Beyond 8 Mile: A Glimpse Into Detroit's Current Hip Hop Scene

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HotNewHipHop takes a glimpse into Detroit's current hip hop scene.

A straight shot up I94, and almost 300 miles from Detroit, Chicago’s drill scene is currently making waves for the Midwest.The city that is currently more known for its violence than its wind, beautiful architecture and tasty signature deep dish pizza has captured the attention of America’s hip hop community. But what about its neighbor, who once introduced the nation to some of its brightest musicians? One of the men responsible for this is undoubtedly Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. Motown's headquarters during the 1960s produced some of the worlds greatest hits, leading the recording studio to adopt the name Hitsville U.S.A. Thanks to Berry Gordy, Motown Records forever left the Motor City to be referred to as Motown. 

Detroit currently doesn’t house any large soulful pop acts, but the city’s hip hop scene is promising. This April, legendary emcee Nas signed Detroit’s Boldy James to his new Mass Appeal imprint. Described as one of the best moments of his life, before the deal was finalized James graced the stage alongside Nas at the 2014 SXSW festival, which caused rumors to swirl about a record deal. “It’s an honor to even be able to have anything to do with that legacy,” James tells HNHH in the parking lot of Detroit’s Hot 107.5 FM radio station. “Any comparison or any co-sign, it’s the best look. Shout out to Escobar.” 

James being signed to Mass Appeal garnered Detroit positive national attention, but a few weeks ago, the city was in the media for something much more controversial. Detroit’s Hot 107.5FM hosted the city’s annual Summer Jamz concert at Chene Park, where the night ended with disappointed fans because the headliner, Rick Ross, didn’t perform due to an alleged “no fly zone” policy spearheaded by Detroit rapper Trick Trick. Although Rick Ross’ cancelled set caused major controversy for the Motor City, what most people don’t realize is that in hindsight the Summer Jamz concert turned out to be a great platform for Detroit artists. The concert opened up with Detroit Che and was followed by performances by SSE’s Champ, Team Eastside, Boldy James and Icewear Vezzo, who replaced Rick Ross and closed out the concert. 

 Vezzo, who just released his new project The Clarity 3, loves Detroit’s creativity, but feels that the Detroit hip hop scene isn't big enough. “I love everything about my city.The Detroit hip hop scene is cool, but it’s so small. It’s too many niggas fighting for one position,” he tells HNNH a few days after his album release. “That’s the only thing about it. Other than that, I love the music, I love our wave, I like the shit we come up with, I like our slang and our whole culture is dope and I want the world to see it. Niggas gone love the way we do it.” Detroit hip hop journalist, Curt Williams, who writes for feels that the Motor City’s hip hop scene is flourishing and new artists will soon garner Detroit rap national attention, just like its neighboring state. “As a whole, I think the Detroit hip hop scene is going in a great direction. There are a lot of young new talent that I believe will continue to find dope ways to push the culture forward, and while doing so, bring the hip hop scene here to the forefront,” he says. 

Although Detroit’s hip hop scene may not currently be at the forefront there are a handful of Detroit artists such as Eminem, Big Sean,  Danny Brown, Angel Haze, Slum Village, Invincible and Black Milk who are headlining international tours. Angel Haze just recently performed on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival and Black Milk’s current tour ends in Vancouver, tomorrow. Perhaps the reason that Detroit hip hop isn’t monopolizing the rap industry is because Detroit artists have a myriad of different styles. It’s difficult to recognize what’s actually coming out of Detroit. Artists from cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles are easy to peg because sonically most of the music sounds the same. “Detroit’s sound is evolving. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you’re listening to these days. Take a rapper like Danny Brown. His style is not synonymous with the Detroit sound. That’s why he’s so big overseas, because his sound is more universally accepted amongst other cultures who listen to hip hop, but aren’t too familiar with the Vezzo’s and DoughBoyz CashOut’s of the world,” Williams explains. “I think rappers like Danny Brown are needed. There was a time, where Detroit rap was so one-dimensional and everybody sounded like Blade Icewood, or Eastside Chedda Boyz. It’s refreshing to see other artists from the city that aren’t afraid to experiment with different sounds and are willing to push boundaries to elevate their music.” 


James feels that the Detroit sound isn’t a monolith because a lot of Detroit rappers are mimicking other regions. “Everybody is running away from that real Motown sound. They’re chasing other sounds from different cities and states, below the Macon-Dixon, west, east and all of that. When we always had it right here. It’s niggas like me that’s really from these Detroit streets for real,” the “One of One” rapper explains. “I don’t hear my city in a lot of the music that gets made around here. They might speak the slang, but it’s like they’re fighting just to get through the song instead of being themselves and trying to be creative for the reasons that they want to be creative as opposed to what everybody else thinks of them.

Williams, who is in the thick of the Detroit rap scene, feels that the mimicking and influence of other regions is a result of Detroit being located in the middle of it all. “The dope part about being from the Midwest, is the fact that we’re right in the center of things. So we have the advantage of absorbing everything around us. We’re influenced by the East Coast, West Coast and the South. That’s not to say other rappers in other regions aren’t influenced like that too, but it’s just a different thing. I guess you have to live here to fully understand.”

Regardless what exactly Detroit artists sound like, there’s an abundance of organic cultivation of the hip hop culture taking place in the city, which shares a national border with Ontario, Canada. There are spaces such as Detroit’s 5E Gallery, which is a hip hop and visual art gallery where the youth, women hip hop artists and musicians can gather to collaborate, create, gain exposure and sharpen their skills. Artists such as Mae Day, Miz Korona (8 Mile), Outerspaces, DS Sense, Insite The Riot and more can often be found there performing their music.


Some may feel as if the Motown spirt no longer exists or that Detroit is just a city filled with abandoned houses and crime, but Detroit hip hop artists negates that notion. Detroit hip hop actually may be just what the doctor ordered to paint the city in a new light.“We are Motown. It never really went anywhere. Me being from here, I know my history. I’m from the real lineage of the city. So that’s what I represent. I’m not the type of person that’s trying to give the city a black eye. I just want to put on for my city and let everybody know that this is the real Detroit,” James says. “I’m in the streets for real everyday. All of the shit that everybody’s so terrified of, that’s my world. Not saying we’re glorifying any of the bullshit, but those are my friends and loved ones. I don’t look at them how the world views those people in particular. I got love for them and they have love for me back. Somebody had to bring it back home. Motown ain’t never went nowhere man. It’s just like people ran away from home. I ain’t never went nowhere, I’m right here. I’m going to hold us down.” 


About The Author
<b>Contributor</b> Glennisha is a multimedia journalist, writer, filmmaker and photographer who is a hip hop enthusiast. She can be found watching her favorite films repeatedly, cooking and downloading the latest mixtapes, in her spare time. <strong>Favorite Hip Hop Artists:</strong>Nas, Angel Haze, Tupac, Raven Sorvino, Siya, J. Cole, Outkast, Lil Kim and Mae Day.