Lord knows that Detroit has its share of struggles. But a resurgence of activism, hometown pride and some DIY 'tude sees this place getting unified in many ways. And if the recent Allied Music Conference and U.S. Social Forum were any indication, you can feel it in the streets.
Enter Monica Blaire and Roland "Ro Spit" Coit.
Songwriter-emcee (and 2010 Kresge fellow, see her on this issue's cover) Blaire is absolutely a top performer, and her fan base is swelling from coast to coast. Spit balances a rap career with Royal Oak's Burn Rubber, a sneaker boutique he co-owns. The duo's song "Renaissance State of Mind" reworked a Jay-Z and Alicia Keys single into a buzzworthy radio and YouTube anthem that celebrates Detroit's odd individuality and never-say-die relevance. After a year of unexpected success, the pair will perform the song together for the last time Friday at a concert and barbecue in Detroit.
Below, Blaire and Coit talk of the city, and its new musical milieu.
Metro Times: Many see Detroit as down on itself. When do you think people began to do more?
Monica Blaire: I think Detroit has realized that we really can't depend on another city or entity; we have to make that happen ourselves. Detroit has always been the underdog media-wise, so for an outsider looking in, I think it's hard to fathom how much Detroiters are actually coming together to make businesses to keep money in the city. If we create revenue streams that can stay here, things would be a lot different. And a lot of people are doing that, and artists are trying to work for that. ... The difference in this area and this environment is that people know how to do everything.
Ro Spit: If you never had nothing, you have to find a way to make something out of that nothing. If you go out to L.A. or New York, most of the budgets for a party are in the thousands. Here, it's like, "I've got work this week, so I have $200 extra, and this is what I want to do. People are catching on to my music, and I have to find a way to get fliers printed, to get someone to help me promote, and to get an opener to attract more people I don't even know. I've got to find a way to do that with $200, so let's do it." It's no way you're going to fail at that, and that's a mind-set that we have.
Blaire: [Companies are] paying people to come up with new ideas, and Google is here [in Ann Arbor] now. People in music need to set up that infrastructure so people won't feel like they can't be successful at home. ... If we can create a think tank that's going to circulate that talent, where they can go away and do shows and get the recognition at home, that would be absolutely freaking amazing. The possibility's there, but everyone has to be willing to work on one accord.
MT: Suppose the city collectively said, "We're ready for change." Where would you direct everyone from there?
Blaire: We need to create a self-sustaining economy ... that makes use of our resources. I don't think we've ever sufficiently done that, especially from the entertainment aspect. We export so much music to all these other places, but we really need to look at how we can self-sustain on a grassroots level.
Spit: And have people not copy, but learn and build from it. A lot of people try to do the exact same thing that such-and-such did. You're your own person. ...
Blaire: ... I think the real goal for people should be to create teams, and have these teams be interconnected and be able to communicate together and push an agenda forward. ... It's about the collective coming together and making decisions. [Like the U.S. Social Forum,] I'm glad that there is social need and uprising that has people speaking out on what they think their lives need to be like, and creating infrastructure socially.
MT: From what you've seen, how excited are people?
MB: I think that Detroiters are excited for change. Whether your government is running in tip-top shape like a well-oiled machine, the people need to be the motivation for change. They need to be excited to be working hand-in-hand with government to make change, so that everyone can live the best quality of life they can. Detroiters are long overdue for some newness, excitement and serious potential for possibility and growth. And once you let somebody know that, you can do whatever you want to do. You have everything you need, so do it — that's an exciting, brilliant idea. How could you not be excited about that?
MT: In the past year or so, the city has been getting more positive attention. How do you feel when this happens?
Spit: Positive. It's just been so much negativity that you put your hands in the air and say, "Finally. Now they see what we're seeing."
Blaire: It feels like reparations [laughs]. ... The next step is to take ownership of it. I plead for Detroiters to take ownership of their city in a very physical way, especially now. And then we market it to the world, as opposed to other people coming in and marketing it and making money off of it. It's not about making money, it's about self-sustaining. You have to take ownership of what you have, and then recycle. If we do that, we can flourish.
Spit: The potential and greatness are there, so it's just a matter of time. It's been far too long, but it's going to happen. If it's not supposed to happen, then there's nobody here that can do it. If it's supposed to happen, there's nobody that can take it away.
Friday, July 2, at St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-6358William E. Ketchum III is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]