Boldy broke into the rap scene with his extremely ill debut mixtape, Pros And Cons: Trappers Alley. The tape showcased the rapper’s knowledge with the crime and drug-dealing world of the D, at the same time, showcasing that Boldy has bars far beyond your average trap/drug-touting rapper. It’s Boldy’s unique perspective and sense of reality that sets him apart. When Boldy spits, you know he’s only saying the real shit he’s actually lived and experienced. The rapper’s affiliation with Chuck Inglish (they’re blood cousins) landed him a few Chuck beats on his debut, and in general, Boldy stays working with underrated underground producers, from Brains, to the Plug, to Blended Babies, and in more recent times, The Alchemist.
Since his debut tape, Boldy has delivered two more mixtapes (Consignement: Favor For A Favor, and his latest which dropped in September, Jammin’: 30 In The Morning), plus an EP Grand Quarters. All this music was leading up to his highly anticipated debut album with the aforementioned producer The Alchemist, M.1.C.S.: My 1st Chemistry Set. The first single off the album, “Moochie,” once again displays Boldy Leggo Blocks James’ lyrical adeptness, in a modern-day “Ebonics”-style rap. The song is all about how Boldy gives nicknames to everything—and he breaks down just what those names are, and what they mean. It’s dope on quite a few levels, but at its most basic, have you ever heard a song about nicknaming shit? Seriously. Everyone in rap is uses nicknames, whether it’s their rap moniker, the name of their movement, or slang that gets used on the daily, it’s basically a ‘nickname’, but when was the last time a rapper actually spoke on that? Pair that with gritty production from Alchemist, and you have a hard banger.
Clear Soul Forces are a hip-hop crew comprised of four members, E-Fav, L.A.Z., Noveliss, and Illajide who doubles as a producer and an emcee. These four came together in Detroit in 2009, after one fateful studio session (which involved Royce Da 5’9” suggesting the four separate emcees become a collective), and they’ve been on a mission ever since to bring a little soul, a little bit of the golden era, and a little bit of poetry into the hip-hop scene. They kicked things off with a debut mixtape in 2010, Clear Soul Radio, and as a group they became stronger than any one individual emcee, rising up the ranks of the Detroit underground scene.
The debut Clear Soul Radio was jam-packed with twenty tracks, and since then, they’ve perfected their style, lyrics and team dynamic, with the release of The Departure EP, a debut album Detroit Revolution(s) and most recently, Gold PP7s. On Detroit Revolution(s) the four emcees really came into their own, with Illajide providing all the production, which is filled with an old school, soulful, and even somewhat jazzy feel. It stands in stark contrast to the bouncy and electronic-driven production many of today’s rappers opt for. On September 17th of this year the group delivered yet another album, Gold PP7s, through the independent label FatBeats Records, and it is definitely their most polished-sounding project to date. Once again, production comes from Illajide, who continues to give that little bit of soul and live instrumentation the group has become known for, while the rappers trade bars, creating a dynamic you don’t always hear in a rap group.
We spoke to all four rappers on how the D has influenced them. Read what they had to say about it below.
E-Fav -Detroit has influenced me musically through it's roots, it's progression, you can ride through the city and visit the past, present and future peaceful and chaotic at the same damn time..shits real. Growing up in that influenced me in a way that will always keep me grounded.
Ilajide - Detroit definitely plays a huge part in my aggression, and the force part of the group. Living here, it's just depressing, it's gloomy, it's never any good news. My challenge, is to turn that into positive energy. That's what our music is, that's why is not sad shit, but it's hard as fuck. Everyone deals with sad shit here left and right. I'm at the hospital writin' this shit now, but everyone has a sad story, ionn wanna hear that shit I see it every day. I just wanna take all the negative, and turn it into good vibes, positive energy, just a feel good experience, but kick ass on the mic at the same time. Even though I want better for the city, if it wasn't for Detroit being the way it is, I wouldn't rap this way. It puts a permanent chip on my shoulder. That's my inspiration to make it out.
L.A.Z. - Detroit has been a huge influence on me since I moved to MI in 2006 with both the music and my personal life. Its crazy because I never seen myself being a resident of the city when I was growing up in Colorado but I see how the soul and the attitude of the city is in me now. I draw from the everyday struggle and look to make something out of nothing and that mindset has helped me so much in the pursuit of this rap dream. Its ironic because all they talk about is people dying in Detroit and negativity but I feel like this is where I found life and a chance to do something positive with my life.
Noveliss - Detroit influenced me musically first through the artists that have come from the city. It's like when your a kid growing up, you don't start off with the knowledge that the music your playing out of your headphones comes from your city, you kind of figure it out as you get older and it makes the impact that much stronger. Growing up listening to Eminem, Royce, Slum Village (RIP Dilla), I didn't even know they were from Detroit with the exception of Slim because my homies all listened to stuff that was on TV and the radio, then when I found out its like"oh shit, I can do this if I'm good enough." Knowing that someone legendary is from around the way is powerful stuff.
Ro Spit has become a Detroit staple, and not only because he runs the infamous Detroit Burn Rubber boutique. Starting out as a deejay at local parties and venues, the rapper quickly gained recognition and respect in his hometown, and has since developed quite the discography. In 2009 he dropped his first solo effort, The OH SH#!T Project, which really set the tone for what to expect from the spitter. And that project truly embodies Detroit, from the features to the production to the content.
Since then Ro has kept grinding and remained loyal to the underground, but more specifically, to his city. He dropped another album in 2011, The Glass Ceiling Project, and more recently, in February of 2013 he released The Monochrome EP. On The Monochrome EP Ro once again pays homage to his city, with tracks like “Shine” where he paints a vivid image of what it’s really like in Detroit—he has to roll with the semi on his lap, the kids can barely read— and that’s all the more reason he needs to shine. The production on the EP is up-beat and hard-hitting (thanks to more Detroit locals like Denaun Porter and M. Stacks) but it’s not the popular trap music that’s all over the net these days, it’s dynamic and instrumental, and more traditional. Not to say Ro can’t get ratchet when he wants, just check out "Toodi Fruity" or his freestyle over Chinx Drugz' "I'm a Coke Boy."
Quelle Chris doubles as a rapper and producer, and he’s equally talented at both. The underground emcee has said previously he wants “to be a constant reminder of why we loved and still love hip-hop”—and that is indeed what he does. His records have a vintage feel but that's not to say they're stuck in the ‘90s era. The rapper who’s been steadily releasing music since 2009, dropped his debut full-length effort in 2011, Shotgun & Sleek Rifle. The album emulates the above quote exactly, with funk, soul, a taste of electronics, and lyrics fused into something that is strictly Quelle’s.
Following Shotgun & Sleek Rifle, Quelle signed a new multi-album deal with Mello Music Group (home of Oddisee). His first project released via the label was Niggas Is Men, which once more featured Quelle’s own production and vintage flow and delivery. Quelle can say some really jokes shit on record— he can make an entire track that is one hi-larious joke (peep “Super Fuck”) but he can also spit some really raw and true shit— about the rap game in general, about life, but in a way that’s like he’s talking to you, one-on-one. Quelle’s production has reached more ears than just his own, the rapper provided beats for Danny Brown’s Hybrid and XXX projects. Although the emcee can definitely spit, his remix productions are also solid and should not be overlooked, from the likes of Fiona Apple to hip-hop, Quelle is able to put a specific touch on everything he remixes, bringing out a certain grungy-ness and adding an electronic flair as necessary. The Detroit spitter recently released a new LP under Mello Music Group, Ghost At The Finish Line, which includes the “Super Fuck” anthem, and once more contains that vintage-yet-modern feel.
Black Milk is definitely not a new-comer when it comes to Detroit hip-hop. The rapper first surfaced as part of the production group B.R. Gunna, but soon stepped out as an artist (and producer) in his own right, with the moniker Black Milk. His first project, Sound Of The City: Vol. 1, was released in 2005, and definitely encompassed the sounds of Detroit, with funky and soulful elements (that seems to be the sounds of choice for most Detroit players), but there’s a toughness and rawness in his music too. Sound Of The City was followed up in 2007 by what Black Milk deemed his “proper solo debut,” Popular Demand, which once again utilized soulful samples.
Black Milk continued to roll out albums, building on the sounds we heard in Sound Of The City, thus defining his style. On top of that, Black Milk has worked on a slew of joint projects, including Black And Brown with fellow Detroit rapper Danny Brown, and a very cool but short project with Jack White titled Brain. The Jack White collaboration proves Black Milk’s love for live instrumentation. Most recently, Black Milk dropped his No Poison No Paradise album in October, while touring with Quelle Chris. This new album definitely displays his broad musicality (it was basically entirely self-produced), with a richness of different sounds, but over all it has a dark and somewhat experimental feel, while Black Milk brings intelligence and technical prowess to each rhyme.
We spoke to Black Milk on how Detroit has inspired his music. As he puts it, "Detroit's history is rich in so many types of music. Growing up in that environment made me open to experimenting with different genres." Experiment he did.
JMSN is not a rapper. However, when it comes to artists doing good for Detroit, JMSN needs to be counted among them. The singer/songwriter/producer has carved out his own unique sound in the ever-growing and ever-experimental genre of r’n’b. Starting out under the moniker Christian TV, JMSN soon needed a change (including label), and that’s when JMSN happened, as did his more curated sound. With the release of his debut album, Priscilla, JMSN introduced himself as a songwriter and producer to look out for, with his introspective, ominous and often heart-breaking music.
JMSN’s music is definitely the shit to bump when you’re having girl problems, but it’s also music you can completely vibe out too, and get lost in the musicality and grandioseness of it all—JMSN incorporates a lot of sounds and instruments into his self-produced work, creating so many different levels to the listening experience, it’s definitely something to enjoy with headphones on. Not to mention he actually knows how to sing—not just pull off melody, like several modern r'n'bers out there. Now the singer has released a follow-up to Priscilla, titled, †Pllajé†, which is as equally dark and moody as the first, as JMSN reminisces on love lost, filled with haunting strings and piano keys, among other instruments. As his first single “Walk Away” (an atypical-yet-typically-JMSN love ballad) indicated, this new project picks up right where Priscilla left off, and that’s a good thing.
As for how Detroit has influenced JMSN, the singer tells us, "I think Detroit has given the broken soul to my music in all aspects whether it's lyric writing, beat making, singing, etc. It's not about being perfect. It's about character/feeling. It's about being real."
Guilty Simpson is a staple in the underground Detroit hip-hop community, alongside the likes of J. Dilla and Slum Village. In fact, Guilty connected with the legendary Detroit producer, Dilla, in 2001. After putting in a lot of time with him, Guilty took the producer’s advice and inked a deal with independent label Stones Throw Records in 2006, which led to him releasing his debut album, Ode To The Ghetto, in 2008.
Guilty takes on the harsh realities of Detroit in his music, and with his deep voice alongside often dark and percussion-driven instrumentals, he matches those realities he speaks of. While some rappers prefer to stunt and big-up their ego on a record, or glorify street life, Guilty doesn’t—he keeps it real. Apart from working with Detroit producers like Dilla and Mr. Porter, Guilty recently connected with Philly producer Professor Small for a collaborative album, Highway Robbery. Professor Small provides dope and drum-heavy instrumentals for Guilty to flow over as he spits about day-to-day life in the concrete jungle—the only problem with this album is that it’s almost too short, the records flow easily into one another at a pretty quick pace, making the ten tracks go by all too quickly. He even connects with fellow ConCreature Boldy James on the project.
Dust McFly’s name has been circulating Detroit since 2011 when he released his debut single “I’m Out Here.” The track garnered enough buzz around the Motor City that two remixes were called for—one was a “D-mix” specifically. Since the single, Dusty has been developing his sound with his B&B “Buffies & Benihanas” series.
Dusty keeps a street and slightly trap sound, as he reps the D in all his music. In B&B 1.5 the rapper delivered a 22-track project that embodied a lot of sounds, but always with a distinct street edge, and never anything too mellow. “ShoBoat,” one of the first leaks we received off B&B 2 showed Dusty opting for an even more trap-driven sound, with drums, bass and hi-hats playing an important part to the record, which was produced by the fellow Detroit production crew Yola Gang—who make several appearances on B&B 2 making it a very Detroit affair.
THE YANCEY BOYS
The Yancey Boys are a duo consisting of Illa J and Frank Nitt—both associates of J. Dilla, and one (Illa J) happens to the legendary producer’s brother. This, and the fact that all their production on their debut effort contains previously unheard J. Dilla beats, makes them a sort of tribute to the Detroit native who passed away, although that may not be their intentions.
The Yancey Boys only released their first album, Sunset Blvd., this past October, and although that may be their first LP they are obviously an important part of the Detroit rap scene if not only for their heritage and affiliation. Illa J released a solo effort in 2008, titled Yancey Boys, which also contained previously unheard beats from his brother, and now he comes full circle with a group of that same name, and more unheard production from his brother. Obviously the music plays a very central role in both these albums, while the lyrics highlight the production. Sunset Blvd. is filled with the boom-bap and soulful sounds of Dilla, with Illa J and Frank Nitt low-key rapping, joined by a few special guests like Common and Talib Kweli. Because the beats were, most likely, created in the ‘90s, on top of features like those two, the project may very well remind you of that era.
Denmark Vessey (who adopted his name from Denmark Vesey, the leader of a slave rebellion in South Carolina in 1822, FYI) just released his debut album, Cult Classic, this year. The album is unique in concept and content, he literally takes on themes of religion and cults, interspersed with some preaching skits. Religion, let alone cults, are rarely touched upon in rap music, so it’s interesting to hear this Detroit spitter talk about it for a whole project. Backed by a lot of soul vibes and guitar riffs thanks to producer Scud One, Denmark flexes his intellect and lyrical ability. He also flexes some sarcasm with tracks like “HoeininDaGaddaDaVida” where Denmark tells the story of Adam & Eve in a very unique way, not to mention the song that follows it, “Thank You Based God.”
As mentioned, the production is entirely handled by Chicago native ScudOne, and has flares of soul and old-school vibes, it's not exactly party music. Thus, you may not want to ‘turn up’ to Denmark, and in turn, he may not be looking for mainstream fame, but he definitely has found a niche in what he does. Although Cult Classic is the first studio album from Denmark, prior to it he dropped a free mixtape which also had a cult-themed title, Don’t Drink The Kool Aid.
HotNewHipHop breaks down 10 different Detroit artists on the come-up that you should know.
The Motor City is not necessarily a mecca when it comes to hip-hop, however, it is home to several big names in rap, the first to come to mind are probably Eminem and Big Sean. More recently, Danny Brown has been stepping into the limelight outside of his city, with his album Old undoubtedly making many year-end lists and serving as Danny's lee-way to bigger and better things. Other rappers to make a name for themselves outside of Detroit are mainly Eminem-affiliates, like Obie Trice and Royce Da 5'9". Today, we've decided to avoid the well-known rappers of the D and introduce you to some of the lesser-known emcees that are making noise in the more underground hip-hop scene.
10 Detroit Players From The Underground highlights work from artists on the come-up, including Clear Soul Forces, Black Milk, Quelle Chris, Boldy James and several others, all of whom are consistently on their grind and creating music that remains true to Detroit, even (or perhaps especially) in the city's current unfortunate circumstances. Get familiar, and let us know your favorite emcee from Detroit.