by a far a momentous event for the Compton-native. From being a member of the Grammy-nominated band The Internet to now releasing his first major solo album, the 21-year old artist is making amazing strides in his musical career. Prior to the release of Apollo XXI, Lacy already had a stacked resume. He has produced for legendary names in music including Solange, J Cole, Big Sean, Jhene Aiko, Denzel Curry, and Kendrick Lamar. And as if it couldn't get any better, one could find him giving a TED Talk or walking for Louis Vuitton during Paris Fashion Week in his free time.
With a heavy focus on his own music lately, Steve Lacy's first major album takes us on a journey exploring various aspects of his life. Over the course of 12 tracks, Apollo XXI gives listeners insight into his sexuality, toxic relationships, and romantic fantasies all while meshing multiple musical genres together to create a dynamic album.
Steve Lacy kicks off his debut album on a positive note with the song “Only If”. The track reflects on Lacy's success and the advice he would give his past self. Through his lyrics, Steve tells us that he wishes he had not had so much anxiety about what the future would bring hence, the chorus “If I could travel through time, I think I would tell myself from the past, you'll be fine". The track “Only If” sets the tone for one of the main messages of the album being that regardless of all the issues Steve faces, he does his best to live in the moment.
Following the opening track, Lacy effortlessly transitions into “Like Me”: a song solely focusing on the thoughts surrounding Lacy’s bisexuality and the feelings many people like Lacy share when deciding whether to be open to others about their sexuality. Lacy hinted about his bisexuality on songs prior to the release of Apollo XXI. However, “Like Me” explores the concept of “coming out of the closet” from a raw yet very refreshing perspective. Steve’s vulnerability is evident when he starts the song by simply vocalizing his concern for others who may be in the same position as himself when it comes to sexuality:
[Intro: Steve Lacy]
This is about me and what I am
I didn't wanna make it a big deal
But I did wanna make a song, I'll admit
Uh, I just wanna, just see who can relate, who's out there
You know, it's like, bro, um
I don't know if you can still relate
You know, and that's what I'm afraid of
I just wanna relate to everyone, so
The track is then divided into three sections where Steve first reaches out to anyone who can relate to feeling low about themselves solely because of who they are romantically attracted to. However, in the latter two sections on the track, the 21-year old artist gets personal. Steve opens up about crying, praying, and hiding his true self from others all while believing that nobody around him could feel his pain. “Like Me” then ends on a haunting tone with Steve repeating the phrase “I fade away”, adding to the emotions that come with not falling into a specific category simply for living in your truth.
Despite the melancholic tracks on the album, Steve does include a few upbeat dancing anthems on Apollo XXI. The third song on the album, “Playground” definitely matches its title considering the funky feels the guitar-led song lets off. And once one gets past the catchy production and high pitched vocals on the track, listeners are able to realize that Steve uses his lyrics to describe how the act of making love is similar to people playing on a playground. “Lay Me down” is another track where the artist uses his music to project sexual feelings. The light drumming paired with a smooth and soulful soundscape on the song help listeners to focus on the passionate lyrics about lovemaking on "Lay Me Down". Steve takes control on this explicit track with lines like “Baby, touch it, Rub it slow, oh, oh. Grab it, stroke Kiss it, oh, oh, oh”. The song “N-Side” continues the theme of sensual pleasure on Apollo XXI with Steve describing his intimate desires during an interaction with a romantic partner. Check out EARMILK thoughts on N-Side here.
About halfway through Apollo XXI, Steve once again invites listeners into his personal life, introducing his downfalls in his romantic relationships. On “Hate CD”, the artist has a conversation about being so attached to another man and craving his attention but also being aware of the negative effects of being with that same man. Another standout song on the album is “Love 2 Fast”: an upbeat track revolving around Steve Lacy’s pitfalls concerning how he loves too fast. Mid-song is where “Love 2 Fast” really progresses with Steve Lacy reflecting on his choices:
[Steve Lacy: Spoken interlude]
Fuck, why is falling in love so hard?
I think I'm just moving too quickly
Based on the patterns I've been studying on myself
Of the most scientific research and I think
That I should just take things a little slower
You know, I've learned a lot in experience
You know, I'm grateful to be in this place right now, ayy
By the time we get to the 12the track, the Compton-native is still going strong. Lacy’s “Outro Freestyle/4ever” is an unpredictable and untraditional and yet perfect ending to Apollo XXI considering Steve’s ability to push boundaries throughout his entire musical career thus far. Steve explores several lyrical flows on this the 6 min track. From addressing his haters when he says “And these n*ggas always hating me, but they binge watch. I should have a show on Netflix that they friends watch” to finally addressing how successful he has been the past few years stating “Call me number two ’cause really, I think I’m the shit. You be talking 'bout that money, money, you don’t get”. And the second part of the track 4ever continues to emphasize that the artist will keep producing musical content as long as the moments allow him to.
Steve Lacy held an album release celebration for Apollo XXI at the Compton Airport on May 24th. The artist greeted his guests by flying in on a helicopter, very fitting considering the title and theme for the album in addition to the artist being a Compton Native. Overall, considering the effortless transitions, range of sound production, and important topics discussed through his lyrics, Apollo XXI is a musical project that positively surpasses several expectations many had for Steve Lacy’s first major album.