The D has always been a hotbed of musical talent, whether it’s in Hip-Hop or not. Guys like Kid Rock and J Dilla have made their marks in not only Michigan and the United States, but the entire world.
We have a long and rich history of music as well. For instance, the stylings of Motown swept the nation in the 1960’s with fantastic dance music, groovy styles, and famous personalities.
It would only be fitting that some of the greatest Hip-Hop artists have come from this city, as well. Also, being from Ann Arbor, I can’t help but pay homage to the most important city in the state that raised me.
While it’s hard to narrow down just five, especially with many new artists making waves in the industry currently, here is my list of the most successful MC’s to ever come out Motor City.
The majority of the list is based on lyrical content, success in the industry, and subject matter.
5. Big Sean
While many may not consider Big Sean to be one of the better lyricists in the game, nobody can deny the fact that the man has talent for making major hits. His huge impact in the music industry started about 3 years ago, and has been gaining more steam ever since. For awhile, Big Sean on your hook, or on a feature verse, meant that your song was going to get noticed. His album Finally Famous was at the forefront of this charge, with three singles getting major airplay on the radio. “Dance (A$$)” was all over the place in 2011-12, even getting a remix nod from another artist making huge waves at a similar time, Nicki Minaj. “My Last” had a resurgent Chris Brown on it, and “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay” honestly has one of the best Kanye West features heard in a couple years. The high quality features really took Big Sean to the next level, showing him as a legitimate artist to co-sign and support.
Plus, the story of Kanye finding Sean is quite a good one. After a good relationship was built with WHTD, Big Sean was making routine appearances. Kanye, doing an interview in the area, stopped by to hear a freestyle verse, loving every second of it. Sean was signed to GOOD Music two years later, ready to make an impact.
Of course, Kanye didn’t realize how important of a sign this would be for GOOD Music until the Finally Famous Mixtapes dropped. Catching fire immediately with “Getcha Some”, and a flow he called Supa Dupa (one he claimed to make), Big Sean was ready for the scene.
Hall of Fame drops later this year, so let’s see if he can continue his hot streak. Regardless, the impact he has made in the industry deserves recognition.
4. Danny Brown
Bringing something new to the table is always important in music, and it seems like that’s Danny Brown’s main focus. His ability to take humor, intelligence, and creativity and combine it into one is something extra special. Not only that, his unique voice and delivery add to his mystique. What’s most important though, is that he has the lyrical skills to back it up. One of my favorite songs in recent memory is his banger made for Scion, “Grown Up”. Danny Brown’s ability to build a scene for you about his childhood is something that anyone can respect. His lines have you involved heavily in the story, and the drums hit hard. Perfect for some head-nodding.
Plus, you can’t go wrong a with a super dope video:
The album XXX made major waves in 2011, placing him at the top of the Hip Hop underground scene, as well as helping him gain respect from many of the top Hip Hop critics across the world.
Many may shy away from Danny Brown’s experimental style, but the important thing is he’s always going to be doing what he wants. People respect that. Plus, with the major hype being built up for his debut album Old, there seems to be a lot more coming from the young MC rocking skinny jeans and a foreign haircut.
3. Royce da 5’9″
Royce da 5’9″ fits perfectly into the long list of “Great Rappers that Never Made it Big”. Royce boasts one of the most powerful tongues in all of the industry, period. This dude can spit.
“Gun Harmonizing feat. Crooked I” and “Boom” still make my jaw drop, even after listening to Royce for many years now. Not to mention, strong showings like the recent “Writer’s Block feat. Eminem” proves that Royce still has all the talent in the world. His album with Eminem, Hell: The Sequel was the first album that Royce gained commercial success with, but unfortunately, it’s not close to his best work. Both Eminem and Royce da 5’9″ are at the tail end of their careers, and the project was majorly held up by Eminem’s star status. This go-round was a far cry from the original “Bad Meets Evil” track, an Eminem song that introduced the tandem. Rock City, and Street Hop are both quality records that show what Royce can do. The latter is filled with DJ Premier beats, and the former is his impressive debut.
Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s not as if Royce has not achieved any success. Working with DJ Premier is proof in itself of being a talented MC. Premier doesn’t work with untalented acts. Also, it’s a major plus that the majority of his albums have been received well critically.
It’s quite strange that commercial success has been so elusive with Royce, but regardless, he remains one of the dopest to ever pick up the microphone. Even About.com recognized Royce da 5’9″ as the 33rd best MC out of their top 50. Now it’s your guys’ turn to recognize him.
Here’s another mainly unknown MC that can rap circles around anyone you place him in front of. Originally a member of Slum Village, his complicated rhyme schemes are full of fancy alliteration and internal patterns. The Preface was his first solo project with national distribution. It boasted many different styles all executed to perfection, which is shown through a song like “Colors”. The track has him using all different types of colors as rhyme schemes to describe different situations. Other tracks like “The Guessing Game” has the listener trying to figure out which direction he’ll take a multisyllabic rhyme once started. This is much more difficult of a game than he makes it sound, though, as Elzhi’s lyrical direction will consistently surprise you. The Preface was my introduction to Elzhi, and probably the most impressive project I’ve heard from the MC (including his Slum Village days).
The special thing about Elzhi, or any other similar lyrically talented rapper, is that the real meaning of the lyrics are hidden deep within the complicated rhymes and rhythms of the verses. Albums full of tracks with this level of meaning, mixed with beats that have just the right feel, create classic albums.
For an example of what Elzhi is capable of, here’s a lyrical breakdown of one of my favorite verses, his feature on “K.G.B.” by Binary Star.
A predator with the literature
it shows through my signature
deliver more, did just for your clique
what’s even more sick is I’m a visitor
and plus they be diggin more
scopin the perimeter
sneak within the floor
terminator 2, split your brain in two
while you snore
The ridiculously clever use of internal rhymes are scattered throughout these couple bars. Elzhi manages to do this throughout the majority of his tracks, even for the entirety of songs.
Elzhi can almost be considered a throwback to the rap days of old, where lyrics were the most important thing to have if you wanted to be recognized. He’s one of the major reasons as to why Slum Village was as good as they were (besides the fact that they had Dilla), and also a very important part in making Detroit Hip Hop what it is today.
There’s really not much I can say about Eminem that hasn’t already been said. Even if nowadays his subject matter might be watered down, or his flow too one-dimensional, you still hear verses from him that completely surprise you. The man has been making the whole Hip Hop nation stand at attention since his Rawkus Records days.
With a Dr. Dre cosign and a majorly successful album, The Slim Shady EP, Eminem shocked the entire world. His ability to make incredibly complex rhyme schemes, while still keeping everything he was saying original and innovative, was something that nobody had ever really heard before. At least, nobody had heard it at the level he was doing it.
He made songs about doing drugs and killing people, and made it sound cool. His subject matter was so overwhelmingly controversial, politicians were striking back at him for it. Most artists don’t incite this kind of attention from the government; but when you’re that famous, it’s a little bit different. From 1999 until about 2005, Eminem completely dominated the music industry.
He’s even starred in a movie about his own life. There are only a few artists in all of music history that can lay claim to that.
The best part? He’s from the D. Nobody has represented Detroit better than Eminem, and he will continue to represent it until the day he dies.
Honorable Mention: Guilty Simpson, Proof, Obie Trice, Bizarre, Xzibit