Detroit Rap City: A Survey of the Motor City Renaissance

Harold Bingo scours the streets of the D beyond Sada Baby and Payroll Giovanni to look at new projects from Cash Kidd, FMB DZ, Drego and Beno, Allstar JR, and Rocky Badd
By    October 11, 2018

To our knowledge, Harold Bingo has never worked in an auto factory.

With Payroll Giovanni and Sada Baby leading the way, Detroit has had an objectively phenomenal year, While many are already familiar with Big Bossin 2 and Sada’s plethora of recent essentials (give us a new %$!* tape, man…..I say this respectfully), a number of artists are creating compelling music just beneath the surface. Some have more notoriety than others and some may become far more notable by year’s end. If one common thread binds them together, it’s that each has taken a specific aspect of the Detroit sound and expanded it in their own direction.

Rather than prioritize technical skill like an Eminem or Big Sean or drawing inspiration from Black Milk or Dilla, these artists often take stylistic cues from the Doughboyz Cashout movement. The signature Detroit production and instantly quotable lyrics  that made DBCH a local staple have been pushed forward by a group of promising up and comers who are more than happy to carry the baton. Payroll (the ostensible DBCH kingpin) now spends a fair amount of time broadening his horizons with Cardo. 4-1P and Sosa Dreamz are also stellar and reaffirm his local allegiances.  

Payroll is a self described disciple of Eastside Chedda Boyz and Street Lord’z. He’s referred to Street Lord’z crew member/fallen legend Blade Icewood as the city’s 2Pac and the group as the their Hot Boys. Street Lord’z 1999 debut album Platinum Rolees Don’t Tic Toc is a foundational cornerstone of the current Detroit sound, down to the California connection (Too Short, B-Legit, Daz and Spice 1 all make appearances).

By 2003, the profiles of each group had risen to the point where artists from all over the country were taking notice. Even the Hot Boys themselves. Juvenile & B.G. appeared on the Street Lord’z follow up album Masterpiece Theatre (in addition to Capone-N-Noreaga, Shyne, Beanie Sigel, Freeway and Young Chris). E-40, Too Short, B-Legit and Tuff Tone maintained the Bay Area connection. Eastside Chedda Boyz may not have drawn the same level of star power to their two albums (B-Legit, Yukmouth and Richie Rich notwithstanding) but they were immortalized in song by none other than Cam’ron, who shouted out “Detroit cheddar boys” on Diplomatic Immunity.

On a macro level, this is reminiscent of modern rap’s reverence for Cash Money and Three 6 Mafia at the (perceived) expense of more traditional rap geek consensus. It is worth noting that Payroll has also spoken about his admiration for Jay-Z and that some of his lyrics do scan in the same “aspirational” manner. Even if Payroll and DBCH aren’t directly involved in any of these projects, anyone who has been paying even a modicum of attention to Detroit over the past ten years will certainly hear their fingerprints.

Cash Kidd – BeBe Kid 2

Cash Kidd is responsible for some of the most entertaining bar-for-bar rapping of 2018, and you can say the same thing in general about the Detroit-Bay Area pipeline. Besides “LockDown” with Slimmy B, “Y.N.A.F.” allows him to go toe to toe with rising Oakland star ALLBLACK and Rexx Life Raj. Cash Kidd goes last and absolutely runs away with the track, closing with “I won’t take the trash out if I ain’t got my stick/If police use my raps in court then I’m out this bitch!”

This is the same energy that carries BeBe Kidd 2. His willingness to dig deeper to flip a commonly used metaphor into something more colorful allows his music to stand out in a crowded landscape. He’s ballsy enough to open a song with, “Your bitch finally left you, aww boo hoo/Ay, I know you loved her pussy cause we do too” and still has time to crack jokes about using his “white man voice” while dealing with Amazon’s customer service department on the same track.

He and DaBoii spend an entire song trading seemingly endless verses that further showcase their boundless chemistry. The tape also features some of the most memorable punchlines in recent memory. He’s packing like he’s moving out. He’s in the rental with a ratchet like he’s going to prom. He doesn’t remember if your girl’s pussy is any good cause he made sure to use a rubber.

Eventually, his guard comes down and he admits to counting money through a stream of tears. He speaks on being kicked out of a woman’s car for resisting her advances. The tape ends with a series of laments that unfold over the course of two songs. It sounds like a different person from the one who was just rattling off boasts a few tracks before. You know, the duality of man, and such.

FMB DZ – In My Bag

FMB DZ has had a quietly strong year, capably holding serve with Sada Baby on a string of loosies that form the backbone of their oft-delayed Double Dragons project. Sada’s work has gotten rightful attention, but DZ serves as a valuable counterpoint and his bars are every bit as notable despite being delivered in a slightly lower register.

He also provided many of the standout moments (“put some money on your children like the tooth fairy” ) on his recent Philthy Rich joint album. Fortunately, he saved some of his most potent material for himself. In My Bag is light on guest appearances and heavy on relatable moments that run laps through your brain (“Who woulda thought I’d be doing better than my uncles?”).

There’s plenty of shit-talking, interspersed with celebrations of how far he’s come and reminders of everything that remains at stake. He might have a nice house out of the way but he only stops by to pay the rent. His girl wants him to quit lean but he’s still not ready. One foot in, one foot out. Any celebratory moment is tempered. He always remains tethered to his surroundings, for better and for worse.

Drego & Beno – Sorry for the Get Off

With the inclusion of 2018 SOTY contender “Bloxk Party” (a Sada Baby/Drego collaboration) & Approach It (approaching 3 milion views on YouTube itself), Sorry For The Get Off provides a helpful snapshot of the current state of Detroit. Drego and Beno don’t seem too interested in celebrating their newfound success, though. Recipe opens with “I gotta pop a Perc, its hard for me to eat/wake up, pour a 4 then I go back to sleep/RIP my cousin, I seen him in my dreams.”

Recipe 2 maintains the same sentiment and “I’ll crash the whip before I spill the juice” speaks volumes. Much of the project plays like a day in the life, where drugs are used as a means of dealing with hustler’s paranoia. “I get big high/I heard you done switched sides” just about sums it up. Drego & Beno seem to exist within an endless loop of relatively mundane transactions, making the tape’s title especially apt. Even when they take a break to head to Vegas to watch a boxing match, there’s still a reminder that there is snow that needs to be shoveled.

Allstar JR – Big Daddy Shit

Allstar JR sets the tone early on. By track 5, he’s stacked enough blue faces to “pull up on the Smurfs” and hit up award shows with his pistol at the ready. As soon as the tape threatens to become rote, he shifts to Heatmakerz-by-way-of-Detroit production & reminds himself of the the times he showered at a fiend’s house or had to roll up skimp blunts to stretch his stash. Even a prospective girlfriend gets roasted for having an old purse.

Just when you start to think that 18 tracks might be a bit long, For Years & On My Bunk deploy Mase’s “What You Want” and Missy Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly in a way that allow each song to transcend its source material. At its best, Big Daddy Shit balances savage boasts with a lighter touch that humanizes the proceedings. By the end of the tape, when he’s pleading for the chance to spend just one day with his imprisoned friends (and reminiscing about the time he moved out of his house, only taking the stove with him) … you can only root for him to find peace of mind.

Rocky Badd – September 1st

Wedged squarely in the middle of this project, “Faithful”  feels like the type of song that could serve as an early indication of an acute ear for top shelf pop. Or it could become a total outlier. This would be remarkable enough in and of itself, if not for the fact that it is sandwiched between what could best be described as the logical conclusion of Usher’s “Trading Places” and a Cash Kidd collaboration where she matches his kinetic lyricism & go for broke mentality bar for bar.

As Rocky flips between different styles and production choices throughout the tape, there’s never an impression of versatility for the mere sake of it. You get the feeling that she could make almost any type of song and have it come across as authentic. She subverts genre stereotypes (“If I hit you once, you won’t forget”) and has a knack for catchy hooks. Oh, and there’s a BandGang posse cut and it closes with another killer pop song.

I’m not in the business of picking winners but I’d buy Rocky Badd stock.   

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!