Published Sep 11, 2015Despite what you may think, hot hip-hop verses don't require hot beats. In fact, a beat isn't really even necessary. That's the case, at least, when Guilty Simpson is rapping, as the Motor City MC deftly proves in the first few bars of his new LP, Detroit's Son. The instrumental on "R.I.P." initially consists of only a vibrato-rife hum that sounds like a whirring propeller before take-off, but its escalating tempo, sans drums, matches Simpson's verses seamlessly. Soon, the tension of the buzzing, minimalist instrumentation has escalated to thrilling heights, and when the beat finally does drop, it does so with the force of a falling anvil.
It's a brilliant, engrossing opener that showcases the MC's simultaneous nuance and creativity. While Simpson's delivery remains gruff and gritty, and his lyrics remain mostly layered and dynamic, he impresses most of all with his selection of instrumentals, which all come courtesy of Katalyst (best known from the hip-hop production super-group Quakers).
"Radiation Burn" is a prime example of that astounding production, what with its bobbing and weaving bass line and ratatat drums that make it sound like a worthy homage to "Da Mystery of Chessboxin.'" "Fractured" is equally punchy and upbeat, but distinguishes itself with a brazen electric guitar riff that is catchy and, shockingly enough, doesn't drift into showiness or camp.
"Smoking," meanwhile, blazes with shimmery '70s-era soul synths. It's by far the most fun and accessible song on the LP, almost to a fault — the catchy instrumentation being paired with an uncharacteristically laughable lyrical turn from Simpson on the early bars wherein he rhymes crew, brew, passin' through and others). Later imaginative, highly skilled lines in the songs stand in start contrast to the clunky simplicity of the earlier bars, indicating that perhaps that was Simpson's intention — to have dumb fun on a weed song.
In fact, Simpson may be at his very best when engaging in such hijinks. On "Rhyme 101," he hilariously spits "I stack cheddar / Age don't mean shit when you rap better," over a rattling, off-kilter beat and groaning call-of-the-wild horns, while on "Dirty Glove," he's sure to become the first rapper in history to rhyme "poodle" with "kit and caboodle."
But Detroit's Son is not without its flaws. "Money" is a dull and rudimentary concept track about how the almighty dollar corrupts, featuring predictable lines from Simpson. Such blemishes, and the indulgent total of 17 tracks, hinder this otherwise astounding record, but that doesn't diminish its vast range of instrumentals, unpredictable twists, and the sturdy consistency of Simpson's lyrics, making it another solid release in his already storied career. (Stones Throw)