When the Rizzle is Hizzle

Detroit’s hip-hop scene, stagnant for several years, is resurgent.

LAWRENCE“KOPELLI” YOUNG thinks some people just don’t know what’s going on here. Sure, Detroit’s music scene is thriving, but the hip-hop emcee, whose nom de guerre on stage is Kopelli, thinks that the casual Blowout fan might be unaware that the “spirit of a new Detroit hip-hop scene has been bubbling for a while.”

In any case, Kopelli hopes to showcase what’s happening in hip hop around here because he sees potential breakout stars who could someday be taking their music around the world — and shine a spotlight back on Detroit. If the movie 8 Mile is the reference point for Detroit hip hop, Kopelli wants to shout from the rooftops that a lot has changed since Eminem came on the scene — both in its local style and philosophy.

“It’s almost a hidden treasure,” Kopelli said. “People on the hip-hop scene, the hip-hop fans, have known about the underground hip-hop scene that’s been evolving into something else, something more than just a bunch of guys talking about ‘how-good-they-can-rap.’ Guys are writing stories and painting very entertaining yet thought-provoking pictures with their songs.”

“RRRappers Showcase” encompasses passionate, up-and-coming artists. Along with Kopelli, artists performing include: Doss the Artist; quirky and cerebral wordsmith Doc Waffles; the engaging conceptual trio Detroit CYDI; and forceful, eclectic blenders Cold Men Young. RRRappers Showcase will be held this Friday night, April 26, at the New Dodge Lounge.

Kopelli, who sees in his future promoting these artists even more than performing alongside them, was also stoked for the chance to feature the soulful hip-hop quartet Clear Soul Force, who he calls the “alpha-dogs of the scene,” and who are garnering notoriety around the country through touring and festival spots.

Kopelli, reaffirming the palpable energy of Detroit rap and hip-hop culture, testifies that, after an exciting year of big shows across the nation, his fellow emcees in Clear Soul Forces still consider their best show to be on a local stage, back home, at last year’s Dally in the Alley.

Emcee Brent Smith (aka ‘Blaksmith’) raps, writes, records and performs with Kopelli as part of Cold Men Young and he commended his collaborator’s fine work in curating this “RRRap” revue.

“People are wondering, ‘why all rappers,’ or ‘why not scatter them throughout Blowout?’” says Blaksmith, who is also half of the innovative hip-hop duo, Passalacqua. “My feelings were that there should be a concentrated effort to show that Detroit hip-hop is forever changing. And here are the rappers you need to know about. Here are the artists and people we should be taking art-direction from.”

Doc Illingsworth is one-third of Detroit CYDI and he said he’s “calmly excited” about the showcase, since this is his group’s first time playing Blowout.

“I’ve had the honor of getting to know a lot of talented dudes and become friends beyond just the musical stuff,” says Illingsworth. “I’m just glad to be a part of it and witness it, and hopefully participate in the progression of those relationships and of the music.”

While the energy may be palpable now, it wasn’t for a good stretch until local rappers started realizing that shows and styles were getting stale. “You wanna have your influences, but no one wants to be carbon copies of other artists,” says Kopelli. “If you wanted to stand out, you had to start doing something different. Before, guys stayed in their own little circles and there wasn’t collaboration between different groups of artists.”

As Doc Waffles puts it: “‘CoOwnaz’ is buzzing right now.” Bookish in diction and in his day job, Doc Waffles is a rare book dealer and former bookstore manager also known as Ben Ness.

This ‘CoOwnaz’ phrase he drops is part mentality, part rallying call — or maybe just an inside joke. It popped up last year and accelerated in circulation after he dropped his latest album, Ambulance Chaser.

“It’s a social thing,” Waffles says. “All these different irons in the fire and all these different people coagulating into one place. You have all these genres collapsing together into a saddle-shaped universe, it’s not just hip hop.”

Blaksmith, of Passalacqua, adds, “CoOwnaz, to me, has always moved with an invisible hand; there’s really no roster or initiation to be a CoOwna — it’s a lifestyle,” he says. “You take ownership of your art and expressionism. It says to us rappers: ‘Let’s restructure this thing and collaborate. Let’s be partners.’”

That partnership, and a commitment not just to their respective crafting but a committed readiness to “restructure” their craft, seems to distinguish these five featured hip-hop outfits.

Cold Men Young did plenty of “restructuring,” Kopelli says, when it came to its impressive full-length album, You Should Be a Fan. “We’ve been talking about it and working on it for three years. We made it twice, actually, but it was coming off as some high art-snob stuff,” he explains.

It came down to finding the time for each busy component, and they slowly and steadily waited for the opportunity for full collaboration. They wound up, says Kopelli, with something “eclectic, contemporary, not all old-school or retro but something energetic that we could perform live.”

And CMY will continually strive to “partner” or “CoOwn” their future projects, with plans to record with many stalwarts in the community, including DJ Sicari (founder of renowned 5E Gallery, a veritable hip-hop community center).

Clear Soul Forces, meanwhile, are finishing their second LP Gold PP7’s, with hopes to tour again this summer and focus on new songs and new ideas. Illingsworth confirmed new CYDI material coming together as he looks forward to a busy schedule of studio collaborations with other rappers like Open Mike Eagle, Clear Soul Forces and SelfSays, while his own solo instrumental recordings flourish. Doc Waffles, meanwhile, is working on his next album and has a collection of his songs, spanning four past albums, coming out later this summer on Checkers Record Collective.

“The vision is to herald hip hop as our savoir, because for many it truly has been an expression of good health despite its negative portrayal in the media,” says Blaksmith. “And that’s not just for Blowout, or Detroit. But, something we can experience globally.”


The RRRapper Showcase is Friday, April 26 at the New Dodge Lounge, 8850 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck.


Jeff Milo writes for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

Scroll to read more Local Music articles
Join the Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.