Detroit’s Contested Top 5: Looking Beyond Eminem
Picking favorites is a subjective experience in the city of Detroit.
“No. Out of Detroit? Hell nah. You talking about my Detroit?” Sada answered quizzically when asked to include Eminem within the breadth of his all-time list. “I ain’t know we had trailer parks until I saw 8 Mile – and I still don’t know nobody that know that n—a,” he explained. Cultural isolation can be viewed in a resentful light when taken out of context. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the excerpt ripped from Sada’s interview yesterday.
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It’s quite evident that Sada Baby doesn’t harbor any ill-will towards Eminem. Unfortunately, Eminem has come to represent the superimposed image of a glossy Detroit within the greater context of American culture. So, naturally, as a member of a new Detroit order with altogether new conventions, Sada was easily perturbed when he wasn’t allowed to lead the conversation himself – free of any “fixed values” or propositions.
Sada’s Top 5 list included Blade Icewood (RIP), Big Sean, DeJ Loaf, Tee Grizzley, and himself (d’uh). Curiously enough, none of those picks highlight the achievements of Sada’s peer group, a long list that would otherwise include his riding partner FMB DZ, and a bunch of contemporary artists he most audibly shares a likeness with. Drego, Beno, Cash Kidd, GT, Peezy, 42 Dugg, Dex Osama, come to mind immediately. As you’ll come to realize, none of these artists share a likeness with Eminem & Proof of D12 or J Dilla and the everlasting Slum Village, even though in some respects, Detroit’s relevance owes a lot to their longstanding reputations.
The conditions from which these movements were created no longer exist. Documenting cultural movement is a tricky process. Cultural “anthropologists” as I call them somewhat indignantly, might look at a group like Doughboyz Cashout (RIP Roc) and assign them too much or too little cultural value. On the other hand, someone like Xzibit, with a robust Detroit character, might be misplaced within the depths of the conversation because he left the city as a teenager and now claims “dual citizenship” if you will.
When it comes to cultural importance, two conflicting factors must be weighed against each other: 1) The social impact that occurs from within the border state, and 2) the social impact of commercial success. So without further ado, here’s my Top 5 list, adhering to both schools of thought.
Keep in mind, as an outsider, my Detroit list is by no means a definitive one. On the other hand, I hope this general list helps to explain the fleeting nature of these list-building exercises, based on the rate at which social conventions change course. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll leave Eminem out of the equation.
Nobody in Detroit exemplifies the boundless creative stimulus born out of the recession quite like the number one entrant on my list Danny Brown. A lot of DB’s early success was encouraged by producers in other fields. Within a 4-year stretch, Brown became the leading voice behind a plethora of EDM, Bass, and Footwork projects, due to his otherworldly lyrical pace over otherwise nightmarish tempos.
To his credit, Danny Brown never lost any relevance within his own field of practice, or his own community for that matter. A self-professed “creature of the Internet,” Brown might not be much of a groupable entity within the greater context of Detroit culture. Where he does make up the difference lies in the “level of riskiness” involved in his practice.
That infamous video where my 2nd entrant, Big Sean earns his keep in a legendary cipher session, only to earn himself a Roc-A-Fella medallion some years later, with the dynasty all but disbanded or suffused into other entities. Sean Don wears the “Detroit vs. Everybody” mantle proudly whenever he ventures out into the great unknown.
Sada Baby’s inclusion at number 3 is perhaps the most controversial, given his relative inexperience compared to the others – but in reality, Sada is the hottest thing going right now; yesterday’s remarks, while unintended, will draw attention to his music, especially if he displays a consistency in character from here on in. I wholeheartedly believe that will be the case.
At number 4 Royce Da 5’9 represents the epitome of lyrical excellence, within the broader sense of hip-hop. His skills are incomprehensibly polished and well-rehearsed, and yet he never suffers from dislocation to the material. Prior to a barnstorming 2018, many would have unjustly written him out of contention but the Book of Ryan was vintage “Nickle 9” like we’d never seen before.
Sada Baby’s closest contemporary on a commercial scale is Tee Grizzley. He’s my pick to round out the list at number 5. We all know and love the jailbreak narrative he put forth right out the gate. Thanks to “First Day Out” etc pushed the city of Detroit into a cousin-like congruency with a bunch of neighboring states, especially Chicago.
- Danny Brown
- Big Sean
- Sada Baby
- Royce Da 5’9
- Tee Grizzley
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