Revisiting Detroit Ghettotech Legend, DJ Assault

Adam Wray may or may not have beaten up someone in a Jeremy Scott sweater last night. A few things I love: regional strains of dance music; creative, idiosyncratic junk food; compellingly inept...
By    February 1, 2013

Adam Wray may or may not have beaten up someone in a Jeremy Scott sweater last night.

A few things I love: regional strains of dance music; creative, idiosyncratic junk food; compellingly inept sports franchises. Cradle of modern electronic music, birthplace of the coney (a marvel of modern gluttony), and home to the improbably awful Lions, Detroit goes three-for-three. So while I live in Toronto, I have an abiding fondness for the D. Really, how could you not? Key notch in
the Rust Belt, it’s an underdog among underdogs that’s been punching above its weight since its economy began shrinking in the 1960s. A robust musical culture emerged from its sprawl, boasting a lineage linking Motown to Dilla, Iggy & the Stooges to the Gories, and the Belleville Three to Danny Brown.

Which brings me to DJ Assault. DJ Assault is known chiefly for his contributions to ghettotech, Detroit’s own brand of high-BPM bass music. Briefly stated, ghettotech was the sound of Miami bass infiltrating Detroit techno. It was a welcome pairing, too – traditional Detroit techno’s austere vibe was part of its appeal, but it took itself a bit seriously, tiptoeing along the line between deliberate and effete. Miami bass, built on 808 kicks, springy bass lines, and mega-raunchy lyrics, was dumb-out booty music. Ghettotech was a near-perfect hybrid, marrying Miami’s raw levity to Detroit’s high production standards.

One of the genre’s quintessential jawns is a DJ Assault tune you already know and love: “Ass-n-Titties.” It’s a buoyant ode to, um, asses and titties. Infectious and quirky, it’s an indelible classic that belongs in the party joint canon alongside “Ignition (Remix).” So you can imagine my chagrin when I realized it wasn’t in my iTunes library. Lucky for me it is 2013, and minutes later I had acquired Belle Isle Tech, the 1997 two-disc set on which “Ass-n-Titties” was first released.

Disc two is exactly what you’d expect from Assault – a revved-up, super-bouncy, hypersexual tour de force. It’s a solid slab of ghettotech, a great introduction to the genre. You hear Detroit in tracks like “Numerals,” built around a Kraftwerk sample and relentless drum programming, and Miami in “Big Booty Hoes and Sluts Too,” all rubberband bass and over-the-top bawdiness.

The first disc, though, is altogether stranger, and totally not what I expected – it’s a smooth-as-hell g-funk record.

Now, if I’d known my shit, I would’ve known that Assault started out as half of a rap duo called Assault-n-Battery and only developed a taste for bass music while attending college in Atlanta, whose bass sound was similar to Miami’s. I was entirely ignorant of this side of Assault’s sound, though, so disc one of this set took me by surprise a couple times – first when I realized what I was listening to, and again when I realized that, for what it is, it’s actually very good. Assault didn’t reinvent the genre, but the first half of Belle Isle Tech is highly competent and a lot of fun.

The production is straight-up g-funk, cruising along mid-tempo with plenty of that familiar synth whine. It’s derivative but well executed. “Who?” is a standout, built around a vocal sample from Xscape’s “Who Can I Run To?” The content is familiar, too. “Detroit Summer” is a day-in-the-life hoodlum chronicle, complete with a Nate Dogg-style crooned hook. This is Assault’s best vocal turn on the record. He raps with steady confidence in a low baritone, occasionally lapsing into a slight lisp that adds warmth and character. Worth noting, too, is a track called “Thinkin Bout You” that could not be more different from the Frank Ocean tune of the same name. I mean, the hook is “Girl, I been thinking’ ’bout you/you got me jackin’ my shit.” That’s that ghettotech spirit in a g-funk frame.

Purists sometimes lament that the Internet, for all the access it provides, will always be a poor substitute for crate digging, will never offer that potential for serendipitous discovery. Nonsense. Despite Toronto’s ties to Detroit (House Shoes once said that Toronto was the only city besides Detroit that really “got” Dilla, a claim some Torontonians will bring up every opportunity you give them), the odds of me finding DJ Assault records here are relatively slim. Even if I had come across one, I would’ve chucked it if it weren’t “Ass-n-Tittes,” loathe to shell out for the deep cuts of a guy I’d previously seen as a bit of a gimmick. Now, thanks to wanton mp3 consumption, I consider myself a full-fledge Assault fan. If I do encounter a DJ Assault 12,” I’ll be sure to snap it up. You should too.

ZIP: DJ Assault – A Bluffer’s Guide to DJ Assault (Left-Click)

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