You’ve been grinding for awhile and your album Ode to the Ghetto is finally coming out March 24. How does that feel?
Shoot, man, it feels like the weight of the world is finally off my shoulders. Sometimes it can be emotionally straining and mentally draining, but actually it wasn’t like that for me. I’m real happy to be able to put my body of work together so people can enjoy Ode to the Ghetto, coming on March 24. So be on the lookout for that.
How did you approach Ode to the Ghetto?
Mainly I just trusted myself. I just made it an issue not to step outside of my creative realm. I would rather make records being myself than trying to overextend myself and try to find the club hit. There are a lot of different processes that I’ve gone through. The main thing was picking the beats that would be the best representation of me. You only get one chance to make the first impression. I had to be Guilty on this record instead of experimenting with elements that don’t really make up me. The process I was involved in was being me, picking a hot beat, picking a concept for the beat and coming up with the best song. It wasn’t an over-thinking process. I just wanted to be real free-flowing with my records and not over-think things and try to cater to certain audiences.
A lot of the features you’ve done, from “Sound the Alarm” with Black Milk to “Nightmares” with Phat Kat, show you in a real aggressive frame of mind. Do you prefer that style more than others?
I have tracks where I do that, but at the same time, I put some balance to it. A lot of times, people get me on features and want me to do a particular style of rap. I have a joint called “Yikes”. I got quite a few joints where I’m just running wild on the track, which most people consider to be what Guilty is, but actually that’s just a small portion. I am an artist. A lot of this album was putting on thick subject matter that people can relate to as opposed to records where you’re just rapping about everything and nothing at the same time. I got tracks that cater to that, but I got real shit where I’m dealing with relationships and dealing with psycho-babes and I’m dealing with stress and I’m dealing with pressure. I have a lot of different things and I do have raw lyrics over beats for the hip-hop heads. I do have that too.
Do a lot of artists limit you when you collaborate by asking for an aggressive, in-your-face verse?
If you look back at it, I have a joint called “Mouth Music” with Black Milk, Bishop Lamont and Busta Rhymes. I got a track called “Before I Die” that I collabed with the Heliocentrics on. People have been giving me tracks as of late where I’ve been able to do other things, but as a whole, I don’t think that they’re necessarily putting me in a box and limiting what I’m doing.
Ode to the Ghetto is to show what I can do. I have a lot of tracks I’ve done in the past that have been like an open mic style of rhyming. I’m appreciative that people recognize that I can do that, but Ode to the Ghetto is me reflecting on myself and how I want to sound. I think with my new record coming out, people will be able to hear me address certain topics and hear me as an artist. I also got a joint called “Just A Man” where I’m talking about relationships and the communication between a male and a female. Slowly but surely I’ve been journeying off and doing more. You’ll be able to see me in a broader spectrum on Ode to the Ghetto and in the future I’ll be able to do more subject matter as opposed to open mic rhyming. If you want to collab with me on that, we can do that all day, but don’t think that’s the only collab that you can get Guilty Simpson on.
Mr. Porter told me he was doing a lot of work with you on Ode to the Ghetto. What is he bringing to the project?
He brings everything. He’s had commercial success but that’s not really what we’re trying to do. I worked with Mr. Porter before I hooked up with Dilla. He knows as a producer what I need as a rapper. When I look at Mr. Porter, he just brings structure to my ideas and that’s what he does as a producer. A producer hears words and hears the beats and he might visualize the finished product of the record as opposed to just beats and rhymes. That’s the element that Mr. Porter brings. He brings the producer edge and the finishing touches. It’s been great. I’m thankful to have him in my corner. He’s a great producer and I’m just thankful that he’s on my team. Mr. Porter is one of my closest friends. He’s been that for the last five years.
You have producers like Madlib, Black Milk and Mr. Porter to work with. How did you get your team so strong?
It’s actually humbling to think about it. Basically I just do me, man. When I met Madlib through Dilla, he was able to listen to what I brought to the table as an MC. That’s the biggest thing. I’m definitely appreciative of the fans and to be acknowledged by my peers as well is great. I’ve been talking to Pete Rock and a couple of other people. When I look at that, I just look at it as a blessing. I’ve been blessed to have these people want to work with me. I think it’s just hard work, man, and being humble.
I’m my biggest critic. You might like something I do and I might cringe because I might hear something that I could have done differently. It’s my work ethic and being an approachable guy. That’s not to downplay my pen and what I write. I think though the way a person works and the person’s attitude towards working has a lot to do with how the person wants to work with you. I don’t question why they want to work with me. I take pride in it and I’m a real humble guy.
I think just the willingness to work and having an open mind to whatever anybody else wants to bring to the table to make whatever I’m doing a better song, I think that also helps me being in the position I’m in. I’m growing every day as an artist. Who knows, probably my best songs are ahead of me right now. I think those are the main attributes I bring to the table – a humble guy who’s willing to work who’s got an open mind and an open ear to whatever advice anybody wants to give me.
Do you think that open-minded approach is why your collaborations don’t sound forced?
Yeah, definitely. One thing that I learned is that you don’t have to try to out-rap whoever you’re featured on to make the best possible song. My goal is not to get on somebody’s track and show how much better I am than them. I think the main thing is to flow with the chemistry of the song and play your part. Sometimes to make the best music, the co-star has to be on point just as much as the main star. When I do “Nightmares” and stuff like that, my goal is to collab with Ronnie Cash, or Phat Kat, whatever you call him. My vision is to collab with him, not to out-rap him and be the freshest person on the song. I think it’s about the chemistry and about you doing the best possible thing you can do to make the song good. That’s the mentality I have.
With Skyzoo’s “Play Your Position”, I just brought what I did to the table and we were like co-hosts. If I do something and people think I have the hottest verse on it, then so be it. I just take an open-minded approach to it and I think that’s why I get so many features and why people appreciate what I do.
Your single is the very personal “Man’s World”. What inspired you to write that?
Just personal stuff. I went to Dilla’s crib. He was playing “Man’s World” for me. I was basically over there and I listened to the beat and I was in the James Brown element and that brought me back to the old music and that brought me back to my childhood. That brought me back to when I was living with my father. You know how it goes. A man teaches a boy how to be a man, so to speak.
My father instilled a lot of stuff in me, but also at the same time, he had a firm hand of discipline. “Man’s World” wasn’t meant to paint a bad picture of him. It just brought my life to paper. It just so happened that a couple of things that happened made it into the song. I love my old man and we don’t have a strained relationship, but that’s the truth. I’m going to give you a piece of my life, true and uncut. Listening to the instrumental of it just made me want to reflect and get deeper. “Man’s World” was born from it.
Did you father ever give you feedback on “Man’s World”?
We talked. We haven’t really talked too much about the song, but we talked about the success and the strides that I’m making with the music. He plays the saxophone and the harmonica-based guitar. He’s thankful for me and thankful for the things I’ve been able to do and how I’ve been across the world. He respects everything that I’m doing.
We haven’t really talked about “Man’s World” but I’m sure he’s heard it because it’s been on my MySpace and he told me he’s been to my page. But him not addressing it let’s me know that I was able to make the song about our relationship in good taste.
He did tell me that he loved me growing up and we went through our parts where we went through it. I was a young, hard-headed teenager growing up so I’m not even going to say it was all his fault. I’m just going to say that there are better ways that things could have been handled without him balling his fists up. But being an adult now, I understand the pressure that he was feeling and that we all make mistakes and I was a direct recipient of his mistakes. He’s very positive and I love him to death, but that was a point in my life that had to be addressed. When I made the song, I listened to it as a listener. Our relationship has been better than ever, so I actually think it was therapeutic for me.
Do you find that a lot of the music you make is therapeutic in one way or another?
Yeah, definitely. It helps you relieve frustrations and you can say things that you might not say in an everyday conversation. When I get frustrated, I’ll pick a pen up. It’s better a pen than a pistol. I think my music is definitely therapeutic because I’m actually able to document my frustrations and listen to it in song format. Everybody knows that music soothes.
If I get a nice beat and I tell my story, it gives my vocals the perfect avenue to be heard. I think music is therapeutic for everybody, especially the person that wrote it because you’re actually able to see something that you put together affect people in a positive or negative light. Music is so powerful. Just being able to sit back and have somebody say that they listened to that song, that’s great. It’s definitely therapeutic for the listener and the writer.
You’re also recording the Random Axe project with Sean Price and Black Milk. How’s that project coming?
It’s coming real dope. I just cut my vocals for three more joints yesterday and I just got two more from Black Milk. I’m going to go record those and that will make us 10-11 songs done. We’re going to look at what else we need to round off the project and finalize it. So far it’s been good and it’s coming out incredible. Black Milk is giving us incredible beats and Sean P is being the monster that he is and I’m being the monster that I am. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I would have been happy to just be a feature on it and I have a voice on the whole project. Black Milk is also an MC on it and Krizsteel from the Dreadnaughtz will be on it. I’m loving it right now even though it’s in the embryo stages. Sonically, the way it’s sounding, it’s ridiculous, trust me.
Does Black Milk’s more laid-back vibe as an MC balance out the aggressiveness of you and Sean Price?
Even with me and Sean P rocking on it, we’re going to show different sides of us. We’re not just running wild on the whole project. You know what Black Milk brings on the production side. Vocal-wise, he just adds a third option to what we bring to the table and he’s pretty aggressive on the record too. He’s laid-back, but he gives people another voice on the record to even things out. I think he’s definitely critical and valuable to the project. He’s that critical because I’ve been working with him throughout the years and he’s the one giving us the tracks. He’s like the scientist coming up with formulas and we just do what we do. He also has an excellent voice and Sean P’s voice is different from mine and Black’s is different from both of us. He just brings a third option to the project and he’s very valuable.
You’re also recording an EP with Madlib. How’s that coming?
The project is OJ Simpson. Really, I’m just going through the process where I’m picking beats now. It’s probably going to come sooner than people think. I think OJ Simpson will definitely drop before the Random Axe project. Sean P is working on Heltah Skeltah and doing his thing over on Duck Down.
I’m looking to hit you before the project comes out and drop something for the Stones Throw fanbase. I’m not saying that they can’t appreciate what I do with Mr. Porter or Black Milk, but I think it’s perfect timing and I’m letting Madlib do his thing. I’m a fan of his work and I’m just thankful to be in this position and to be able to work with him. I think this project is going to be crazy. I’m going through beats and my pen is moving. There’s no writer’s block this way. As soon as I pick the beats, that will be in the works. I’m going to the lab every day. By this time next week, I’ll probably have three or four OJ Simpson songs cut.
Fans who appreciate what Stones Throw does may not appreciate other forms of hip-hop. Do you have two different fanbases?
Yeah, I think I do. When you look at the standard Stones Throw fanbase, that’s probably going to be a little more different than the people who have been following me in Detroit for the past 4-5 years or however long they’ve been following me. It kind of brings a lot of cultures together. I did a show in Chicago and there were a lot of people that were there from the ‘hood and then you had this white hip-hop fanbase there.
I can go to a show for Stones Throw and you see so many different races and cultures together. You might not necessarily get that when you go to certain shows. You might go to a certain show and there might not be any diversity in the crowd. I’m definitely thankful for that.
I think that me coming from Detroit, they know that I’m really in the ‘hood and I enjoy doing ‘hood things, but at the same time, I can appreciate a poetic MC with no violence in his rhymes. I can appreciate everything and I think being from Detroit, that makes me well-rounded. I fuck with the people who aren’t really into the ‘hood music and they’re more into the Stones Throw fanbase. They tell me they listen to me where they might not have actually listened to it if I wasn’t on Stones Throw. They say there’s aggressiveness in there but there’s actually an MC in there. They see that I’m poetic and that I’m pushing the envelope with writing lyrics. That in turn lets me be a better MC and allows for me to have a lot more diversity in the crowds that I’m seeing when I’m doing my shows.
Do you ever vary your show depending on the audience?
We have an all ages show where there might be kids there. Of course I wouldn’t do “Robbery” and I wouldn’t do my extremely savage stuff, but at the same time, that’s basically the main thing. I went out to suburban white America where I’m just a dude doing shows. There’s people in my age bracket at my show and I’m going to do my show. If there are kids, I’ll probably journey off and do other things. I’ll cater to the crowd to that extent, but I feel like anybody who comes to a show for Guilty Simpson, they kind of know what they’re getting. I stay true to what I’m doing and I do particular songs. I just use my better judgment with it and luckily I haven’t been in that situation too much, but I do have certain songs that are more harsh that I wouldn’t do for the young kids.
What’s the biggest benefit you have being on Stones Throw?
They let me make records of me being me. They’ve been independent for over 10 years and they make it work. I’ve had talks with Peanut Butter Wolf and he lets me know what style of songs he wants me to do. He just lets me do what I see fit and he lets me know if he likes the song or not. He doesn’t want me to conform to what the industry is doing. He just wants me to make records of me being me and I don’t think many people get that being at a major. They’re so focused on projected sales and what kind of records are selling in different regions. I think a lot of times that takes away from the creative element of the artist and that takes away from the people who are buying the CD’s. I think that’s the biggest thing. They’re letting me make records of me being me.
They let Madlib make records being Quasimoto and imagine the people at Universal letting him do that. I don’t think the majors take risks and the independents will take risks. They’ll find the market for it. That’s the biggest thing about Stones Throw and I love it. The worst thing for me is someone trying to control my music. I’ve found at the end of the day, if my project fails, I’m the person to blame. That’s the consensus from the fans. If my record fails, it’s “Guilty’s wack”, not “Stones Throw is wack.”
That’s why I appreciate Peanut Butter Wolf. He lets me put out records and music that represents me and that’s the realest thing any record label owner can do for an artist, especially an artist like me. I’ve paid my dues in Detroit. The world might not know me like they should, but however, in Detroit, I’ve been rapping for over 10 years, putting in my work. There are people who have been listening to me for 10 years. How would I sound coming out with a record where I sound like a pop clown after they’ve been listening to me for that long? It’s very important for me to put out my records as Guilty Simpson and that’s what Wolf does for me.
On the intro to your mixtape Stray Bullets, you say, “I got a Ruger for cats who want to hate on the computer.” What kind of feedback do you get online?
Of course I have more good than bad. Me as a fan of rap stuff, even though there are things on the internet that aren’t for me, I didn’t bash the music. Sometimes the computer gives people the courage and the heart to say stuff that they wouldn’t normally say. Regardless, I’m traveling the world and I’m doing it.
I didn’t like Karl Malone when he played in the NBA. I thought his game was real stiff and stuff, but he was effective, man. I could have argued with a Utah fan about how I didn’t like Karl Malone, but I couldn’t say that he couldn’t play.
You can give your opinion on if you like my music or not, but to say I’m wack or to say that the only reason I’m in this position because of Dilla, that’s borderline hate to me. If Dilla is the only reason I’m here, then why did Stones Throw sign me after he passed and why am I working with Madlib? Why was I working with Mr. Porter before I worked with Dilla? Why is Pete Rock sending me beats? There’s a whole lot of things that come into play. I don’t ask everybody to listen to and to like my music, but let’s be serious here. I have more talent, I feel, than a lot of people in the game and that are doing it.
For someone to be typing on a message board that I’m wack, I’ve clicked on their page and listened to their music and it’s laughable. I didn’t make a post though. It’s not for me. When someone puts themselves in a position to be judged for their music, that says something about them. Some people can’t put themselves in a position to be judged. Take any job. A librarian doesn’t do her job where they’re like, ‘I love how she does her thing’ or ‘I think she’s the worst librarian ever.’ This job is not like that. People say and do what they want to do, but to say that my music is wack and that I’m only here because of Dilla is laughable to me. It doesn’t bother me, actually. It actually fuels me.
It’s just some of the tactics and some of the reasons that they give for not supporting the music…You just have to keep it real. That’s like the main thing that I could say. And judging from the internet and different things you go through on there, you can touch people that are preoccupied with trying to destroy you. 50 people can say that you’re talented and four people can say that you’re wack and that you’re not talented. I must be better than you think I am because you’re joining the conversation to talk about me and talk about how I’m wack. I have to thank my supporters and I have to thank my haters too. If we’re having a discussion and you said I was wack and someone else is saying that I’m dope, the third person who has never heard my music is going to go check my music and make their own opinion and come to their own judgment on whether or not I’m good.
Do fans place more of an emphasis on the Dilla cosign now that he passed?
Most definitely, man. Once Dilla passed, for a lot of people, it was the thing to say. The people that did love him, it hurt them directly. It really, really hurt them. It was the cool thing to say at that point. For the people that did get into Dilla’s music after his passing, hey, I thank you because you were able to experience his genius. But there are a lot of people who are following the trend and they’re doing tributes and they’re not really breaking bread with his peoples. It’s just like any situation – you’re going to have your well-wishers and then you’re going to have your bloodsuckers. In this situation, you have quite a few bloodsuckers. But in this situation, I feel the real love is going to outweigh the fake people. I would like to think that love conquers all. I can’t be the mad dog barking at every car that passes by. I’m going to control what I can control and that’s putting out good music to keep his name alive.
On Black Milk’s “Sound the Alarm”, you say, “too real for radio, too live for radio.” Do you expect your music to slip under the mainstream, commercial radar?
I’m pretty sure it will, but I understand that and it will make it that much easier. I haven’t heard “Getting Riches” on Detroit radio once. But I didn’t expect to hear it on Detroit radio, so that’s cool too. A lot of times when you’re not really on the majors, you can’t get on the radio. You have to just pick other avenues to be more effective. I’m going to go where it’s strong, like the internet. I plan on making several videos for the songs I did on the record and just get real effective like that.
Even with “Sound the Alarm”, the song I laid that verse on, Black Milk’s project has been out since March 13, which is almost a year, and I can count on two hands how much he’s been played on Detroit radio. You just have to focus on what you do and create avenues and do it in the streets. I would like to think that with hard work, eventually radio will jump on. Even if they don’t, we still plan on doing it.
One of my favorite guest appearances you’ve had was on Percee P’s “Watch Your Step” off his debut album Perseverance. What was it like working with Perc on that?
That was dope. I actually was never physically in the lab with him, but I’m a fan of Percee and I love his hustle. He’s a great guy and he’s real humble. He definitely doesn’t have an ego and stuff like that so I’m rooting for Percee. That’s my labelmate and that’s my brother now. We’ve been on the road together and we’ve been through all kinds of times together. That’s my homie. He’s a legend. He’s been in the trenches for years. He’s hustled and he does what he has to do to eat with the music and I respect the hell out of him. It was an honor to work with Percee, for real.
Will your group Almighty Dreadnaughtz be dropping an album soon?
The Almighty Dreadnaughtz will probably be coming out in the summertime. That’s going to be an independent-type project. The main thing is that I want to put in the groundwork and get it established so we can come out on a national level. We’ve done albums but I think this is the first time that people are really looking and people are really paying attention to it. The Almighty Dreadnaughtz will probably be coming in June or July. We’re working on it now so it may be premature for me to put a date on it now.
What are your goals for Ode to the Ghetto?
My goals for the project, man, are to put out the best possible music for Guilty Simpson and have it be a good representation of what I am. I want to bring lyrics to the forefront and just let people know that there are people out here who are representing real hip-hop music with a street edge. It doesn’t have to be this and that.
I have songs with the Dreadnaughtz where I’m painting a picture of how the whole neighborhood might work. I might address it, but I’m not the dopeman. I wrote Ode to the Ghetto to be a commentary but not to necessarily glorify myself as “that guy.” I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life and I don’t have to necessarily take credit for being the person responsible for this shit. It’s just commentary. That’s what Detroit is. I can step outside of my house and see some mind-blowing shit. I just want that to be known – anything can happen. I make good music over hard-ass beats and I want that to be the foundation for my lyrics.
The main thing is that I want to bring integrity back to lyricism. I feel there is a lot of talent in Detroit and we’re not getting that broad platform that other artists are getting. Ode to the Ghetto is just me giving back to what I came from. Just listen to the record and I feel that once you listen to it, you’ll be able to appreciate it for what it is.
What’s the next move for Guilty Simpson?
I go on tour on February 14. I’m touring and I have the Random Axe project and OJ Simpson. There’s a Goon Squad album coming out with Trick Trick. We’re working on the Almighty Dreadnaughtz. I got my hand in everything. The main thing is just for me to stay busy and for me to just make the best possible music that I can. It’s really just building my library. Everything that I named probably isn’t coming out in ’08. I just want to make sure that my library is real strong and there’s a lot of evidence on how great I am. You’ll have plenty of material to play for the person that you might be arguing with about me. The main thing is that I just want to put my stamp on things that I stand behind and good music and I make music to represent myself.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Ode to the Ghetto, March 25. R.I.P. J Dilla and Big Proof. And I represent Detroit. Listen to it with an unprejudiced and unbiased ear. Just check out Ode to the Ghetto. I guarantee you it will be worth the purchase.