Jun 23, 2004 at 12:00 am

From Esham to D12, Detroit’s East Side has established itself as the Motor City’s face of hip hop, similar to the way South Central Los Angeles was Cali’s rap stronghold during the ’90s. With their self-titled debut Gardentroduction, these 12 emcees from the Conant Gardens housing project might be primed to become the next East Side breakout.

The CD kicks off with a few sour turns; “Poker Face” is lyrically and musically challenged, and “NC 17,” is marred by a typically Detroit booty track. Things quickly perk up with “Who’s Who,” a fast-paced hardcore track bejeweled with witty lines such as Drazz rapping, “You mark at me?/You staring at me?/You a vegetarian ’cause you don’t want no beef?” An otherwise rancid “Who’s Really Conant Gardens” gets by on a throwback Rick Rubin-type beat and references to Detroit streets. LL Cool J is nowhere to be found, but with a Spanish whistle and background strings, “Veronica” is a melodically (if not comically) delightful hip-hop love ballad: “If she felt pain, I would feel it/Needed something, I would get it/She absorbed the game I spit/Made me think that she was with it,” raps Boo. Elsewhere, the West Coast feel and remorseful libretto of “Street Life” would make a thug wanna unload his pistol, while “Don’t Let It” could talk any depresso out of suicide. The CD closes regretfully on a trio of forgettable tracks: “Smooth Operators” could pass for poor man’s house, “KC to da D” sounds like it was found in Master P’s lost tapes and “Let My Homies Speak” is flat-out wack.

Though hit-and-miss, Gardentroduction satisfies because of its diversity. Every emcee here has a listenable voice while the production lacks the technical problems (aside from annoyingly cheap-sounding drum machine beats) that plague many local releases. It’s skronky without being too gangsta and mellow without being too soft. Even without a standout track, Gardentroduction is an admirable first effort that leaves plenty of room for progress.

E-mail Kahn Davison on [email protected].