(illustration: Rob Goodman)
Words by Jequcory M. Davis
“If you’ve rode in Detroit a lot, or if you’ve rode in Oakland a lot, you hear this recurring phrase: In Detroit, it’s a lot of ‘Aye (Too) $hort, you know I got some cousins in Oakland,’ or you hang out in Oakland and they always like,’You know my cousins in Detroit?’ Somehow, these two crazy cities are related. Through spirit and through blood there is a connection through Oakland and Detroit.”
Those are the words of Oakland native Too $hort, who has hung around Detroit and worked with their artists for years. There’s always been a sort of mirror between the two cities, but now, in 2018, the bond runs stronger than ever. As a native of Detroit, I’ve seen the two scenes grow side by side. So if you want to know how to tell through Bay Area artists from Detroit ones, look no further.
It could be said that the start of the relationship dates back to MC Breed, who was from Michigan, but had strong ties in the Bay. Breed worked with the likes of 2Pac and Too $hort often — the track “Gotta Get Mine,” which featured Pac, peaked at #6 on the Hot Rap Singles chart back in ‘93.
Fast forward to more recent years, and the strongest similarities can be found in Detroit’s BandGang and Oakland’s SOB x RBE. BandGang has been around for the last five years or so, while SOB has only been on the scene for a few. SOB x RBE gained a lot of traction with their breakout hit “Anti,” which amassed over 24 million views to date on YouTube. Detroit artist BandGang Lonnie has an album of the same name. Its breakout hit, “Whatever I Say,” got a remix after it blew up that featured none other than Too $hort. It’s a modern testament to how Detroit and Oakland work directly with one another, and how their respective music ends up sounding so much alike.
Similarities can also be heard between Payroll Giovanni, one of Detroit’s best-kept secrets, and E-40, one of Oakland’s most famous musical names. On Payroll’s last album, Big Bossin’ Vol. 2, the track “Mail Long” features none other than the man who popularized the term “Mail.” Payroll opens up saying “From Detroit to The Bay,” and from there there’s three minutes of detailing ways to get your mail long as Payroll repeats on the hook. Over a lush Cardo beat, Payroll is able to craft a flow and vibe that is familiar to someone who rides with their top down in the summer under palm trees, rather than the cold Detroit winter during which Big Bossin’ Vol. 2 was released.
One of the more slept-on components of the Detroit and Bay Area musical relationship is the use of samples. While everyone uses samples in hip-hop, both the Bay and Detroit have a history of flipping anything and everything. Detroit legend Blade Icewood is one of the pioneers of this trend, trying his hand at a number of ambitious samples at the height of his reign. His flip of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” for his track “Icewood” is one of his more notable ones. Stretch Money’s “Take Money To Make Money,” a Detroit classic to this day, samples San Francisco group Maze’s “We Are One. In the Bay, Kamaiyah flipped a song that’s about “Bomb Azz Pussy” and crafted it into an anthem for dope chicks everywhere. Detroit rapper All Star Lee flipped one of the most famous sitcom intros (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) to show how it is living the life of a young Detroit artist. SOB x RBE did something amazing to Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” which, after hearing “Anti,” let me know they were just as adventurous as Detroit when it comes to sample quality.
Most importantly, however, is the love between the two cities and the constant work ethic they share. It’s one thing to jump on a track every now and again, it’s another to fly out and do a video together. A while back, BandGang members did a slew of tracks and a few videos with SOB x RBE, and recently Peezy and Philthy Rich did an entire tape together. They’re prime examples of how the relationship between Detroit and the Bay will only continue to grow stronger, and more artists and good music are emerging all the time because of it. It’s a tale of two cities, both living in hip-hop harmony.
Jequcory Davis is a graduate of Michigan State University with a journalism degree from Detroit, Michigan. He’s a huge hip-hop fan that has worked for the likes of RESPECT Magazine, Onsmash and more.