A guy who just moved here says Jack White and Eminem 'just passed through' Detroit, creates local record label

Jan 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm
[Update 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015: According to Kevin Nixon, the quotes in the London Times that we based the following assessment on were inaccurate and taken out of context. We regret any error on our part.] 

The latest plan to save Detroit: A record label! (Remember those?)

In an interview with the London newspaper the Times, British music industry vet Kevin Nixon explains why he and partner Sarah Clayman moved to Detroit a year ago to found the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) and use his industry connections to start a new label, called Original 1265 Recordings (you can read the full Times article here).

First things first — we're excited he decided to come here. We really are. Welcome to Detroit! 

But one line from Nixon irked us:

In particular, he believes that two of Detroit’s most prominent artists, Eminem, the rapper, and Jack White, of the White Stripes, have not done enough. “They just passed through,” he said. “They didn’t build a movement. That’s why I decided to bring the music industry here.”

Huh? How could Jack White and Eminem "pass through" Detroit when they both grew up here? 

Nixon — perhaps rightly so — felt the need to clarify his statements in an interview with the Detroit Free Press on Monday:

While describing Jack White as "one of my heroes," Nixon pointed out that the Detroit-born rocker groomed his successful Third Man Records operation elsewhere.

"It's a bit of a shame that he built a brilliant record label in Nashville rather than do it here," he said.

Of Eminem's Shady Records, formally based in New York, Nixon said: "They've had one or two (Detroit) acts, but it's not switched on to the Detroit music scene."

"It's one thing to publicly say, 'OK, I'm from Detroit and I support Detroit,' " Nixon said. "But I think kids still feel detached and need more than that."

Still, Nixon sought to clarify remarks published in the London newspaper the Times, which were getting some online attention Monday.

"They just passed through," the paper quoted him as saying about White and Eminem. "They didn't build a movement. That's why I decided to bring the music industry here."

Nixon said he was misquoted and that he knows Eminem still lives in metro Detroit. (A Times reporter told the Free Press the quotation was accurate.)

"It's wrong to pick out just these two, because there are loads of artists from Detroit," Nixon told the Free Press. "I'm just giving a shout-out to musicians: Hey, come do something."

Where to start? The statements ignore the considerable contributions White and Em have made to their hometown. When the White Stripes broke through, they famously insisted on playing with and going on tour with unknown local bands — exposing people all over the world to the likes of the Detroit Cobras, the Go, and Whirlwind Heat, among many others. It's a trend that continues to this day, with White frequently putting out records by little-known Detroit artists on Third Man, such as the Thornbills, Black Milk, Duane, Tyvek, and the Gories. He also dropped a cool $142,000 to keep his preferred Detroit venue, the Masonic Temple, from going under. Kind of a big deal.

(Could Third Man exist in Detroit? It'd take on a whole different dynamic if it did. In Nashville, amid that city's bustling music industry, White can tread the line between the mainstream and the underground, drawing talent from Nashville or working unnoticed if he wants to.)

Meanwhile, Em recently dropped "Detroit vs. Everybody," a track that features Detroit rappers Big Sean, Danny Brown, DeJ Loaf, Royce Da 5'9", and Trick Trick. And even more recently, he released a 16-minute remix of the same track that "very well may contain every rapper to ever call the Motor City home": Black Milk (again!), Guilty Simpson, Sino, Marv Won, Payroll, Hydro, Big Gov, Boldy James, Kid Vishis, Big Herk, Icewear Vezzo, Detroit Che, and Calicoe. That ain't nothing.

It seems kind of shitty for a guy who just moved here to criticize people who toiled in obscurity in Detroit for many years for wanting to eventually leave — especially when you consider that the scene here was neither particularly friendly to them in the first place, nor when they made it big. Both artists got their breaks from outside of Detroit: The White Stripes when they won over the influential British DJ John Peel, Eminem when Interscope and Dr. Dre took notice of him after the 1997 Rap Olympics in L.A.

And maybe White and Em didn't feel compelled to create an industry in Detroit because — in their own ways — they actually benefitted greatly from the lack of a "music industry" here? When they broke through, both artists were unpolished, raw, and unlike anything else in the mainstream — which is what made them so great (White Stripes drummer Meg, lest we forget, obviously did not graduate from a music school).

Nixon also told the Free Press that "this city is known for two things: music and cars ... The car industry has continued to develop itself here, but I don't understand why the music industry has not." (Maybe he hasn't noticed all the abandoned auto factories around here.) But his remarks about the void of a "music industry" in Detroit post-Motown assume that Motown was the be-all and end-all of Detroit's record labels — ignoring the city's legacy of more than 200 labels throughout history (it's true — here's a map). 

Nixon boldly claims he "decided to bring the music industry here." It's really the other way around, though: Detroit brought the music industry here.