Proactive rhyme

Over the course of hip hop’s 30-plus year history, its rebelliousness has been its best and worst trait.

At its worst, it has caused many artists to renounce grassroots sensibilities and make way for corporate strategy and outside interests. In other words, to sell out. Nas is a good example; he actually put on a suit after his debut, Illmatic, went gold.

At its best, it defies the odds and creates movements that define geographic regions in hip hop, like “West Coast” or “the South.” That’s the path Quality Control, the newly formed promotional team of three Motor City hip-hop pillars — DJ Houseshoes and emcees Invincible and Finale — wishes to follow. An event of the same name kicks off a monthly residency this week at Fifth Avenue Downtown, and it will seek to unify Detroit’s long-fragmented hip-hop scene, once and for all, by promoting creative music and exciting live shows over image and posturing.

Quality Control is certainly qualified to pull it off, at least on paper. DJ Houseshoes’ legend in Detroit is rooted in what many call hip hop’s greatest era — the early to mid-’90s period that produced artists such as Slum Village, Jeru the Damaja and Black Moon. Houseshoes was the cornerstone of the fabled Friday night hip-hop parties at St. Andrew’s Hall near Greektown. Invincible — one of Detroit’s most respected emcees — is known as much for her artistic principle as for her talent. Time spent living in New York led to friendships with such artists as Talib Kweli and a female rap collective called the Anomalies. Finale, the newest artist among the three, has been blazing a trail through Detroit’s underground scene for the past few years, venturing far beyond the mitten to form artistic and business connections with artists in other cities.

“Me and Invincible was sittin’ back a year ago,” Finale says, explaining how the Quality Control idea came about, “and she popped in a tape of when she first went to New York. [New York rapper] Wordsworth introduced a surprise act. It was ?uestlove, Black Thought and Common on stage, and they started rippin’. I was like, ‘How come we can’t do something like this?’ It’s only [marquee] names that come here. We gon’ start bringin’ in artists like Kev, and even old-school artists. A lot of real hip hop.”

The first show features performances by Washington, D.C., producer-emcee Kev Brown, DJ Roddy Rod, Monica Blaire, Neco Redd with Gorilla Funk Mob, Buff1 of Athletic Mic League, Finale with Spier1200, and Invincible. Houseshoes will spin.

Finale expects an initial crowd of those who patronize Northern Lights in Detroit, where Houseshoes spins a regular set. But he wants it to grow. He says the push is to put together a movement that Detroit hip-hop fans can rally around, regardless of their background. “I’ve been to L.A., New York,” he says. “Looking at the unity they have, you can sell 30,000 records. Here, if artists don’t click, they don’t support each other’s projects. For a few of us to make it, we need to stick together.”

He points to Slum Village, newcomers the Fear, and Big Tone as examples of hometown artists successfully placing skill ahead of pose. It’s about sharing the music.

Kev Brown was a logical out-of-town guest selection. The DC native is much bigger in stature than name. When Metro Times called to request an interview, he answered his own phone, simply saying, “Cool, you ready?” That’s very hip-hop, in a sense, considering that he doesn’t have to answer his own phone. Brown’s made a name. He worked on DJ Jazzy Jeff’s highly respected production team, A Touch of Jazz, and produced songs on Jeff’s solo effort, The Magnificent. He’s also manned the boards for Biz Markie, De La Soul and Marley Marl. His crowning achievement was The Brown Album, a remix of Jay-Z’s hugely received The Black Album, which ushered in a wave of remix projects after Jigga’s semiretirement.

Brown’s own solo debut is called I Do What I Do. This is his first visit to Motown. “If you like good music,” he says, describing his own sound, “this is not M.O.P., but it’s not easy listening. It’s good DJing, my man Roddy Rod. You never know what’s gonna happen.”


Thursday, Dec. 22, at Fifth Avenue Downtown, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-2555.

Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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