Detroit

"The Secrets to J Dilla's Production Style Revealed in a Fantastic New Video" (AFH archive)

First published at Ambrosia for Heads, 6 December 2017 read the article on the AFH site

For anyone wanting to understand why Detroit producer J Dilla is so revered more than one decade after his untimely death, a new video by journalist Estelle Caswell in the Vox “Earworm” series offers the perfect starting-point. This mini-documentary takes a close look at Dilla’s radical re-invention of drums, his passion for “low-end texture” and his highly creative, even eccentric interest in extending sounds. The Slum Village and JayLib member did it with some hardware.

The machine in question is Dilla’s Akai MPC 3000, currently on display in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Not unlike Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, or John Coltrane’s saxophone, Dilla’s MPC 3000 was an “extension of his self,” Caswell argues and a key to understanding his rare gift as an artist.

The first MPC (beginning with the 60 model) was released in 1988. It is, as Caswell notes a “holding station for all kinds of samples” with 16 touch-sensitive pads and able to take the role of the “musical brain of the studio.” But even though the idea of creating music from pre-recorded sounds goes back to the 1930s, Akai’s MPC ushered in a new era because of its portability and price.

“The MPC was a different beast because it really put you in the driver’s seat in terms of the sonic texture that you want it to have,” Brian “Raydar” Ellis, MC/producer and professor at Berklee College of Music explains in the video. Unlike previous drum machines, the MPC is “a fully customizable machine” allowing producers to manipulate sounds to fit their preferences.

By the mid-’90s, the MPC 3000 was an instrument of choice of the era’s top producers, such as Pete Rock, Dr. Dre and Q-Tip. And of course, J Dilla was also on that list.

One of the best parts of the video is The Roots’ Questlove doing a demo at a drum-kit. First, he does a traditional drum-pattern, but then he twists it into something more Dilla-esque, where drums typically sound as if “the kick-drum was played by a drunk three-year-old.” Questlove recalls how when he first heard Dilla drums, he wondered, “Are you allowed to do that?” But then adds, “That to me was the most liberating moment.”

Whereas many of Dilla’s contemporaries quantized their beats to make the drum sounds follow a perfect pattern, Dilla preferred to switch off this feature. In doing so, he created “a discography full of incredibly off-kilter drums.” But this was only part of it. Dilla was also known for his “signature low-end texture” which came from cutting all high-end frequencies of the sample: see here, the drums in The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’” from 1995’s Labcabincalifornia.

Caswell also spends time unpacking Dilla’s interest in extending sounds, see “Don’t Cry” from 2006’s seminal Donuts instrumental LP released on his birthday three days before his death. “Instead of chopping to the melody,” she begins, “He chopped up a handful of kicks and snares from the entire song regardless of the melody on top of it and like little puzzle pieces he re-sequenced these kicks and snares to an entirely new, dream-like song.”

Elsewhere in the video, Caswell sums up the extraordinary talent of the quintessential Detroit beat-maker this way: “[J Dilla] internalized every possible technique in Hip-Hop and expanded upon it.” And he did this “with an intense love and curiosity about sounds and a lot of patience.”

In the end, this video is not just for music-nerds wanting to learn more of the intricacy of what makes Hip-Hop production such a special beast, though they will surely like it too, but for anyone interested in learning what made J Dilla unique.

"Pete Rock & J Dilla Birthed a Beat Generation that Shaped the Future" (AFH archive)

First published at Ambrosia for Heads, 4 January 2018, read the article on the AFH site


Within the space of three months in 2001, two of Hip-Hop’s preeminent producers, J Dilla and Pete Rock were in a kind of competition, and this led to the release of two ground-breaking albums that would shape the sound of the genre for the next decade and beyond.

According to Hip-Hop folklore, when Pete Rock heard Jay Dee’s idiosyncratic and, as it would later prove, highly influential debut, Welcome 2 Detroit on its February 2001 release, he felt compelled to match it and did so with PeteStrumentals a few months later.

“This guy took it at least two or three levels higher than me,” Pete Rock said of the Slum Village co-founder in Brian “B.Kyle” Atkins’ documentary Still Shining, per Complex “It’s like a chain reaction. Basically, it was like Larry Smith to Marley Marl, from Marley Marl to Pete Rock, from Pete Rock to Jay Dee….” He then says that Dilla was the “brand-new king,” with a talent that was  “ridiculous.” The two had worked together on the Villa’s Fantastic, Vol. 2 in 2000.

The two albums came out in the Beat Generation series via London-based label, BBE Records. The label was founded by DJs, Peter Adarkwah and Ben Jolly and took its name from the Universal Robot Band track, “Barely Breaking Even” from 1982. Later Beat Generation contributors in the series included Marley Marl’s Re-Entry, will.i.am.’s Lost ChangeDJ Jazzy Jeff (twice), DJ SpinnaKing BrittMadlib, then Dilla with The Shining in 2006.

BBE Records boss Adarkwah says that the series made its name in the US, with other key producers, such as Flying Lotus and 9th Wonder citing its importance. Not only did it set up the Jay Dee-Pete Rock dyad, it also ushered in an era where Pete Rock-type beat-tapes have their own currency. Something that is arguably a defining feature of the current Hip-Hop scene.

Adarkwah’s message to the Beat Generation producers was simple: “Do what you feel,” and urged the beat-makers to create music that embodied their musical tastes, in all its eclecticism.

“I’d been on enough shopping trips with Kenny [Dope] and Mr Thing to know that those guys don’t just listen to Hip-Hop. They buy Jazz, Rock, Funk, Reggae – they’re into everything. So, Beat Generation wasn’t just about people who make beats. It was about that Beat spirit of Allen Ginsberg and Jazz poetry. My brief to them was, ‘Do what you feel. Try and express what your influences are on record.’” He says that Dilla and Spinna out of all the contributors “nailed it the best.”

Leading up to his Welcome 2 Detroit solo record debut, Slum Village’s Dilla had been establishing himself as a producer, as one-third of The Ummah and working on Common’s 2000 critically acclaimed Like Water For Chocolateamong other projects.

Welcome 2 Detroit was a radical move on his part and unlike anything else around at the time: an album made up of fragments and unexpected musical and tonal shifts that was also marked by the  personality of its maker and the city he came from. On Welcome 2 Detroit, the young producer is reveling in mixing up musical genres (see: “Rico Suave Bossa Nova”) and thereby helps smash the template of a what a Hip-Hop album might sound like.

In the album liner notes, Dilla says how “B.B.E (Big Booty Express),” which transformed Kraftwerk’s elemental break “Trans-Europe Express” into a kind of space-age stripper anthem, was “his baby,” maybe because of its debt to Detroit Techno origins.

Dilla also sang a cover of Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” with Neo-Soul star, Dwele on trumpet and keys.

PeteStrumentals, meanwhile, put in place the foundations for all Soul-based Hip-Hop production that came in its wake, see here the pure melody and moody intelligence of “Smooth Sailing” and perhaps most famously “A Little Soul.”

In 2015, Pete Rock dropped PeteStrumentals 2 on Mello Music Group.

"Always a singer first": an interview with Illa J, following the release of John Yancey (Jakarta Records, 2018)

Naming his latest album, John Yancey – the artist’s birth name - might seem an overly sober, straight-forward move for Detroit singer and sometime rapper, Illa J but there are reasons and significance behind his choice.

In 2008, Illa J released Yancey Boys – a strong début showing off his talents as singer/MC against some superb unreleased beats by his late brother, J Dilla. With a tiny guest roster (Frank Nitt, Guilty Simpson …), the album was an intimate tribute to the much-missed producer/MC known as Jay Dee.

Yancey Boys still sounds great today, but it seems to have been a mixed blessing for Illa J who was just 19 when his brother passed. Hence the significance of the John Yancey title; this new album, like others before it is all about Illa J reclaiming his name in his own right, asserting - no matter how gently - the singularity of his voice, while still showing respect to his brother.  

John Yancey more than adequately meets any such challenges. Produced by Calvin Valentine - who also provided the music for the previous album, Home - it showcases Illa J’s sophisticated lyricism and truly sweet voice.

Meshing pop/R&B, with occasional rhymes, Illa J’s songs are carried by a summery, almost doo-wop vibe a lot of the time, while still held in the embrace of the music that raised him. Illa J’s vocals have a distinctive timbre, reminiscent … old school Smokey Robinson as he raps on the lovely hybrid-rap ballad, “Rose Gold.”

Other album highlights, such as “Tokyo” and the dulcet tones of “Sunday” similarly allow his vocals take centre stage. Future plans include moving into production, it’ll be interesting to see how Illa J continues to keep building his name as a vocalist, as that is where his real talent lies.   

Our phone conversation last month stayed focussed on Illa J’s new album, John Yancey.  When it was time to talk about the songs making references to J Dilla, “James Said” and “32,” the pre-paid credit on my phone cut, thus leaving my remaining questions unanswered. This seems appropriate, somehow.  

In the interview below, Illa J speaks about Detroit’s distinctive sound, and why we should thank the Yancey Boys’ musician father, Beverly Dewitt Yancey for providing the “foundations” for everything his gifted sons later produced and how Slum Village remains a key influence, as he says: “No Slum Village, no me.”  

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"I'm my own competition," an interview with Black Milk, following the release of FEVER

First published at Passion of the Weiss, April 5 2018

Rather than stay wedded to the early-career production style that made his name furnishing beats for Slum Village and other Detroit artists (Royce da 5’9, Danny Brown, Elzhi) and provided the soundtracks for his solo albums from the mid-2000s on, Black Milk has always preferred the more adventurous route.

His 2014 EP, Glitches in the Break, for instance, sounded like little else he’d done to up until that point: deconstructed, driven by bass-lines and disembodied vocal samples, with each track offering sharp contrast to the next. Accordingly, the impressionistic portrait of hometown Detroit, that same year’s If There’s a Hell Below…, similarly marked a new direction.

In the four years since, Black Milk has been pretty quiet, aside from his near-constant touring with his live band, Nat Turner and the group’s 2015 release, The Rebellion Sessions. After an extended period living in Texas, Black Milk is now based in Los Angeles, where he recorded his most recent LP, FEVER, along with additional sessions featuring local musicians back in Detroit.

Many of Black Milk’s core lyrical interests return on FEVER, with the MC expressing concern about the way social media dehumanizes and distorts relationships (“Laugh Now, Cry Later”), schools churning out ill-educated fools (“True Lies”), racism and police violence (“Drown”); but FEVER never dips into the raw, more experimental style of past releases, preferring instead to play with a late ’70s jazz-funk sound, which imbues the album with an air of chic refinement and definite cool.

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‘Nocturne’/Nocturnes, Yusef Lateef (Suite 16, Atlantic Records, 1970 & Nocturnes, Atlantic, 1989)

Nocturne, Suite 16 (Atlantic Records, 1970)

Flute, Flute [Pneumatic Bamboo], Flute [Bamboo], Saxophone [Tenor], Saxophone [Soprano], Oboe, Bells, Tambourine – Yusef Lateef with Chuck Rainey, Bass; Jimmy Johnson, Drums; Neal Boyar, Vibraphone.

Nocturnes, Atlantic, 1989 

Personnel: Yusef Lateef: Flute, Alto Flute, Tenor Sax, Piano, Christopher Salvo: Clarinet, Hugh Schick: Flugelhorn, Patrick Tucker: French Horn

'Nocturne' (1970) from Suite 16 - wistful turning to bombast, almost military-style, just after 1’13” funk/electronic elements. Nocturnes (1989) an album that has been celebrated as mood music, but I find disturbing in the best possible way. This music offers a sense of depth, of spatial dimensions where sounds indicate both what is heard and suggested, creating a nimbus-effect transposed into music, an impression of a deep background. This captures the essential, defining quality of jazz (even though Lateef rejected that term, see below) of longing, reaching out, desire distilled, at times. 

Remembering Yusef Lateef (born Chattanooga, TN 10/09/20, died Shutesbury, MA 12/23/13). Music for the new year.

Here is the AllMusic review, I found nothing else on the album, the author isn’t named:

'Yusef Lateef has always sought to extend the boundaries of musical expression. Continuing his quest for new vistas in jazz, Yusef Lateef's 1989 release Nocturnes is a subtle, even brooding, musical project that uses sound colors and stark musical landscapes to create, above all else, a sense of darkness and nighttime. This music is largely programmatic. In fact, Nocturnes is probably best summed up as a modern tone poem. The writing is gloomy and ominous, dissonant and angular. Yet, each track retains a distinctly gentle and placid disposition. Trumpeter Hugh Schick plays with a rich, full bodied and legato approach throughout and Lateef's own flute playing is often quite heartrending as he soliloquizes over his own piano and keyboard playing.

Nocturnes is a perfect CD for late nights or dreary afternoons, Lateef and crew challenge our ears to enter into a world that is at once desolate and austere, yet pretty and serene. In short, this is mood music at its best. Highlights include 'Compassion Duration' and 'Warm Intensity.'

To mark the passing of Yusef Lateef, the New York radio station WKCR played his music for 33 hours non-stop from the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2014.   

JazzWax: What do you remember most about your childhood?

Yusef Lateef: My passion for nature. I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1920. Two years later my family moved to Lorain, Ohio. Then in 1925 we moved again, to Detroit, where my father took a job in a bedspring factory. I was an only child, so I spent many hours by myself. Growing up alone made me more sensitive and more aware of nature—butterflies, the sky and trees. I was actually entertained by flowers and grasshoppers and ants. They drew my attention. At the time I didn’t’ realize that those things were the phenomenon of creation. I still marvel at nature.

Interview with Marc Myers, JazzWax 2008

***

Interview with NPR, John Rogers: 

'(Lateef) was guided by a desire to develop his own brand of "autophysiopsychic" music — he disdained the term "jazz," and saw his own art guided by physical, mental and spiritual realms — as well as his devout Muslim faith.'

Yusef Lateef and Adam Rudolph interview, LA Weekly, 12/18/03, by Greg Burk

'Rudolph: Low sounds carry more overtones, so high is embedded in low, in a way that low is not embedded in high. Like a drum especially, you strike it and there are very complex overtones — that’s what gives it its character and its richness. So inside of that are all the other tones. But it’s also tension and release — so you control the low, and that controls the motion. Low to high is tension, and high to low is release. In Middle Eastern music they have a concept called usala, and that’s how they structure their rhythm. Also, Yusef and I were talking about Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist — he wrote this book Hyperspace. He postulated 11 dimensions that could exist, and as you get into the higher dimensions, the laws of physics become simpler and simpler. So rather than thinking about a stylistic milieu, we look at music in the higher dimensions — it becomes simpler and simpler.

What has made you evolve?

Lateef: It was my nature.

Who were examples to you?

Lateef: Uptown from where I lived as a youth was Lucky Thompson. He wanted a saxophone, but he couldn’t afford one. So he got a broomstick and carved notches on it, and practiced on the broomstick until he got a saxophone. John Coltrane, every time he’d come to Detroit, we would get together and study. And he was always looking for what he didn’t know. He always asked me, “What have you been following?” And I asked him the same question. He said, “I found the secondary dominants” [the fifth degree above a note other than the tonic], which were in Europe years ago, but no one had used them in improvisational music, and John told me he knew his secondary dominants backwards.

What moved you away from the blues and toward avant-garde and classical music?

Lateef: I think the basis of it is the moments that I spent sitting in the library in Detroit, and taking classes at Wayne State University in classical music, finding out what it involves — Mozart, Beethoven, and the Russian composers, Borodin et cetera. And I realized that to be a musician, there’s much territory to look into. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies — I’d like to write nine, too. I’ve written one symphony, I’ve got eight more to go.

Both of you have spent considerable time in Africa. How has that changed your attitude?

Lateef: It’s more compassionate. You see somebody who needs help, you got to help.

What attracted you to Islam?

Lateef: There was a mosque in Chicago, and I went and got some literature. It said through prayer and deeds one’s natural tendencies are directed to the proper channels. The only virtue is in your actions — that’s what Islam teaches. And it spoke about respect of parents and of neighbors, and I already believed those things from my Christian upbringing. I joined Dizzy Gillespie in Chicago, and when we got to New York, a mosque was there, near Art Blakey’s house. I started going to the meetings, and I said, “I better try this.” I thought I ought to change my name, and the reason I did was because Lateef means gentle and amiable, and Yusef means Joseph after the prophet Joseph. And Abdul Lateef means a servant of the gentle and amiable, a servant of God — that’s one of God’s attributes, gentle and amiable. And I said, “That’s something for me to try to live up to.”

Is nature an inspiration? 

Lateef: Nature is a prototype for painters, for musicians, for writers. We didn’t create that, it’s beyond us. We observe it, and I think when we reflect on nature, it gives us ideas how to synthesize whatever we’re doing. It’s a great teacher. It’s reflections of the higher power. And we’re part of nature ourselves. This is something I believe: When we observe something that’s beautiful, it’s not the thing that creates the beauty. The force that created that beauty is really what’s attracting us. So that means a thing of beauty comes in pairs. There’s the thing itself, and there’s the thing that makes it.

Rudolph: That’s why I feel music is about something greater than music itself. Music is just a medium through which something is passing. It’s all ultimately in service of something else.' 

In praise of: ‘Terrorist Threats’ Ab-Soul, feat. Danny Brown, Jhené Aiko (Control System, Top Dawg Entertainment, 2012)

The song itself is popular - almost 20-million views and the first result when you put Ab-Soul’s name in a search engine; this is where the irony begins. Two wealthy, successful rappers in branded clothes, with money to burn (even if it is done ever so carefully, so delicately) giving voice to the marginalised.

Personally, I think this is one of the best political songs in recent hip-hop for two reasons. First, for many of the ideas conveyed. The way the lyrics, delivery, mood and music coalesce, allowing space for interpretation even if some of the lyrics are so clean and direct and memorable – catchy even. Some of the words could be used as slogans, worn on a T-shirt, or  unfurled on a banner, held high above people’s heads:

Peep the concept
You’ve got progress, you’ve got congress
We protest in hopes they confess
Just proceed on your conquest
I ain’t got no gavel, I ain’t finna fight nobody battle
I just wanna be free, I ain’t finna be nobody’s chattel

And second for the way, Danny Brown’s verse conveys something of poverty as a felt experience, rather than something abstract, or described as a narrative about someone else in a story that is being told.

In this extract from the Ab-Soul’s verse above there is some nice word-play with the repetition of “pro” and “con” (“for” and “against”), some listeners claim this reflects Ab-Soul’s belief that this is how the system operates, as a series of mediating and opposing forces. Lyrically Ab-Soul’s verses are super-dense, I won’t unpick them, as that goes against the spirit of it – for me – to read the track’s lyrics and interpretations, go here

It’s also hard to dislike a mainstream hip-hop/rap track that opens with a reference to Selassie, making connections to another radical Black musical/cultural tradition. The hook is great, so concise and powerful: "Wish I could see out of Selassie' eye/Maybe my sovereignty would still be mine/If all the gangs in the world unified/We'd stand a chance against the military tonight.”

Maybe there is some kind of connection here with the Mos Def/Massive Attack track from 2003 (and then Bad Brains’ track of the same name released back in 1986) even though there is a long, maybe unrecorded history of MCs and producers making such links between the genres.   

There’s also other stuff going on at the start, with direct references being made to the key sample used by producer Dave Free: Jay-Z’s “Ni**a What, Ni**a Who” that originally came out in 1998 (this is the j-version, not sure why, of the same song).

Danny Brown gets a mixed response critically and among hip-hop people, with some turned off by his “insane in the membrane” antics. But his verse here is genuinely affecting, stops you. And for this reason it's political. His words and delivery convey something of how it feels to be poor, the relentless and mundane reality of struggling to get by when you don’t have enough money to feed yourself or your children: "Feel my pain, goin' insane, I'm ashamed

‘Cause I ain't got shit but an EBT card
From a fiend that owe me and it's in her daughter name
How the fuck is they 'posed to eat?
How the fuck am I 'posed to eat?
Got a nigga in the streets, no health care
Tryna slang weed just to put shoes on his feet
So fuck you! You don't give a fuck about me
Can't get a job if they drug test me
Got a ni**a stressed, depressed
Got a feelin' in his chest
And the world's stripped of happiness
I ain't got no gavel, I ain't tryna fight nobody battle
I just wanna be free, I ain't finna be nobody's shadow."

(I’m not sure if the final word is correct, if it should be “chattel” as before). There’s nothing heroic or remotely Romantic about any of this. Nothing noble, it's soul-destroying. That makes this true: “Feel my pain, goin’ insane, I’m ashamed.” 

Gentleman Ruffin: writing on the ‘forgotten’ soul legend, David Ruffin

Of course, there are multiple measures of success and recognition, but on the most basic level when thinking about an artist's status - and as someone writing on them as a journalist - it often comes down to how much material there is on them (interviews, reviews, essays, memoirs and the like). How are they talked about, how are they remembered after their deaths.

Here, the former leader of the Temptations David Ruffin is badly served; even if, in this, he is not alone. It’s something that unites him with other black musicians (and perhaps others too) who, while famous when alive, after their deaths frequently fall into a kind of intellectual abyss. 

And yet despite the relative vacuum with the fans/music aficionados Ruffin isn’t really forgotten. Far from it. Remembered certainly with affection by most as the lead singer with The Temptations of some of the most important songs of the 60s, ‘My Girl' ...

(I love this video, slowed down, the voices unaccompanied adds to the atmosphere and makes it very moving; likewise, this marvel, ‘I wish it would rain’ – also in the acapella version that shows off the glorious range of Ruffin's voice alongside its quicksilver character and intensity. This is another nice version of 'My Girl' as well - the original video from 1964).

And he isn’t forgotten on this site, either.

Over the past few months my appreciation of Ruffin’s David has seen a real bounce and been the most shared individual piece of music-related writing that I've published to date (the essays on Borges and Houellebecq are still out front in terms of the overall content). I noticed that this piece was shared on a British group devoted to all things culturally mod not so long ago: fantastic.

So, in the spirit of keeping memories of this amazing singer alive, here's some new writing on Mr Ruffin; first, a piece on the psychedelic Soul gem, ‘I saw you when you met her’ (prod. Norman Whitfield) and a celebration of Ruffin's skill as an interpretative artist, comparing his version of '(If loving you is wrong) I don't want to be right' with other notables from his era.

Thanks again to you all; your ongoing support of my work means a lot to me.

Here’s an interview with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, date unknown, published on a blog where the artists talk about their position in the business and their roles as ‘entertainers’: 

'Neither gentleman has much to say about their reunion stint with The Temptations other than that the experience "was successful to the end of the tour, we enjoyed some of it and then we went our separate ways". David and Eddie spent almost a year on the road with that situation but then, touring has been a constant factor for both men since their early days with The Temps. They still enjoy the chance to travel "except when we have to fly and make stops all over the place. But being able to get out there and perform before the public is still a great opportunity and," says David, "I'm just glad that we can give so many people so much joy through music."

Eddie confesses that when he started out with music as his career, "I thought it would be much easier. But I've weathered the waters," he states candidly. "I never knew that I'd still be doing this so many years later," says David, "but I knew I always wanted to sing." "That's because you couldn't do nothin' else!" Eddie chirps in. "Well, I'm a pretty good cook and I'd have made a good mechanic too!" responds his partner. (…)

Asked what they'd like to achieve in the future, David says that "a starring role in a movie" would be very satisfying. Eddie is a little more philosophical, reflecting that "I've done everything I wanted to do and it's like a 360 degree turn to me now. I can clean up some things, mistakes I've made and I know I won't do them again."

David and Eddie see themselves as "trendsetters rather than followers in this business, we're good singers and we do good music" but when it comes to defining exactly what they see themselves as in relationship to the business, they're not exactly in accord!
"We're singers first, then entertainers," says Eddie.

"Naw, man, we're entertainers, not just singers!" David responds. "There are a lot of 'singers' in the business who shouldn't be in it, frankly. If you want my opinion, they give this business a bad name."

Detroit Project

Not so long ago the UK newspaper, The Guardian published a story about an American artist ‘bringing a Detroit family home’ (to the Netherlands). Unsurprisingly the sarcastic Brits commenting BTL enjoyed the ambiguous headline. What, they asked, the artist had adopted an entire Detroit family and took them home, as if they were pets for Christmas? 

No, the artist and newspaper subs were forced to reply (and later change the headline): the artist had moved a ‘family home’ from Detroit which was then rebuilt in Rotterdam. 

When thinking about this so-called ‘Detroit project’ I thought about this artwork and how deep the association between Detroit, decay, dispossession (what some call 'ruin porn') is now among outsiders and how all other aspects of the living city - and the people who live there - are overlooked in the process. 

If I'm honest, when I think of Detroit I have zero visions in my mind. And yet the city intrigues me, mainly because such intractable (musical) genius has emerged there, despite or maybe because of what one of the interviewees here described as ‘the struggle’. This idea sustains me.  

If I think about the music that matters to me personally - Alice Coltrane, Stevie Wonder (circa 1972-1980) ...

and when I was younger, Patti Smith, The Stooges - everything of real importance musically from the US somehow seems to come from Detroit. Interestingly, this then continued with hip-hop, in that the track that brought me back to the genre was Black Milk's 'Everyday Was' from his landmark 2014 record If there's a hell below ...

When I first heard that piece of music, it was as if air divided in my chest.  

First up/featured is the gifted MC Nametag Alexander who burst into my consciousness with one of my preferred hip-hop tracks of the past few years, 'Hookless' (feat Mahd, prod. by Nameless).

Then there's an interview with Detroit record label boss, Jay 'Pauly' Lovejoy from BenOfficial Music; a composite interview - a Detroit mix - between Nappz Julian, Maj James and NateOGDetroit and to finish a very cool conversation with Loe Louis from Detroit's Laswunzout - one of the seminal, pioneering hip-hop acts from the city that soldered the so-called Detroit sound.* 

Hope you like it. 

*Been around enough hip-hop journalism/culture to note the competitive edge - it should be noted that none of this is a 'hot picks'/a top-5 (flashing lights, flashing lights) or anything else: my mind doesn't work that way, some of this is friend-related, some of it is related to chance.