Exclusive: Guilty Simpson says that he wished he could have done all of "Ode To The Ghetto" with J. Dilla, as was the plan. He also speaks about his New York Knick cousin Ronnie Brewer.
As a guest-editor this week, Sean Price said HipHopDX needed to cover more Random Axe. Guilty Simpson, one-third of the super-group and a Detroit, Michigan veteran, is set to release Dice Game on November 16 through Mello Music Group. It’s a collaborative effort with fellow Motor City native Apollo Brown providing the production, and Planet Asia and Torae enlisted as the only guest appearances. It’s also Guilty’s second straight solo LP that features only one producer, the previous effort being OJ Simpson produced by Madlib.
Working with only one producer is central to Guilty Simpson’s creative process. During a recent phone interview with HipHopDX, he noted that this format makes life easier not just for him, but for whoever is producing the record as well. “It’s kind of like the point guard getting worried about the center,” says Guilty, using a basketball analogy to explain his approach. “You got to do your job so he can be in the best position to win.”
While he’s excited about his upcoming album, Guilty Simpson is equally enthused about the success that both Detroit’s mainstream and underground artists are seeing. From Black Milk to Big Sean, both producers and emcees have been enjoying the increased airplay and media spotlight that Hip Hop has allowed for. “I have more leverage to represent the city with because I have so many different artists that I can refer to and be able to appreciate their music,” says Guilty.
HipHopDX: This album is called Dice Game, but it’s also been described as a dice game in terms of its overall sound and feel. In what way would you say this album is like a dice game?
Guilty Simpson: I think it’s different because...it’s more like a dice game because it kind of jumps around more, like topic-to-topic. I’m talking about a couple different topics in it. Then of course, you’re dealing with two people just kind of [collaborating], you know [Apollo Brown] been doing his thing, I’ve been doing my thing, [We] just wanted to collab together, it’s kind of like we’re putting something at stake. Just kind of wagering, especially in terms of reputation.
So I would say it’s a dice game because it’s not really consistently one subject matter. I think anytime you jump topic-to-topic you can get kind of touchy; kind of risky how people will feel it. But it has, production-wise, a beautiful musical landscape to it, so I hope those transitions be smooth.
DX: So when you say it’s got more to it, you mean the production is a change [from previous material]?
Guilty Simpson: Yeah, just the different elements that Apollo goes through with his beats, but he still applies a lot of Soul; lot of Soul in him. Anytime you get a little Soul music, a lot of times it takes me away from open mic-rhyming and gravitating towards genuine subject matter. By him giving me production like that, and opposed to being selfish with a pen and just trying to get an ultimate point across over the beat, I kind of wanted to complement the beats, and the beats took me towards more subjects than this aimless, brainless rhyming.
DX: So how did this project come about in the first place for you and Apollo?
Guilty Simpson: Well we’d been talking about doing a project for a while. I respect his production, he respected what I was doing. And we would kind of casually talk about it, you know: “Man, when we finally get together, we’re gonna make a dope project.”
Finally, I wasn’t busy and he wasn’t not busy, but we were actually able to make a couple adjustments and find the right window to get it done. So that was more or less how it happened; we just finally put some action behind the talking. We would always see each other and talk about how dope the project would be if we just settled down and worked.
DX: You don’t usually have guest appearances on your albums, but on this one you’ve got Planet Asia and Torae. What made you decide on those two?
Guilty Simpson: They’re dope. I think both of them come from the underdog aspect of it. Both of them get recognition, they’re both acknowledged as dope emcees. But I just kind of respect what they’re doing and I just felt like they would bring another voice to my project, but at the same time without compromising what I represent. So I just thought those were ideal choices: they’re not fly-by-night emcees, [they’re] emcees who’ve put enough material out for me to know that they’ll be around and [they’ll] do something that I stand by. None of that fas music stuff: real music.
DX: I don’t want to compare your albums, but what can fans expect from this album as it might relate to Ode to the Ghetto and OJ Simpson?
Guilty Simpson: I’ma say progression in terms of my writing, just a more mature sounding emcee. Progression in my vocals, just the way I sound on the record. Just a whole [other] maturity to what I do. I don’t want to make it seem like this is a button-up or blazer jacket, suit and tie kind of record, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying the ability to present my point with different ways, different cadences. I was just able to challenge myself. I actually deal with homelessness- people being homeless- on my record. I’m dealing with a lot of different things, but at the same time I’m still able to be creative and not sacrifice the fluidity of the story, or the picture that I’m painting.
DX: I hear you. And from an artistic standpoint, what were you changing up- or were you changing up anything lyric writing-wise when you went from one producer to another like that?
Guilty Simpson: Yeah, of course I do make adjustments because like I said I always let the music tell me where I kind of need to go with the vocals, but at the same time most of the adjustments that I’ve been making [were] kind of within myself. I’m always listening to my records- well, not always listening, but when I do, rather than enjoying them a lot of times I find myself seeking what I did or could have [done] better. So I just made it a point to kind of focus more on my vocals- and you’ll even hear it on the next record I’m working on, there’s always a work in progress. But I’m basically trying to tweak and fine tune myself so I can be a better emcee.
Apollo’s a crazy producer, so I think for me to kind of nitpick what he does is taking away from what I’m focused on and what I need to do. It’s kind of like the point guard getting worried about the center: he’s not even giving him the ball, so don’t worry about him scoring. You got to do your job so he can be in the best position to win.
DX: I like that analogy. Before this album, your most recent one was the Random Axe project, which Black Milk produced. Being that both he and Apollo are from Detroit and you are too, what kind of role has the 313 played in your more recent creative endeavors?
Guilty Simpson: A huge, huge, huge role. Actually, it was always present from my start, but by me going to Stones Throw [Records], I was able to meet incredible producers: Madlib and Oh No, and a lot of people that I’ve worked with. And I definitely don’t regret anything that I’ve done thus far with them, but what I did want to do was I kind of wanted to get some home cookin’. I did get that with the Random Axe, but I was sharing that forum with Sean Price and Black Milk of course. So it just gives me the ability to go down avenues and write songs that I want to write individually without having to refer to someone else. I’ll refer to Apollo to an extent, but not have to really refer to someone else to kind of be like “Yay” or “Nay” with my vocals, I can just go with my idea. It can be kind of trust in what I want to do with it.
Being able to work with Black Milk and Apollo, like I said, brings just that home cookin’ effect to it and just something for me to able to save for my personal archives for myself and just put that stamp from home on it. That’s the kind of thing that I get when I collaborate with those guys.
DX: Between that and the bigger picture as a whole, what do you think about Detroit’s rep these days? Would you say that maybe emcees and producers are more successful and putting on harder than they have in years passed?
Guilty Simpson: Yeah I could say that. There’s quite a few fronts that we’re fighting right now and people are getting recognized. You got me, you got Black Milk, you got Danny Brown, you got Crown Nation with Denmark Vessey and Chris Quelle, you got my man House Shoes, you got a lot of different people, Buff1. A lot of people stepping into the forefront, [like] Elzhi - and lot of people doing things for the city. So individually, I like the broad scale of everything, ‘cause I have more arsenal when I talk about how good Detroit is. I have more leverage to represent the city with because I have so many different artists that I can refer to and be able to appreciate their music, without even talking about me. I could exclude myself from the Detroit roster and still kind of speak [to] it with pride. You know, Big Sean, even on the mainstream level, there’s not too many mainstream guys that I can think of that can really out-rhyme Big Sean. I think he sounds good on the records for the mainstream.
So I think Detroit... Eminem, he’s in a class on his own, and Royce Da 5’9 - I think we got good representation for our city. It could always be better, I could still name as many people that’s from the city that I wish I could say was in the same boat as the ones that I named, but it’s a marathon, so we still fighting.
DX: You spoke of having an arsenal of emcees and producers to collaborate with, just a creative question: now that you’ve done three albums in a row with only one producer each time, even though they’re all very different is that a format that you might apply for future albums?
Guilty Simpson: Yeah, that’s what I like. Not to say I wouldn’t piece an album together with a gang of producers, but I just kind of like that sound; I like the theme. Some people don’t and say it sounds repetitive, but if you do it with the right producer that can give you phases and has different phases of production, it will sound good because it sounds like a body of work.
I think that a lot of the old records, it sounded like it was from a lot of producers. Some people might think that’s a compliment, but that’s not necessarily a compliment to me, sometimes it messes up the even flow, the fluidity of the record. So I kind of purposefully did that, I like the results that I’m getting. I’m also trying to limit the number of newer producers that I work with, but maybe on the mixtape kind of vibe, that’s where I’ll meet the newer people. And then if I do meet the newer producer that has the depth to do stuff like that, maybe I can create independent projects with them, because just to appease producers, I won’t sacrifice the vibe on my records. I want my records to sound like my records. I really wish I could have made Ode To The Ghetto a one producer record, I would turn around a [do] that. Actually, it would have been a one producer record at the time, because [J Dilla] would have did it, but it didn’t happen.
DX: Switching it up here a little bit, Ronnie Brewer of the New York Knicks is your cousin. Did you ever ball or was he ever into rapping?
Guilty Simpson: Was Ronnie [Brewer] ever into rapping? Nah, nah. He was always into hoops as far as I can remember, he always was the young protege. My young cousin down south that had a real good future in basketball [ahead of him]. His father actually played in the NBA also, his name was Ron Brewer, Sr., [Ronnie]’s a junior, so his future was kind of cut out for him already. [He was] practically born literally with a basketball in his hand. So nah, he just listens and supports from a distance, and is just focusing on hoops. That’s all he does, hoops.
DX: Did you ever play ball?
Guilty Simpson: I played a little basketball, played a little football, I even ran a little track. But when I got a little bit older, in my high school years [I] started getting more involved in being rowdy, fighting and getting girls. That was my ultimate downfall was fighting and girls, I couldn’t control my temper. Coaches said I had potential- they didn’t say I could play pro or nothing, but my coaches literally said I had pretty good potential, I was [an] above-average athlete, but I inherited my father’s temper. I inherited his jumpshot and his temper unfortunately.
DX: I like what you said earlier with the point guard analogy, but you’ve also got your fair share of basketball references in your raps, you talk about Scottie Pippen, Adonal Foyle, all these guys. Do you like using basketball metaphors or is it more of a coincidence than anything?
Guilty Simpson: It’s more of a coincidence because- actually it’ll even stretch beyond that. If you mess around and listen to certain songs, you might hear me make a UFC reference, or a football reference, or a baseball reference. It doesn’t really matter, that’s like my everyday thing. Seriously, you might catch me watching Sportscenter faster than you’ll hear me listening to a record a lot of these days. I’m just a sports fanatic I got it honestly from my family; I was always watching even since I was a kid. I’m always into that, you might just hear any kind of sports reference, or I might talk more passionately about the game last night than I will about the presidential debates, that’s just how I am. Judge me for it, whatever, but that’s how I get done. I just love sports.
DX: Just a couple more questions. After this album drops, what’s next for you?
Guilty Simpson: After this record drops, I’m doing another Stones Throw record with these cats called Quakers. This guy, Katalyst, he’s based out of Australia right now, and the other guy in Quakers, his name is Geoff Barrow, he’s one of the guys that founded Portishead, he’s one of the members of Portishead. Those two are gonna produce the last of what’s left of my new music, and I’m getting crazy once again, I’m already in the process of working on that. I’m working on my first batch now, so I’m between like six and ten songs now, and I’m sending that out...The next thing for me is always staying creative, I’ll relax when I’m done.
DX: Definitely. Lastly, you’ve got some real nice album art on Dice Game. Is this your favorite album art that you’ve got?
Guilty Simpson: Yeah, by far. Simple, yet effective. If you’re thinking [of making] the Dice Game album art at least how I envision it, and the way they show me it’s going to look, then that rivals almost anybody’s album cover. I could almost say it’s anybody’s best album cover, it’s dope to me, I really like it.