Over the past few years, there seems to be an emergence of old-school hardness in sub-mainstream rap. Run the Jewels, Freddie Gibbs, and everything touching Adrian Young (Ghostface Killah, Prhyme, Souls of Mischief) have re-introduced a scary swagger into the sometimes too-sensitive world of underground rap. On Detroit’s Son, Guilty Simpson proves he should be mentioned in the same breath as the rest of them. Previously working with J. Dilla, Madlib, Black Milk, and Apollo Brown among others, Guilty Simpson seems to have flown under the radar a bit, but Detroit’s Son should propel him into the underground stratosphere—if that is a thing.
Detorit’s Son is entirely produced by Katalyst of hip hop producer crew Quakers, and it’s his hard-edged, dirty/digital production that elevates the album above and beyond. Fans of Run the Jewels and El-P’s aggressive production style will feel right at home, even in the first moments of album opener “R.I.P.” where Katalyst lays down a weird, fuzzy noise that raises in pitch as Guilty Simpson jumps on top of it, well-before anything even close to a beat presents itself—“Standing on the edge of adrenaline,” he says, perfectly interplaying with Katalyst’s unique production style and setting the stage for the album as a whole. “Blunts in the Air” is more of a traditional banger, but with Katalyst’s production closer to a buzzing guitar this time around. Judging by the song’s subject matter, Guilty Simpson seems to have rethought the “Dear Jane” letter he wrote to marijuana on 2012’s Dice Game, but this song rips harder (no pun intended) anyway, so I don’t really mind.
“The D” continues Katalyst’s amazing production, as Guilty Simpson pays tribute to his ailing hometown over a beat reminiscent of a grinding and clanking industrial factory, tying to the motor city’s glory days. Kataylst gets a little funky on “Ghetto” as Guilty Simpson spits about the hardness of street life, playing opposite to what is probably the Detroit’s Son most fun beat. The biggest problem with this song (and a few others in the album’s middle section) is that it’s over just as Guilty Simpson’s gruff, measured style really starts to gel with Katalyst’s jittery grooves.
As Detroit’s Son progresses, it becomes clear that Katalyst is the real star of this show, with weirdness reminiscent of everyone from MF Doom to Oktopus of Dalek. Even his more traditional beats skew towards the unusual, but it’s the interplay of all Katylst’s oddness and Simpson’s hardness that elevates the whole package. “Blue Collar” is a late-album highlight, featuring blaring sirens over funky guitar-ish songs reminiscent of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad while Simpson once again plays into his hard-nosed Detroit image.
A few songs are throways—the album’s title track features Katalyst’s most boring beat and some pretty standard lyrics from Guilty Simpson, and as mentioned earlier a few songs are too short to make any sort of impact—but Detroit’s Son is a great hip hop album that just might be released at the perfect time. The intersection of experimental artistry and the inherent toughness of rap is proving to result in some killer albums, and Detroit’s Son should definitely be part of that conversation.