When I think of Detroit hip-hop, people like Elzhi, Black Milk, and Slum Village come to mind. Not Guilty Simpson. While I’ve known of Simpson since first hearing him years ago on Elzhi’s Fire remix (his is the second to last verse), I’ve never been compelled to explore his music beyond features and the Random Axe album. So Detroit’s Son, his fifth album on the Stones Throw label, is my first experience of Guilty Simpson as a solo artist. And, having now played it for a few weeks, I can safely say that I’ve been sleeping on this guy.
It’s not that what I found lacking before, personality in his rhymes, has suddenly been fixed. Guilty Simpson is still a very straightforward rapper who is sometimes clever with wordplay but whose flow veers far towards the basic end of the spectrum. But on beats this good, his problems can be ignored. And, given a proper chance, I found that his simple and forceful tone becomes a kind of lyrical anti-personality, similar to Chuck D’s delivery. So when I’m in the mood for simple rap that, unlike the radio, doesn’t make my brain evaporate, Guilty easily meets that need.
Unfortunately, where Chuck D also had a cutting edge political perspective to speak from, Guilty Simpson’s messages are much less compelling. Most of Detroit’s Son is spent bragging about his rapping ability, which sounds much more boring than it is, but still wears thin over these 17 tracks. He occasionally breaks up those songs with topics, but the results are very hit or miss. One line on Ghetto is “still left him froze, cold like the winter weather,” which would have been just barely ok if not for the interest-grabbing internal rhyme of froze and cold. But on Money, he’s terribly inarticulate:
the morals of life, a heavy pay
but as soon as we get in the game
you call foul cause I’m flagrant
shit, let us play, money!
Basic basketball metaphors aside, the fact that other rappers have done these topics to death makes these shortcomings especially glaring. I’d normally say that Guilty Simpson needs to be more creative when picking and attacking topics, except that I feel he’s at his best when talking about nothing but peppering in puns and multisyllabic rhyming. Not that he ever comes anywhere near comparing well to Elzhi’s verse on Blue Collar, but he definitely does enough to avoid being boring.
Faint praise that that is, Detroit’s Son works because Guilty sounds great over all of these fantastic Katalyst beats. Similar to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, and Run The Jewels, this pairing shows again that hardcore raps over weird underground beats is a match made in hip-hop heaven. While Detroit’s Son uses a soul sample masterfully, my favorite beats here have loud synthesizers and buzzing and lo-fi samples that make Guilty’s rhymes feel like a god’s boasts that can barely be contained in mp3s.
So despite some moderate shortcomings, I have to acknowledge that Guilty Simpson put together a good body of music for Detroit’s Son. It’s probably not of award-winning quality, and it may not convert all non-believers like it did me, but it should prove extremely solid to many hip-hop fans. Simpson’s no-nonsense flow and his choice of Katalyst’s spectacular instrumentals have made me a fan that will definitely be looking looking forward to what he does in the future.
- Blunts in the Air
- Detroit’s Son