Marietta, Ga., says Reginald "Motsi Ski" Abrams, is a nice place to raise a family. The founder of Detroit's Most Wanted, a rap trio that helped usher in Detroit's first generation of hip hop in the late '80s and early '90s, lives there, in a house with a quarter-mile-long driveway.
You don't have to ask, because he'll brag. Not about the house, about what's in and around it.
"I got the muthafuckin' Puritan Avenue street sign right at the front of my driveway," Ski says, laughing. It reminds him that he's "only 12 hours away from the block." Inside, in his collector's room, you'll find an old-school double-cassette beat box, the kind that competed with Afros for shoulder space. "I got the Space Invaders game. The big one. Be up in this bitch playin' Space Invaders 'n' shit!"
Such keepsakes take the rapper back to his west side Detroit neighborhood that, in 1986, birthed DMW Motsi Ski, MC Lee and DJ Duncan Hines. The trio was rivaled only by A.W.O.L. as the Motor City's most respected hardcore rap group. These were dog days in Detroit, when the city was still considered America's murder capital. And the street crews Motsi hung with The Currys, The B-Likes, Young Boys and Schoolcraft upheld the town's rough rep with proud aplomb.
Ski takes a moment to reflect on DMW's significance to Detroit hip hop. The pause is appropriate. The group released six albums between 1993 and 2004, and Ski released two solo projects, 2002's The Outfit, and 2005's Authentic. His estimate puts DMW total records sales at a head-scratching 500,000.
Ski still comes home to Detroit "every other month," has a house here, and is preparing for a show at the Rapper's Ball at the end of the month.
The 36-year-old husband and father of four got turned on to music through doo-wop. His grandfather was legendary singer Jackie Wilson. He remembers how "granddaddy" would bounce him on his knee. That's where he sat when he first saw grandpa perform on TV. Ski was 5, and had to turn around to make sure he wasn't sitting on a ghost.
Wilson suffered a major heart attack in 1975 on Dick Clark's Travelin' Oldies Revue. The singer died in 1984. But Wilson's impression on Ski was indelible; granddaddy was his hero. By the time Ski discovered hip hop in the early '80s (he considers Run-DMC the greatest rap group ever), he was ready for something musically fulfilling. And he became a huge fan of the New York hip-hop scene.
"Don't get me wrong," Ski says. "My thing was the Detroit style. That's all I cared about, was puttin' the D on the map."
Ski says hip hop saved his life, that it transcended his need to be "the man on the block."
Ski hooked up with MC Hines at Cooley High School, and met DJ Lee through a mutual friend. The three loathed one another until they stopped competing for girls.
"This was back when hair was the style," Motsi says, cracking up. "I had an Adidas suit with a Jheri curl."
Detroit's Most Wanted set out to make a name for itself, with financing from a drug dealer. Their songs "Rhyme in Effect" and "Fenkell Strip" became Detroit anthems.
Then the moneyman got murdered. So the trio linked with "Baby" Joe Bryant, who released DMW's debut, Money is Made, on his Bryant Records imprint. The album's "City of Boom" was another local classic.
DMW beefed (lyrically) with other D-town crews Kaos & Mystro, the Fresh Boys, A.W.O.L. all of whom were keen on becoming the first to gain national respect for Detroit's rap scene. DMW's most personal conflict was with A.W.O.L. Both trios prided themselves on Detroit fashion, language and rapper ethos, and both ended up securing national distribution deals through Ichiban Records.
"A.W.O.L. is my favorite group outta Detroit, besides me," Ski says. "They was the bad guys of rap. But me and [A.W.O.L. member] B is best friends."
DMW gained followings in such rap strongholds as Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Chicago, parts of Ohio and northern California. Ski calls that period his "taste of stardom."
But in 1992, confusion set in. Hines wanted to rap more. Ski thought him best suited as a DJ. Then a chance deal with MC Hammer's Bust It label led to dissension. Ski didn't trust the rap-a-dancer's motives, but his partners did. So they broke up.
"Hammer wanted to change the name of the group," Ski says. "All kinda shit. [He] was talkin' about, 'That hardcore shit? Naw.' We wasn't doin' that shit for fake. We was on the block!"
DMW released Many Faces of Death on Bryant in 1993, its swan song as a group. A year later, Ski represented DMW on his own and released Bow the Fuck Down. He then formed a short-lived side group called the 4 Fathers, with longtime friends Big Dog, T. Stuckey and Proof. Last year Stuckey was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Detroit legend Proof was gunned down last month ("What Do We Have to Prove?" Metro Times, April 19).
"Rest in peace, to Proof and the brother that got merked in the process," Ski says, referring to Proof's victim, Keith Bender Jr. "We lost two fathers, two soldiers, over some dumb shit."
Dumb shit had become part of Ski's life in the mid-'90s, which included jail stints for marijuana, probation violation and carrying a firearm as a convicted felon.
Meanwhile, Lee and Hines formed the Ditch Diggers and went to work for Hammer. At 1994's Jack the Rapper conference in Atlanta, Ski happened to see their video. He wasn't thrilled.
"The video was top-notch," Ski says. "Had all the hos, and all that shit. But the song was booty shake. That's what I was laughin' at. I mean, how the fuck you gon' go from gangsta to 'Aishaaa, shake it, shaake it?' They ain't the same without me."
The disses flew back and forth, and Lee and Hines would goad Ski with teasing messages on his answering machine. Ski retaliated with a dis on a remixed DMW track called "Legalize It."
This was a time when hip-hop beefs could get personal, but rarely violent. And the trio never lost contact or respect for one another. Ski and Detroiter Lee reunited recently to record nine songs for DMW's "anniversary edition" CD Tricks of the Trade Vol.2: The Money is Made. "We Ain't Never Left" and "Life on the Streets" were the first songs they recorded together in 11 years.
The original trio, in fact, has regrouped including Hines, who lives in North Carolina to record the upcoming Timeless. "[Hines'] beats, and my rhymes and Lee's rhymes is fuckin' magic, man," Ski says enthusiastically. "I ain't bullshittin'.'"
Ski thinks if the group puts its individual egos aside and concentrates on adjusting to a market that's far more crowded than it was 12 years ago, the project will hit.
"I got the weight, just like the block," he says unblinkingly. "But if you don't have the clientele to sell the weight to, it go by word-of-mouth. It might take three years to go gold. This shit do not come overnight. I've been doing this for 20 years, and still no [major] deal. A nigga never really got that exposure he deserved. This shit is hard, man."
Motsi Ski performs Saturday, May 27 at the Rapper's Ball (1721 E. McNichols, Detroit; 313-893-8321). $10.Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]