Detroit, Los Angeles hip hop connection
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The long list of fall 2013 Detroit hip hop albums being released is a reminder that music remains an economic opportunity for artists in the city. Since the recorded music industry is based in Los Angeles, a historical perspective on the musical relationship between the Motor City and the City of Angels can help Detroit artists take advantage of the opportunities under the California sun.
When Motown Records left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972, the city lost a business that organized talented individuals to work together. Los Angeles, on the other hand, acquired a taste for Detroit’s music, paying it tribute at every chance.
Motown classics are played in bars and restaurants throughout L.A. at all times of the day. The culture of Los Angeles sets trends worldwide, and recording industry corporations with executive offices in that city celebrate their ownership of the Motown catalogue.
Angelenos have championed every genre of Detroit music from rock to jazz. For example, the techno music of Detroit, now known as electronic dance music (EDM), is widely used by L.A.’s film and music industries for its high energy. Licensing music for film and television can be a very profitable outlet for musicians who own the publishing rights to their own songs.
For hip hop, the tale of the two cities is much more intricately woven than the industry would lead anyone to believe.
Hip hop culture began in New York City with the live DJ parties. Among the first funk albums spun at those parties were Detroit born sounds. During the same era, Parliament Funkadelic and their army of Motown funk disciples created the future sounds of the rap industry — synth-based space grooves delivered from the “mothership.”
By the late 1980s, P-Funk was among the most highly sampled group of all time, and Los Angeles’ artists were doing the sampling. In 1992, Dr. Dre released “The Chronic” on his L.A.-based label, Death Row Records, which dominated the hip hop industry for several years. The sound of “The Chronic” was crafted by Detroit’s T-Money Green and Butch Small, two P-Funk veterans hired to work in Dr. Dre’s studio. They supplied the funk formula for classic debut albums by Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound. Small’s son, DJ Los, earned a platinum record for his production on the “Above the Rim” movie soundtrack, a West Coast classic that featured 2Pac and Nate Dogg.
In 1995, Laswunzout, one of Detroit’s most popular hip hop groups, took a bus ride to spend a year in L.A. for the experience. Loe Louis and company set up shop and made the connections DJ House Shoes would end up utilizing to establish his own brand. The same year, J Dilla produced songs for Los Angeles’ The Pharcyde, with their album “Labcabincalifornia,” released on L.A.’s Delicious Vinyl. Jay Dee’s Motown sound became instantly coveted.
When Dr. Dre signed Eminem and D12 to his Aftermath record label, producers, emcees and entrepreneurs from Detroit were poised for their turn at industry dominance. D12 sold millions of copies of their first album worldwide, but were finished by the second. Individual group members discovered Shady Records, not D12, owned the publishing rights, leaving them with few assets to pay back advances. Today, the only member of D12 currently working in L.A. is Denaun “Kon Artis” Porter, a producer known to work on major industry releases.
In 2004, J Dilla moved to Los Angeles where he continued to produce music even as he fell ill. He passed in 2006, two days after the release of his classic album “Donuts” on Stones Throw Records, a Los Angeles based label. After the death of Dilla and Proof of D12, DJ House Shoes moved to L.A. with his crate of Detroit hip hop records. West Coast hip hop embraced him for his knowledge of J Dilla’s techniques, and he was anointed by their underground scene as Detroit’s top hip hop ambassador.
Among Detroit hip hop veterans, however, he is criticized for spinning live DJ sets where he reveals the original samples used by J Dilla on some of his best known productions, a practice widely regarded as forbidden within hip hop culture.
DJ House Shoes, who was raised in the suburbs of Detroit, has frequently feuded with Detroit artists over the years. With a “bad boy” image, he attempts to maintain global influence over Detroit’s elite artists, despite failing to launch any careers to lasting independent success. His own debut album in 2012, “Let It Go,” sold poorly despite features from local stars Danny Brown, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, Big Tone and Moe Dirdee.
Now, the Yancey Media Group, keeper of J Dilla’s musical catalogue, is set to release the Yancey Boys album, “Sunset Boulevard,” Oct. 29 on Delicious Vinyl. “Sunset Boulevard” is a tribute to L.A.’s appreciation for Dilla’s legacy. Yancey Boys feature Detroit’s Frank Nitt and Illa J (Dilla’s younger brother) as group members. The album’s single, “Quicksand,” features guests Common and Dezi Paige, a Los Angeles-based singer.
Yancey Media Group wants to take advantage of the long music relationship between Detroit and Los Angeles, utilizing existing business connections and attempting to establish new opportunities. Local artists will certainly take notice as Yancey Media Group continues to develop new sounds ready for a global audience.