Inside Whitehouse Studio, Detroit’s New Creative Haven

Jameson Draper takes a detailed look at the Westside Detroit creative hub and the artists who frequently dwell its rooms.
By    May 22, 2020

All photos by Jameson Draper

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From Motown to St. Andrews, be it a basement studio or club, almost every movement in every era of Detroit is defined by a creative nerve center.  Around the turn of the decade, there was Detroit OG StreetLord Juan, presiding over downtown’s Capitol Park Studio. Juan made his name off his work in the early 2000s rap scene with the StreetLordz, headed up by the unofficial godfather of Detroit rap, the late Blade Icewood. They weren’t the most commercially successful group outside of the city, but it’s generally accepted that the StreetLordz 1999 tape Platinum Rolees Don’t Tic Toc— with guest appearances from Daz Dillinger and Too $hort— laid the groundwork for modern Detroit hip-hop.

After years of collaborations with artists from every corner of the city, Juan opened up his own studio in the late 2000s to nurture the career of young, talented Detroit artists. Dusty McFly, SAYITAINTTONE, Earlly Mac and most notably Big Sean recorded primarily at Capitol Park in the early stages of their career. The studio tragically shut down in 2011, when the government seized all of Juan’s assets after he was convicted of possession and intent to distribute over 1,000 grams of heroin along with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The circumstances surrounding the case and conviction are shady. Juan isn’t slated to be released from prison until 2026.

After Capitol Park’s peak came and went, another creative movement popped up at Studio 17 on Seven Mile, deep in the city’s east side. The studio served a new generation of Detroit artists, mostly from the neighborhoods surrounding the studio. These young artists would prove to create the most fruitful and creative era of Detroit music to date. Sada Baby, GT, Peezy, Boldy James, Icewear Vezzo, and Teejayx6 all grew their careers at Studio 17, among many other well-known Detroit rappers. Studio 17 is still active and a popular recording spot for many regional artists, but its creative peak was undoubtedly in the mid-2010s.

Today, the creative breeding ground in Detroit can be found at the Whitehouse Studio, which doubles as an actual white house on the corner of a residential street and a highway service drive. The house, built in 1920, once sat in the middle of a quiet west side neighborhood with fenced-in yards and tree-lined streets. Urban sprawl arrived in the 1950’s in Detroit, though, and expressways systematically tore through the city and decimated predominantly black, working-class neighborhoods. Today, the house, which is visible from the freeway, maintains a black metal fence and a well-manicured lawn. It’s the last house on a struggling, but still-vibrant street. The rest of the neighborhood just on the other side of the freeway is blighted beyond recognition, a sign of the damage caused by institutional racism.

The Whitehouse Studio was founded by Sketti in 2015. A blood cousin of one of Detroit’s most popular rappers, Babyface Ray, Sketti rehabbed the house and converted it into a recording studio for his friends and family. WTM DaeMoney, a rising star in the Whitehouse crew and a relative of both Babyface Ray and Sketti, attributes his sense of artistic purpose to the time he spent at the Whitehouse with family, fooling around in the booth. The first couple of years at the Whitehouse consisted mostly of renovating the structure into a studio; the unofficial roster today started truly forming in about 2017 when some of the core artists in the group began to take music seriously. As loved ones frequented the studio and personal connections grew, the Whitehouse became a hotspot for Detroit’s best young artists to work and collaborate.

 

Today, these artists make up some of the hottest rappers in the city, churning out quality music at a pace to make Berry Gordy proud. The most popular artists involved with the studio are Babyface Ray, the currently-incarcerated Peezy and Ray’s long-time colleague, GT (all three got their start at Studio 17 as members of Team Eastside). The young voices of the studio, though, are the glue that keeps the studio’s creative output fresh and consistent.

DaeMoney and his World Tour Mafia counterparts Scoob and Milt appear on a bevy of tracks together, trading lively and relaxed raps, all the while trying to catch up to the beat, cracking jokes about Scoob forgetting his own name and knowing only that his presumably stolen ID says “Andy” — or the enemy talking trash on social media who DaeMoney deactivates. The WTM trio’s style of fragmented story-telling captures your short attention span imagination. Milt lists off common but vivid themes in his life: VLONE, percocets, rental cars, and more guns. These mental pictures instantiate the personal brand of the group: artists who take nothing in moderation, be it drugs, scamming or trips to Paris wearing British designers.

Los is the Whitehouse Studio’s gap-toothed MC with a knack for storytelling and his counterpart, Nutty, is his foil. While Los’ raps are paranoid and speak to betrayal and revenge, Nutty’s raps are the scriptures of a drug dealer’s success story. They each have solo projects, but are in their true element trading aggressive bars over minimalistic production that is darker and more cinematic than their Whitehouse counterparts. The sound pays homage to 90’s West Coast G-Funk, but Los and Nutty’s diatribes about cross-state drug trafficking bring the listener back to the present.

“I don’t like to mix my music down or none of that shit. I just put it out,” said Nutty, who actually did mix several other Whitehouse artists’ projects before he began rapping himself. “When I make a song, I don’t go to make the song for somebody to make dance moves to, I aim it towards the trap, and street shit like that.”

Los and Nutty are childhood friends, but neither began rapping until they tapped into their creative side in recent years. According to Nutty, he was instrumental in building the studio before he had any thoughts about making music. Additionally, Nutty noted that Los wasn’t rapping at all until a year ago.

Brooks is Whitehouse Studio’s resident party-starter. He raps off-kilter, jumping over beats like I can only imagine how a hummingbird raps. His voice might sound youthful, but it has a natural anthemic quality.  Brooks might be lesser known than some of the other Whitehouse artists, but his infectious confidence steals every track.

The artist in the Whitehouse closest to stardom might be Veeze. Another member who didn’t start taking rap seriously until last year, Veeze ascended quickly to a hot commodity in Detroit; there’s only one mention of him on YouTube prior to 2019. Since then, several of Veeze’s music videos have surpassed a million views. He also had arguably the most popular verse on Babyface Ray’s excellent 2019 project, M.I.A. Season 2.  He raps with a calm braggadocio, his raspy voice sometimes fading into the ebbs and flows of the beat, but his quiet confidence is captivating and leaves listeners hanging off every word. There were few projects from 2019 that matched the local hype surrounding Veeze’s Navy Wavy tape. Another solid drop in 2020 could see Veeze enter the spotlight.

The Whitehouse Studio wouldn’t be categorized in the same vein as, say, Detroit’s Doughboyz Cashout, because Doughboyz was explicitly a group and only made music as a unit. The Whitehouse makes music as a unit as well, but ultimately the Whitehouse Studio is exactly that— a studio. 

“I don’t see us going separate directions— we’re always going to be a part of and a product of the Whitehouse.” said Nutty. “But we’re still just a studio at the end of the day. We’re all trying to get bigger than just the Whitehouse.”

It’s a positive environment at the Whitehouse, and that comes from the personal ties between many of the people that frequent the studio. It was evident that the people there genuinely cared about not only their craft, but the success of everybody else in the room. That can only come from a bond made beyond the confines of music, and in turn, that passion creates impressive results.

“It’s like an Xbox with everybody swapping out playing 2k all day,” compared Dae, in true Zoomer style. “At first, we were bullshitting and laughing about songs we’d make, and then it’s like, ‘Okay, hold on this is hard. Hold on bro, come get on this.’”

“We sounded sick together! The chemistry was built day-by-day, hour-by-hour. I swear to God, it took one summer for everyone to get to the artist that they are today.”

The scene at the Whitehouse feels like a time capsule. Not often can a tight-knit group of young and talented minds collaborate without limits at their master craft, and when they can, history has shown us that it’s never meant to last. The thought conjures images of the Grateful Dead’s founding members living together in the seedy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in the mid 60’s. This era birthed some of the most culturally significant music in America’s fabric, yet it only lasted for three years before the band gained money and fame.

In ways similar to the Grateful Dead’s early days, or the legendary duo Outkast’s humble beginnings in Rico Wade’s basement, the moments created inside the studio may not last a long time, but will lay the groundwork for whatever the future holds.

Here are some of the best tracks from the Whitehouse camp:

Veeze , WTM Scoob, & DT – “Itself”

Veeze’s raps and cadences are calculated and precise, veiled in a lethargic delivery that borders on carelessness. His voice lurches and cracks on tracks like he’s a vinyl record and the turntable’s needle needs a nickel weight. In “Itself”, Veeze’s concept track from Navy Wavy, he teams up with Scoob and DT to pimp hoes, jam pieces and rep his hood (among other things) because, simply, they’re not going to do it themselves. 

Not only does this track embody the conceptual creativity of the Whitehouse but it’s also an impeccable display of chemistry. Scoob and DT are able to play off Veeze’s concept well, adding some of their own punchlines on subsequent verses. Scoob is on the road, telling the cops he doesn’t know himself, while DT’s running to the store to grab a pop, because the lean won’t pour itself.

Los & Nutty – “Bishop”

An ominous keyboard loop and faint horns give way to a theatrical bass line, setting the scene at the beginning of “Bishop”, Los’ homage to the film Juice; the track’s ambience is nearly as sinister as the movie itself. Los and Nutty work great together in tandem, feeding off each other’s energy to manufacture a grim image that exudes from all their work. 

“I speak for the dope dealers. That’s my lane. The drug dealin’ type of motherfuckers,” said Nutty.

The two put an emphasis on visuals— their music videos for “Yo Kareem” and “Micheal Corleon” feature 80’s hip-hop motifs and skits— and “Bishop” is no different. The music video starts with a re-enactment of this scene, and from there, director Supa Ray sets an ominous mood with deep blue and blood red color schemes. Halfway through the video, Los compares himself to Q from the film while a stand-in for Bishop literally hangs off the roof. The art direction of Los and Nutty’s music gives them an advantage over many Detroit artists, who use music videos as an afterthought instead of a branding device.

Brooks – “Jeffin”

One of the few solo joints from the Whitehouse Studio’s first compilation, Da House, Vol. 1, “Jeffin” became a Detroit cult favorite. There’s always something brave about an artist using creative lingo you don’t hear in other songs— Drakeo the Ruler comes to mind with his terms like “Pippy Longstocking” and “Flu Flamming”— and whether it’s going to work, or just sound contrived and corny. Brooks nails the attempt on his breakout track, where he takes on an eccentric, chant-like cadence in his hook, explaining why and how everyone surrounding him is “jeffin’”; a term interchangeable with “tripping” or “playing”. Throughout the track, Brooks complains about a customer who doesn’t come to the spot with enough money and a woman who doesn’t want to sleep with him on-sight. In essence, they are indeed jeffin’.

Brooks is a member of the Whitehouse we haven’t seen too much of yet, but could have a productive 2020. His debut project, Just Start Rappin’, dropped on New Year’s Day and is a concise tape— the run time is less than 30 minutes— that showcases Brooks’ ability to keep listeners tuned in throughout an entire project. He’s only assisted by three guests throughout the tape: Babyface Ray, Veeze and Baby Smoove.

Nuke Brown & Babyface Ray – “It’s Fucked Up”

Nuke Brown is a relatively minor member of the Whitehouse collective, but showed up on this excellent track with Ray from Da House, Vol. 1. He raps with a strained conviction that borders on whispering, which fits nicely with Ray’s laid-back and easygoing flow.

This track embodies the essence of the Whitehouse. Regardless of popularity, any member of the studio— minor or major— can go bar-for-bar with the stars of Detroit like it’s just another day on the job.

WTM DaeMoney & Veeze – “Fingers Crossed”

DaeMoney has two things going for him:

  1. He’s cousins with the best MC and the founder of the most creatively rewarding recording studio in Detroit.
  2. He’s a gifted rapper with an authoritative voice.

DaeMoney grew up around Studio 17 and Team Eastside via his relationship with Babyface Ray, a stepping stone for his eventual career.

“I’m still learning, but I’ve been around before Ray and Peezy were popular, when they were still coming up,” Dae said about his introduction to the music industry, “When I first decided to be serious with music, Studio 17 is where I made my first song.”

DaeMoney became a hot name in Detroit when his most recent project, Young Sexual Misconduct, dropped in January. If you think you’re misreading the title, you’re not. It’s jarring and sounds like a documentary you’d see trending on the Netflix home page, and begs the morbidly curious to press play. It’s the reason Dae named the project so strangely; the viral marketing strategy to gain otherwise uninterested listeners is a sign of the times. Dae is the youngest rapper in the Whitehouse, so it only makes sense that his branding technique reflects his youth.

The world figuring out that Dae was Babyface Ray’s nephew didn’t hurt his stock, but one can only get so far on another man’s name, and DaeMoney is far from a footnote in the current landscape of Detroit hip-hop. Given his history of lurking in the shadows of the city’s richest cultural moments and his degree from Babyface Ray University, Dae has developed a solid reputation.

DaeMoney raps with precision, cutting through the hazy style of many Whitehouse MCs with crystal clarity.  His songs are always mixed to sound crisp; Dae never uses auto-tune, which accentuates his baritone yet youthful voice. His imagery is poignant, whether he’s talking about staring death in the eye or shamelessly doing soul-bearing women dirty.

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