When I think about certain cities, I immediately think of the music that represents it. For New Orleans, there’s jazz. Memphis has soul, blues, and Elvis. New York and Los Angeles give me hip hop. But there’s something about Detroit…that gritty, down to earth music that comes from a city that was nearly beaten into submission due to economic hardship.
Let’s be honest. Detroit isn’t usually the first city you think about visiting on your vacation. Detroit’s image has been tarnished by hard times, leading to crime. To me, it seems that there is light at the end of their tunnel and the light is actually a train full of music artists coming right at you!
There’s a long list of artists who’ve come through Detroit’s Motown Records over the decades, but it is the homegrown talent that is booming. Hip Hop is the biggest reason for Detroit’s resurrection. J Dilla may have passed in 2006, but he continues to be a big influence on Motor City music and hip hop. If you love hip hop like I do, then you can appreciate the tight beats that J Dilla has produced. Black Milk, Royce Da 5’9”, Big Sean, and The Cool Kids are some of the guys bringing the hip hop heat after the spotlight on Eminem and D12 died down.
One of my favorite rappers at the moment is eLZhi, formerly of Slum Village, who is also making a big push to put Detroit back on the map, often rapping about the city. He made a Nas tribute album, Elmatic, and released a track called Detroit State of Mind. His flow is so smooth and his lyrics are unmatched. Black Milk produces a good amount of eLZhi’s tracks and I’ve got to say that I like the combination.
The Detroit love also spreads to the neo soul genre with Mayer Hawthorne. You know when you hear a track and can visualize what the person looks like? Nearly impossible with Mayer Hawthorne unless you already know what he looks like because he doesn’t sound like a white guy dressed in fitted suits with a bowtie.
Originally a hip hop DJ under the alias DJ Haircut, Mayer Hawthorne brings some hip hop flavor to his soulful sound. One of my favorite tracks is his track A Long Time. He pays major tribute to the history of Detroit with verses about Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, and Henry Ford, the founder of Detroit-based Ford Motors. With lyrics, “It’s gonna take a long time, it’s gonna take it, but we’ll make it one day” appreciates the hill that the city has to climb.
R&B artists Dwele and Kem are big names to come out of Detroit as well. Dwele proudly reps Detroit through some of his lyrics and style. What makes him more respectable, from my point of view, is that he plays multiple instruments. What attracts me to his music is the fact that he, similar to Mayer Hawthorne, mixes soul with hip hop. The history of music to come out of Detroit is rich and it seems to be on the rise once again, so get your boombox, turntable, or mp3 player out and find out what the Motor City has been up to!
About the Author: Aaron Yip
As a product of San Francisco, I was exposed to a wide range of diversity. As a result, I became a living cultural melting pot able to quickly adapt and have an open mind. You can find me on Linkedin here or visit my Tumblr page here.