Almost everyone thinks they know about Baltimore because of The Wire. Everyone thinks they know about South Central Los Angeles because of Boyz N The Hood. And everyone really remembers the last battle in 8 Mile… and they think they know about Detroit. But that’s only one face of the rough diamond that is the Motor City: “They don’t smile much out here/You rarely see pearly whites but a pearl handle was an early sight/Gettin’ touched out here/They don’t give a f*ck out here.” Those are some of the opening lines to Guilty Simpson’s “Money” track from his last album, Detroit’s Son. The album was entirely produced by heavy handed producer and Quakers’ co-founder Katalyst. And this isn’t the first time that they’ve worked together (see: Quakers’ “Fitta Happier” which was also the opening track to Stones Throw’s Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton).
After some time to live with the album and let it breathe, we sent Guilty Simpson some questions about the project and then some. You can read the interview below and purchase your copy, digital and physical, of Detroit’s Son on Stones Throw’s website.
Your relationship with Katalyst formed from the “Fitta Happier” track. What was the working relationship like with Katalyst for this project on a daily basis? How much input did you have on the production and did he have any say on the lyrics or themes?
Guilty Simpson: It was a great process. Most of it started through email being that he’s in Australia and I am in Detroit. But when I went to Australia I was able to get in the studio with him and record critical songs to the album.
He would send the tracks and I would pick the ones that I liked the most.
A lot of the tracks he sent already had titles to them and I took the titles and applied them to the songs. So indirectly he had a lot of input.
What kind of Detroit did you want to portray to the listeners of this tape?
I wanted to portray the current state of it through my eyes. I don’t think it is a difficult image to portray in good light because I’m proof you can live through it.
Our musical history or history, period, in Detroit is as rich as any place in America-definitely nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a rough city with rough stories.
You talk about such rough stories on the streets extensively in your music, namely the “Ghetto.” What are some quick insider tips for people who have no choice but to live in those kinds of neighborhoods and flourish like you?
Be who you are and own it. Everybody in the ghetto isn’t tough. When you’re honest about who/what you are, that’s half the battle. Hang around like-minded people.
As an emcee, is it harder to do a track with straight bars like “Rhyme 101” or a more conceptual one like “Detroit’s Son”?
Straight bars is the easiest because that’s where I came from. The Detroit Open Mic scene didn’t allow too many concept raps. When they put that instrumental on they wanted to hear battle style bars in he crowd. So that’s what we wrote.
You mentioned on this project that you’re not rapping for the “popular game.” What is the main motivation for your music? Representing Detroit? Becoming the GOAT?
I rhyme to express my art. Similar to a painter. He does his art and some people will get it; some won’t. Some will say it’s beautiful; some will say it’s trash. That’s what art is to me. But most can tell through my music “catchy” isn’t my aim. And yeah, representing Detroit is a must.
“The Time Is Now” came across as an especially important track because it discusses freeing yourself from the prison cycle. Do you have any ideas to help solve this problem other than penning more verses to open your listeners’ eyes?
Yeah, I mentor a couple of kids that don’t have fathers in their lives that are close to my family. I’m showing kids from these neighborhoods we grew up in, another way. It’s been rappers before me that have done the same and even more. Now I’m doing my part.
You mentioned on “Say What” that you’re not the type to be terrified or terrorized. If you were to advise President Obama on the situation with ISIS, what do you propose to him?
Sit down with Muslim leaders, anyone that both sides mutually respect, and try to find a medium. When you deal with war both sides get blood on their hands. Blood of the innocent. I’m sure both sides have lost many innocent lives. It’s sad all around.
As a native Detroit citizen, what are some ideas that you think could help the city bounce back from its economic issues? How much of a help do you think the legalization of weed is?
It’s already bouncing back. Detroit is a car city so everything trickles down from that. Now that people are buying cars again the smaller businesses are thriving. The city is changing a lot and it’s a lot of money starting to come in with all these investors. Stay tuned.
You chose to end the project with “Power Outage.” Was there a specific reason for that? Spread more love in the world?
Who wouldn’t like to end a long day with someone they love? It’s the perfect ending for me at least.
You were also part of the no-nonsense group Random Axe with Black Milk and Sean Price (RIP). What were the first thoughts that went through your mind after you find out that Sean Price had passed away? What did losing an artist like that mean to you and to Hip-Hop?
My 1st thoughts were with his family and still are. Ruck was incredible as an MC so Hip-Hoop lost a GOD. I lost a good friend and group member, but the music is the easy part.
What would you be doing now if it weren’t for Hip-Hop?
Probably coaching football or something. I love sports.
Bryan Hahn needs more songs like “Fitta Happier” in the world. He’s on Twitter (@notupstate).