The "United States of Underground" tour keeps rolling!
Eminem, Guilty Simpson, Big Sean, Kid Rock, Elzhi, Illa J, Xzibit – just a short list of the musical gurus who have emerged from the talent-filled streets of Michigan. From the well-known city of Detroit and its 8 Mile road all the way to the unknown suburbs in the corners of the state, Michigan IS hip-hop. I took a virtual tour of the entire state and did my best to amass a list of independent/underground emcees who, to me, embody the meaning of hip-hop culture and rap music as a whole. B. Rabbit may have put the city’s previously overlooked areas on the map, but the acts below are the meat to the potatoes when it comes to the actual entrée.
“Hey Sol, do you ever wonder at what point you just got to say fuck it man? Like when you gotta stop living up here, and start living down here?”
Coming up as a young rapper in Detroit doesn’t sound like something that’s easy to maintain, but since 2009 emcee Adam Reverie has been holding his own in a lyricism-filled city bursting with both competitive underground and mainstream talent. It was at that young age he began transferring his love for soul music into lyrics for his new endeavor as a hip-hop artist. Just as his fan base started growing exponentially and his music was getting picked up on the “more popular” sites, Adam decided to take a step back. In June of 2014, he said his thanks and announced a retirement from music creation without an explanation as to why. Rappers are artists and with that comes unforeseen stresses that you and I as general consumers may not be able to fully understand. The music Adam was leaving behind was timeless in it of itself and he did not want the sharing of it to cease. His fans made sure to follow through with that request and eventually, the fan count grew, even with Adam's absence. Fast forward to January 2015 and he’s back. Adam Reverie returned to hip-hop at the beginning of the year with a new single and video pairing that would hit home with fans of any genre. Reverie’s music is a direct result of his successes, trials and tribulations as a young man/emcee in the streets of Detroit. As with most songs, we listen to either escape, relate…or both. Well, Adam’s music and experiences have the power to resonate with listeners from any background. Go ahead, give him a try. With several mixtapes, a Def Jam showcase and a solid portfolio under his belt, Adam is quickly on the come up.
It’s hard enough trying to make it as a rapper in Detroit, but making it as a female requires a serious combination of persistence, talent and consistency. As much as we’d like to think all artists get equal respect that’s just not true. Women are often forced to bob and weave through a predominately male world, constantly fighting to be taken seriously and respected for their lyrical ability instead of their looks. The women who make it through this crowd, however, are the ones to be recognized. Enter Mae Day - a true-school spitter who spawns styles from artists like Common, Stevie Wonder, Sade and more. With an upbringing that spans both North and South of the infamous 8 Mile Road, Mae Day and her go-to producer Dewitt Moore are always doing their best to root each song with Detroit style and flavor. I listened to several (and by several, I mean a shit-ton) of both male and female artists from all over the state of Michigan and Mae Day easily stood out as a top 5 prospect. Not only is her voice strong and her music boom-bap, but she rides the beat and uses wordplay like a veteran. If any of these things intrigue you (which they should), listen to a fuego 16-bar cut from the songstress, above.
“I want to let the world know about Mae Day, she’s coming. I’m proud to know it and proud to say it…look for her!” – MC Lyte
Who made the rules for hip-hop? Who came forward and told us, “It must sound like this or it’s not real”? Was that ever a thing? Didn’t think so. Good thing Dearborn, MI emcee Denmark Vessey agrees with me because his ability to push the boundaries of his lyrical capacity is the exact reason why I love this culture. Using elements like religion and existentialism, Denmark’s songs take hip-hop to another level of thinking, even exploiting and delving into taboo topics like “cult followings” and what they stand for in the video above. Denmark grew up attending Catholic schools and taking routine church visits with his family, both prevalent in his music and messages. I recall reading an interview recently (which led me to include him here) that compared Denmark to the legendary ODB. Sounds crazy at first, until you get to know him. Both styles live outside the box, carefree and without limits, while also spreading clear, concise messages about bigger meanings of life, what’s happening in the urban community and simply bringing awareness of the hip-hop culture. Both were told their styles wouldn’t fit in the grand scheme of “what Hip Hop is supposed to be,” but neither paid mind and now they’re both sitting on similar thrones of comparable backing. Denmark’s witty one-liners and sense of humor are the glue that holds his deep messages together, keeping listeners in-tune throughout all of his projects. Join the cult and listen to a cut from the kid, below.
Beginning his hip-hop career as a DJ seemed fitting for Pontiac, MI rhymesayer Ro Spit. His love for hip-hop stemmed far past the turntables in front of him and he knew it. Going from venue to venue was an everyday routine, frequently spinning at the legendary St. Andrews/The Shelter and other high-capacity underground locations. It didn’t take long for Ro to fall even deeper in love with his true calling, emceeing, as he began penning verses down during DJ sets. Soon after, Ro found himself performing at open mics and concerts across Michigan, sharing the stage with icons ranging from The Clipse to DJ Premier to Talib Kweli and more. Ro’s catalog is quality and extensive, it features cats like Bun B, Big Sean, Guilty Simpson and fellow MI natives Stretch Money, Marvwon and Fatt Father. Ro Spit is a hometown hero, if you will. I mean, the guy isn’t pulling cats out of trees or anything, but he is delivering messages to a wide audience and attaching his Pontiac, MI to the messages. He’s made his name a staple in his community and taken the next steps to nationwide recognition. One of the characteristics I like most about this guy is his dedication to learning the music business and his passion for putting his state back on hip-hop’s radar (not that it ever left, but c’mon, Detroit deserves more than mainstream attention). If you’re a fan of raw, conscious, all-around hip-hop artists, Ro Spit is for you.
Clear Soul Forces
Man, let me tell you something. I’ve been a fan of these four guys, better known as Clear Soul Forces, for a while now and they’ve yet to release one song I didn’t vibe with. The group thing in hip-hop today is a tough call, you’re either going to flop or you’re going to flop very quickly. In my opinion, there are very few groups/collectives who have the ability to highlight the flow of one another with competitive bars and consistently upbeat production. Any four rappers can get together and make a record, but how will it flow? Will it be forced or will it seamlessly ride out? Clear Soul Forces meets all elements of perfection at the center of the crossroads with their members: E-Fav, L.A.Z., Noveliss, and producer/emcee Ilajide. Forming in 2009, the crew has since released a slew of classic mixtapes, recorded with Royce Da 5’9", appeared at SXSW, the A3C festival and performed alongside fellow Booth favorite such as Tanya Morgan, Just Blaze, Alchemist, Talib Kweli, Freeway and more. Clear Soul Forces have definitely done what they set out to do – bring the soul back to Motown, while simultaneously forming a cult following of dedicated, supportive fans. As we all know, the key to making it as an indie artist today is a perfect mixture of consistency, powerful lyricism and a fan base that doesn’t budge. Check out the Clear Soul Forces below and get empowered.
Honorable mentions: Stereo Boyz, MAHD, Boldly James, Stretch Money, Origix, Fatt Father, Marvwon
[By Matt Whitlock, he does all things hip-hop. This is his Twitter.]