Detroit has been a breeding ground for some of the most influential artists in Hip-hop history. From the groundbreaking production and heavy sample-based style of producer and rapper J Dilla, to the immense success of rappers like Big Sean and Eminem. For many, the sounds of these artists did not represent the actual struggles of what was occurring within the city itself. Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and with the city already heavily segregated, its Black residents found themselves at the intersection of a system meant to keep them poor and hungry. With that struggle breeds hustle and a way to survive by any means necessary. Whether that means trapping, scamming, or in this case, rapping. Detroit’s rap scene has been absolutely explosive the past couple of years, with new artists and music being produced a mile a minute. Unlike the artists I mentioned previously, this new breed of Detroit artists speak directly to the people around them, and their own personal experiences of living in the city — or trying to make it out. Remaining true to the signature Detroit sound of both a deep and bouncy base, these artists still make room for plenty of stylistic differences. Detroit is putting its foot down, earning respect from a sea of booming rap scenes, such as the Bay Area and L.A. But with Detroit, the release of new music is at such a fast clip, that this time the city’s music history will, without a doubt, be seen as important as its roots in Motown.
Arguably leading the pack of artists busting through Detroit, Sada Baby started out the year releasing his tape “Bartier Bounty,” showcasing some of the most cutting and disrespectful bars I’ve heard all year. Sada’s quick wit and confidence on a track are absolutely infectious, having you nod your head to bars as vile as “Takin’ shits on your toilet, playin’ with yo kids.” It’s this kind of veracity that leaves you on the edge of every bar Sada drops, on top of his distinct voice and wild adlibs. It also makes you think about why in the world someone would want to make this man do the things he says in his music, making every diss and jab feel that much more intriguing. What Sada says is far too detailed, and the people that have wronged him for sure know which diss is directed at them. Since the release of his tape at the beginning of the year, Sada has been touring and tearing up feature after feature for the likes of artists like OMB Pezzy and AOC Obama, before recently releasing a new song “Next Up” with fellow Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley. With that song now making the rounds, I’m sure it won’t be too long before Sada drops his next project.
Recs: Bartier Bounty (project), “Next Up” (feat. Tee Grizzley)
“Next Up” Video:
Part of the Detroit rap crew TeamEastSide, Peezy is one of those artists whose ease of delivery could wrap around you and leave you absolutely speechless. His knack for weaving words together seamlessly is matched only by his blunt and husky delivery. Often I find myself entrenched in the tales he tells, while simultaneously listening in delight of the bravado exudes on every track. He can flip on a dime from a bar about an expensive car to the struggles and realities of life on the Detroit streets. It’s a balance that’s not easy to achieve, but Peezy executes it perfectly. He dropped two projects in 2019 with No Hooks II releasing early in the year, followed by Royalty One. Yet, Peezy’s year has still been a series of highs and lows. Highs, being his two excellent releases, and the low, being his unfortunate incarceration on conspiracy and racketeering charges stemming from a 2016 arrest; He was given a sentence of 18 months and is currently serving his time. Hopefully he won’t actually end up serving his full sentence, but instead, be on the outside with his family where he can keep making music. #FREEPEEZY
Recs: No Hooks 1 & 2 (projects), Royalty One (project), “Letter 2 Soda”
“New Car Smell” Video:
Teejayx6/ Kasher Quon
Two of the premier faces of the burgeoning sub-genre of “scam rap”Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon represent the newest wave of tech-savvy scammers trying to get their money up. With lyrics focusing on things like swiping people’s credit and debit cards, going on the dark web for social security numbers, and loading up prepaid gift cards with tons of money, both Jay and Quon offer an extremely vivid picture in the lives of internet scammers; All while providing some of the most quotable and hilariously straight forward bars I’ve heard all year. From Teejayx6 boasting about how the government tried to ban him from the dark web, only to download Tor browser (a private internet browser) to get back on, and use VPN to not be tracked, to Kasher Quon complaining about the ineffectiveness of Spirit Airlines, both provide an unparalleled look into the world of scamming. They cover not only the dark web but what they find in the depths of the darkness. Such as, Jay stumbling into an internet Red room (a dark chat room where you see terrible things), and seeing a girl kill herself to other similar horrors. All of this is topped off by a fast and direct flow that almost feels like both rappers are trying to make sure nobody hangs onto what they say for too long. The best example of this style comes on their seminal collab of the year “Dynamic Duo”, where they are trading bars back and forth at an astounding rate with secured confidence and wit. With their newfound success, Jay and Quon are both leaving the scam game to focus more on music but that doesn’t mean the scamming tales are going to stop. If anything, this is just the beginning of what the two have to offer.
Recs: Teejayx6: “Dark Web”, “Profiles”
Kasher Quon: “Dynamic Duo”, “Dog”
“Dynamic Duo” Video:
Residing vaguely in the realm of scam rap, Shitty Boyz is a three-piece rap ground consisting of rappers: Babytron, TrDee, and StanWill. Unlike Teejayx6 and Kasher Quon, Shitty Boyz music is not solely based on scamming, but around it. They touch on the topic on more than one occasion but are also full of swaggy, teenage exuberance and fiery flows. The other thing that makes Shitty Boyz stand out is their use of soul-infused trap beats bouncing over some of the most interesting and old-school Detroit sounding production. The one to watch in the group is by far Babytron, who’s able to deliver rhymes at breakneck speed, sometimes sounding like he’s racing the beat he raps on. It also doesn’t; help that they all have punchlines for days with almost no line being wasted, and delivering gold like “We met one time, you got the nerve to call me ‘cuz?,” and “I’d still talk shit if I didn’t have a mouth.” The trio releases music at an incredible pace, with a new song and accompanying video almost every week. Calling the young upstarts “hungry” is an understatement, and if they keep up the pace they’ll be national stars in no time.
Recs: “Punch God 2”, 3-peat (project), “Super Smash Bros” (feat. Teejayx6)
“Punch God 2” Video:
The seminal producer of the city, alongside veteran producer Helluva, DamJonBoi has provided beats for almost everyone worth a damn in the Detroit rap scene. He’s not bad on the mic either. JonBoi has been on his grind for a minute now, hustling beats however he can, all while managing his own career, and helping establish what modern Detroit rap sounds like as a whole. With elastic sounding synth waves, and crisp snares and hi-hats, JonBoi’s beats wiggle their way into your ear on almost every track. It is not an easy feat by any means, but his expertise makes it sound effortless. Even his producer tag, the iconic “DAMN JONBOI” expertly captures the experience of the listener. Jonboi beats slap and there’s no way around it. It feels like only a matter of time before someone in the rap mainstream propels him to the status his production deserves to be in. Until then, there’s still plenty of DamJonBoi to enjoy, and I see no sign of him stopping.
Recs: The Number 20 (project), Super Saiyan (project)
“Rip Iceward” Video:
Baby Smoove was one of those rappers it took time to fully understand what he brought to the table, before becoming obsessed with any and everything he decided to release. Sporting a laid back flow that oozes through a mellow, trappy production, Baby Smoove is an artist who comes off as unbothered by anything other than the lean in his cup and blunt in his hand. It’s a sound and style that can be immediately recognized, as nobody seems to be as relaxed, but so interesting at the same time. Like many of the other artists mentioned in this piece, Baby Smoove’s clip of release is astounding. With four tapes dropping this year alone, he has over 100 unreleased songs he claimed in a recent Instagram Live. His ear for beats cannot be ignored. In the wider scope of his music, Smoove’s biggest tracks play over ear-catching, recognizable samples; He glides over them with absolute perfection, cementing himself as an icon in his own right. For example, “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” sample on the song “Akron.” It is all of these elements together that make Smoove one of the essential mood setters of the year, alongside Young Nudy and Shoreline Mafia.
Recs: “Akron”, “On the Flo”, “Tings”
Drego and Beno
Anytime I listen to Drego and Beno, I have the urge to act as my most deplorable self. Something about their music drives my inner hoodlum to no end, whether it’s choosing money or drugs over women, anything goes. With them, doing the wrong thing just seems right. The way Drego and Beno exchange bars back and forth comes off as two friends talking infinite shit before hitting a lick. Their chemistry is undeniable and improves how the bars they spit build on one another in each song. This extends to the excellent storytelling the two indulge on almost every track to some regard. You can get a little bit of everything, but the execution is done so well that none of the styles interrupt one another.
Recs: “Recipe 2”, “Slatt Season 2”, “Slimed Out”, “Swear to God”
“Slatt Season 2” Video:
One of the most aggressive and bombastic sounding artists out of the scene, 42 Dugg started rapping while in solitary confinement to pass the time and isolation. Upon his release, he started taking his craft more serious, culminating in the drop of a song entitled “The Streets (Feat. Babyface Ray),” depicting the struggles that he faced in the streets of Detroit, as well as the death of his close friend. Their song resonates deeply with far too many young black men who have to hustle to survive, not only for themselves but for their families. Dugg’s talent and hard work ultimately led to him being signed to Yo Gotti’s label “Collective Music Group,” and releasing his tape “Young and Turnt.” Turnt is ultimately the aptest description of Dugg’s music. His voice and production favors mainstream ears, while still staying true to the sounds of Detroit. Dugg brings an energy I’ve only been able to compare to Eazy-E, one so steeped in the culture of the streets, but instead, Dugg writes his own bars. The future looks bright for Dugg, with his Yo Gotti signing and connection with Lil’ Baby, success seems imminent.
Recs: “The Streets”, “Dog Food”
“Dog Food” Video:
Icewear Vezzo/ Babyface Ray
Two of the OGs within the scene, Vezzo, and Ray have steadily made music Detroit since the early 2010s. It’s with that time and experience that there’s no wonder respect runs deep for the two MCs, who frequent guest appearances on many of the younger talents in Detroit’s work. Don’t let that distract you however, from the incredible music both are continuing to make. Earlier this year, a silky soul sample and menacing piano of the collab track “Champions” solidified both, Vezzo and Ray, at the top of the heap when it comes to rappers in Detroit. Vezzo’s confident and direct approach pairs nicely with Ray’s more detached and slurred delivery, styles that also help their solo material stand out from the pack even more. With Vezzo recently being signed to Motown Records, and Ray continuing to pump out music, we should be seeing more of what they have to offer to Detroit’s rap game.
Recs: Icewear Vezzo: “How I’m Coming”, “Dog Action”
Babyface Ray: “Ashanti”, “Real”
Probably the newest rapper to make waves on this list, Veeze is establishing himself by making some of the most menacing and skeletal rap music I’ve heard in a long time. Every time I hear him it sounds as if he’s just committed the most heinous crime, and paid it no mind. The production feels considerably more minimal than other productions out of the motor city, Detroit. His stylistic change suits his flow and delivery to the T; it’s the type of music that accompanies the pouring of a double cup, only to fall back on the couch and face a blunt while counting up money from last night’s haul on the block. Veeze’s music doesn’t lend itself to the loud and bombastic party you might go to, but to the relaxed kickback you may attend beforehand. And you know what, sometimes that’s just what you need.
Recs: “Heart Insurance”, “Itself”
Bandgang Lonnie Bands
Falling in line with scam rap in a way, while also being heavily involved in the streets is BandGang Lonnie Bands. Of the Detroit rap collection “BandGang” are members: BandGang Masoe, BandGang Biggs, BangGang PaidWill, BandGang AJ, BandGang Javar, and of course, BandGang Lonnie Bands. BandGang covers many different street topics that it’s hard to only pin them as “scam rappers”. All criminal activity is a go here, and Lonnie, in particular, makes it sound especially good. Lonnie sounds aware and comfortable of the antics going on around him, almost like he revels in it. When he’s not doing that, he’s deep in his cup of lean slurring with absolute perfection over the production. This is not something everyone can do, which is one reason he’s the standout of the group. He was even able to overcome three extremely serious charges this past August and is back in the studio making more music. With Lonnie out of jail, and BandGang seemingly putting out more records, hopefully they can continue to solidify themselves as the crew to watch in Detroit.
Recs: KOD (project)
Rio Da Yung OG & RMC Mike
Now, I’m technically breaking the rule here since both Rio and Mike are actually from Flint, but it’s only about an hour drive and I want to write about them, so I’m just going to do it anyway. Rio and Mike are two husky guys who make some of the gruffest and dirtiest street rap coming out today. Especially for Rio, it’s like vivid storytelling is just in his blood, while Mike can bar you up and entrance you with his deep voice and raspy delivery. They pair beautifully together, even though they also make solo tracks, but the way the two of them can play off of each other is what makes them special. One of the added appeals is how the beats and bars sound together since the recording isn’t overly clean, adding to its street feel. Hearing them go bar for bar on a track is just as entertaining as putting on your favorite hood movie and enjoying what unfolds. Them being in Flint isn’t stopping them from being active in Detroit; Recently, they put out a collaboration with Shitty Boyz called Jackie Moon, as well as Rio working with Icewear Vizzo. Rio Da Yung OG and RMC Mike put in crazy work and, with them popping up more on larger Detroit artists’ tracks, I’m sure they won’t stay in Flint for long.
Recs: “Backend”, “Inegree”
The music scene in Detroit is overflowing with talent right now. I wasn’t even able to touch on everyone just now trying to get on or the ones who already made it to another level, like Tee Grizzley. If you like any of these rappers be sure to find their work, and look up who’s on their features. The scene is expanding at an insane rate; Now is the time to see what you can find.
Here’s a Spotify playlist to listen along with us: