If you know the name Guilty Simpson, it’s likely you’re a fan. And if you’re a fan, you know that his name is synonymous with the city of Detroit – his hometown.
The seasoned emcee has been associated with some of the industry’s finest, including the late J Dilla and Sean Price (RIP), Black Milk, Apollo Brown, M.E.D., and Madlib. But the rhymes on his latest record Detroit’s Son (due out September 11) paint a vivid picture of life in the D with the city’s soundscape provided courtesy of Aussie producer Katalyst.
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble spoke with Guilty earlier this month to learn more about his strong relationship with Stones Throw Records and how, despite the fact that his latest release hasn’t even dropped yet, he’s already got lots of surprises in store for ’16 and ’17.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Wow. Let me see. What I can remember, probably one of the first, first things, would probably be hearing “Roxanne, Roxanne” when I was little. Maybe even “The Message.” I think “The Message” might have been the very first thing ‘cause I used to ride with my father, and I thought he was amazing ‘cause he used to know how to rap Melly Mel’s words to “The Message.”
So, I think that was probably my most distinctive memory, but I think that was because it was more like the image of my father doing it even though it was somebody else’s song. I guess that would probably be the very first thing. I’ll go with that.
How did growing up in Detroit affect your decision to pursue music full time? Was your house very musical?
Yeah, it was musical. My parents used to play great music. My father played saxophone, so I think that definitely rubbed off on me. I definitely could appreciate music. Even though he tried to get me to gravitate towards instruments, I didn’t really want to do it. I wanted to play sports.
So, I didn’t really take to it, but I still had an appreciation for music. But, Detroit definitely saved me and pushed me towards music. I had friends that were involved in it that I went to school with, and they started doing it. Naturally, I just kind of went towards that way. So, I think that was really an easy progression for me to make seeing that it was so close to me.
Did you ever try your hand at playing an instrument? Or were you more, “No. I want to be an emcee.”
Like I said, my father played saxophone. He played guitar a little bit. So, I tried to play guitar a little bit, but I can actually sum that up to, you know, trying for maybe a couple of weeks tops, you know, playing an instrument. That’s actually a disrespect to any true musician, so no, I’m totally a novice. I don’t know anything.
But he did try to get me to play guitar and a little bit of saxophone. He even knew how to play–my father knows…I don’t know why I keep saying past tense–knows how to play the harmonica a little bit also.
Many of Detroit’s finest have relocated out of Detroit to California and New York, etc. Why have you stayed?
I think because most of the most important people in my life are here. My wife is from Detroit. My mother’s here. My aunts and uncles, cousins. The core of my family is still here. So, I think as long as those people that’s important to me are here, it’s real difficult for me to leave.
I’ve tried to be other places for periods of time, but I’m always finding myself right back home. So, that’s where I just feel the most grounded. I feel like so many people get success and leave. I just feel like everybody can’t leave, so I just stay.
Who would you name as the most notable influences on the formation of your personal sound or style?
I’m from a group called Tha Almighty Dreadnaughtz. I think that’s definitely the foundation of everything I do. Even though I’ve worked with Jay Dee and worked with Mr. Porter and worked with all these great producers, I learned how to rap with those guys. The guys that I really came up with. The same guys that I was referencing that I went to school with, and, you know, really came up with in the early- to mid-90s.
So, I think those guys are still the foundation of what my sound is, but I’ve just been able to been blessed with talented producers to give me the landscape to kind of still do what I do, so to speak. So, I’ll still go with my original crew but with a touch of J Dilla, a touch of Mr. Porter, a touch of everybody because I’ve learned from everybody I’ve been around.
That’s good. So like your Detroit brothers.
Oh, yeah. You better believe it.
Your debut album Ode To The Ghetto dropped back in 2008 on Stones Throw Records, and your upcoming release Detroit’s Son, due out on September 11, will also be on Stones Throw. What’s kept you loyal to that label all this time?
They were the guys that first gave me an opportunity to share my music with the world. I always felt like that. I’ve done other projects in between that’s been on other labels. I was on Random Axe, Duck Down, and Apollo Brown Dice Game that’s Mello Music Group.
I’ve been able to bounce around, but what Stones Throw did do for me, they gave me the platform, and they also gave me the freedom to work with other labels and be able to take the name “Guilty Simpson” and kind of spread it throughout.
Duck Down is the East Coast, so I was actually able to be blessed to be on that label to do that. So, really just working with them was just something naturally that I hope I’ll be able to do until my career is done. Our relationship has always been, I would like to think, pretty good. So, anything that Stones Throw is doing that they want me involved in, I don’t really see a reason why it wouldn’t happen.
I am big on loyalty. I’m big on the people that was there for me and really took a chance on me. I think, to give an artist a platform and them not necessarily have this big following and take that risk, I think that stands for something, and I think it should be well noted. We’ve got a good relationship, and hopefully we’ll keep it.
Detroit’s Son is your first solo studio album in five years since the release of OJ Simpson. Do you feel your approach to this record was different from past efforts?
Yes and no. I don’t like to make it seem like I necessarily like to beat a dead horse, but my topics…like I have a song called “The Time Is Now” that might talk about police brutality, but it’s also a reflection of my very first album on Stones Throw. I had a song like that called “Pigs.” I had a song, the very first record on Ode To The Ghetto, was a song called “American Dream” where I kind of dabbled in what’s going on in the days and times. I don’t want to necessarily say conscious, but at least I’ll say honest.
I’ve been able to put honesty in, you know, every project that I’ve put together, whether it’s Dice Game, talking about people being homeless, and, you know, just whatever it is. I plan on putting the honesty in it, and I think that, you know, even though I’ve progressed as an emcee, I feel like I’m able to get my point across without having crutch words, and I’m able to use a better form of expressing myself to get the same message across.
A lot of the stuff has stayed the same ever since because I like to think I rap about what I currently see, and as much as stuff changes, a lot of stuff stays the same. When I talk about “pigs” and police brutality and the time is now and different stuff like that, I do touch on different topics but a lot of it is still the same, sad as it may seem.
How did you go about picking the features on the album like Spacek and Elzhi?
It was easy. Those are my dudes. I like to think I’m close to all of those guys. Fat Ray is my homeboy here in Detroit – a very talented emcee with Bruiser Brigade. That’s Danny Brown’s crew. Cysion, who is my cousin, that’s my blood relative. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever been around, so I always want to show him off. Phat Kat, that’s one of my tightest homeboys, and Elzhi, who’s also a tight homeboy.
Peace to Steve Spacek also who’s on the project, but he’s a very good friend with Katalyst who’s the main producer on this project. So, you know, everybody that’s featured on the album, you know what I’m saying, is in close proximity to everybody involved in the project. I’m kind of big on trust, so I kind of don’t reach outside of myself to get a feature just because it might musically make sense. If I kind of don’t know the person and vouch for them….I think that‘s really important to have integrity in my projects. So, I just do what makes sense.
Is Spacek the same Spacek that did “Dollar” with Dilla?
Oh, yeah. Most definitely. He’s on two tracks on my upcoming album. He’s a super talented guy. He’s out in Australia. So, when I was out there, I was able to kick it with him and kind of vibe with him.
I didn’t put two and two together until just then.
Oh, yo. Yeah. He’s a super fly dude with the music. I’m happy to work with him.
So, the self-titled release from Random Axe with Duck Down dropped back in 2011. I’ve read rumors of a sequel. Do you know if there’s still any truth to that?
With the passing of Sean Price, honestly, it’s just not the same. If he isn’t really here to present it, you know what I’m saying, the way we always talked about….So, I don’t really know. I’m not exactly sure how much he did towards the project. Me, I’ve recorded six verses for it. I’m not exactly sure with where we stand with what he recorded for it.
But me, personally, it’s very similar with my situation when I was working with Dilla, and we was in the middle of a project. It’s almost like, if we can’t see it through the way it was supposed to be, it’s just sad on all ends of it. I just kind of want to get that behind me and just move forward.
But, like I said, I’m not exactly sure what he did record. Maybe if I talk to Duck Down, and they were to say he recorded ‘X’ amount and wanted to present it to the world. I don’t mind the world hearing it, but to actually present something as a Random Axe project, and P’s not here just seems wack to me, you know what I’m saying?
What I will do, is if they did have something like that, I might say I have a Random Axe song on a certain project. That’s a re-representation of the group, so I will refer to it as Random Axe, but to put a whole project together, and he didn’t contribute his all to it, it’s kind of tacky to me.
You’re on the bill for Hiero Day 2015 with Phat Kat. Do you have any other plans for the remainder of the year? Do you think you’ll tour to promote the new record?
Yeah, yeah. For sure. I plan on getting on the road. We do have a Euro Tour later on in November and December, but I’m trying to get real active in the States and really, really spread the word. I have Hiero Day coming up, so I got that going. I have Houston on September 11. I think I’ve got Dallas on September 10.
So, will that double as an album release party?
Yeah, it actually just coincidentally fell like that. Even though we were promoting it, and I am going to be with Stones Throw, so I think what we will do is make it two birds with one stone. Maybe just have it kind of like a special album release situation too.
I will be with Peanut Butter Wolf and J Rocc and a couple others. So, I’m looking forward to it, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m anxious to get the album out here and let people hear it.
I need to figure out how I can get you guys to New York.
Definitely. It’s only a matter of time. I’m definitely going to make that happen.
I talked to J Rocc when he was here last time before his show, and he said that he’s going to try and come out here more.
That’s good people right there. But yeah, I’m definitely going to get out there in some capacity. I gotta come out there and see P’s mural and go see Bernadette, so there’s a couple of things that I need to do in New York.
So, you know, just being in New York, just people hearing you’re in town, you get shown opportunities just from people hearing you’re there. I’m sure I’ll be in New York soon.
Is there anything else that you want to add or promote?
Just Detroit’s Son, you know what I’m saying? I hope people enjoy it. Be on the lookout for me. I’m definitely going to really, really be active, even after this project. Be looking out.
I’ve got some great announcements coming up, and I don’t want to speak on them too prematurely because it’s still kind of in the talking process but a lot of great things. My 2016 is going to be super active, too. So, just be looking out.
Want to share any of your social media?
I have @guiltysimpson now. Look out for me. I don’t really do the Facebook or anything like that, but @guiltysimpson on Instagram and Twitter. That’s me.