Back in 2004, when music producers Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak E Clean) and DJ Zegon met for the first time, they had no idea it would lead to one of the most ambitious collaboration projects ever to happen.
The pair were making music for different hip-hop artists and soundtracks for skateboard films. ‘After we met, soon enough, we were making music together,’ says Sam. A few tracks later, they realised what they were producing could become much more substantial. But not just an album - something even more ambitious. They wanted to take advantage of their different locations - Sam from the US, Dj Zegon from Brazil - and in some way combine the two. They wanted to bridge the two continents. And it was at this point that the N.A.S.A. project was born.
The name, of course, comes from the space agency programme in the US. And the idea to call the project this came from the pair’s long-standing interest in space exploration. It’s a fitting name: it underlines the international nature of the project. Just like space, the N.A.S.A. project exists beyond national borders.
So how did they make it international? It all came from the artists they got to take part in it. The first few tracks came about from artists who were working with Sam at the time. He was producing for Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and then Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Suddenly he wondered what the pair might sound like in one song. So he got them both in the studio. ‘Then the idea really took form and we started to put together crazy unexpected people,’ says Sam.

Soon enough the musicians were regularly coming in the studio door, and this led to a smorgasbord of unexpected collaborations that the final album would then become famous for. Hip-hop legend Kool Keith and Tom Waits featured on one song. Talking Head’s David Byrne, NWA’s Chuck D and Brazilian jazz artist Seu Jorge came together for another. The sheer breadth of artists involved was impressive. More impressive still was that each recording session was rarely produced remotely. ‘I always tried to get them in the studio,’ says Sam. Naturally, this all took time. Four years to be exact. And result was the group’s debut album ‘Spirit of Apollo’, which was released in 2009.

Artists, no matter how big, are open to working with others, even if they’re from a completely different genre. It’s been over two years since the album launch. But N.A.S.A has returned to the limelight once again. A follow-up album? That’s on its way, but that wasn’t the story. The rekindled interest came from the release of a N.A.S.A. film, which takes the name of the album, and documents the pair’s entire musical journey. It was shot mostly by Sam or his friends (‘I didn’t even know how to hold a camera so that’s why the light isn’t perfect,’ admits Sam) and features interviews with the many faces of the project, such as ODB, MIA and George Clinton.
The breadth and willingness of collaboration, says Sam, is indicative of our current creative climate for collaboration. Artists, no matter how big, are open to working with others, even if they’re from a completely different genre. And the success of the collaboration is evident by one thing in particular: it manages the difficult challenge of transcending the stardom of each musician involved. And that’s no easy feat in today’s celebrity culture.