Guilty Simpson (Detroit) on recording a full album with Katalyst, the character that unites Detroit emcees, Random Axe, and more

Guilty Simpson remains one of the quintessential figures in Detroit hip hop, standing alongside the likes of J Dilla, Phat Kat, Royce Da 5’9 and Slum Village as one of the most consistent artists to come from the city. He has been known for his sharp dedication to every aspect of The D, mainly sticking to it’s gritty streets and capturing the life and culture in his incredibly vivid rhymes, a true lyricist in that sense and one which has been delivering some of the strongest material the city has seen in the past decade, helped along by his association with eclectic label Stone’s Throw and, more recently, Australian producer Katalyst.

Returning to Australia next month for a round of intimate performances with Katalyst, a showcase for Guilty’s latest album Detroit’s Son, the acclaimed Detroit emcee will be bringing true, raw hip hop to fans once again. Before that all kicks off, Guilty caught up with the AU review to talk Detroit’s Son, the benefits of working with one producer as opposed to multiple producers, the character that unites rappers from Detroit, the possibility of the Random Axe project living on after the passing of Sean Price, and more.

Check the full transcript and see below for tour dates:

This is your second time coming down with Katalyst to perform in Australia. What has it been like working with him again and what about his production suits your approach to lyricism?

It gives me a wide lane, there’s a lot of stuff we can do. I think his production allows me to do [different tracks] and not necessarily create the same song. That’s what I think separates a beatmaker from a producer, and I think he is definitely a producer. It’s always dope working with him.

About the recording process for Detroit’s Son. Was there anything different in your approach to a full album with Katalyst as opposed to say a full album with Oh No or Apollo Brown

I can’t really say it was something like a premeditated, strategic type of vibe. What I wanted to do was capture my element in a different landscape, that is why I could appreciate his production. Sonically, his sound takes me back to the beat boy days, and that approach kind of made me kind of come back and share my experience. I’m the kind of person that just goes where the track takes me. If someone gives me 10 beats that sound the same, they’ll probably get 10 verses [that reflect that]. I think Katalyst’s production definitely made me have a different approach. Even if I was beating a dead horse, so the speak, with the subject matter, this just made me have a different approach to it.

It’s like with “Liquor” from the album; the type of way he was able to take sounds and have different elements to make it more then just the beat, it made me have a bit more personality.

You can definitely hear that in tracks like “Animals” and “Time is Now”…so Detroit’s Son came out towards the end of last year…what have the past few months been like for you?

Ah man it’s been great, I’ve been travelling. I just got back from Europe, did a nice little run with my homeboy Supa Emcee and Phat Kat. That was like 18 or 19 shows, and I’ve just got back here, it’s been pretty icy here in the states. Then I’m over in Australia, and come back here for a big U.S tour in the spring time. Everything’s really been on the up and up so I’ve definitely been busy. I think it’s definitely a reflection to how people have received the project. Once I’m able to do these shows and stuff like that, it’s a testament to what me and Katalyst were able to put together. I’m definitely thankful for that and I’m looking forward to creating more.

I read somewhere that eventually you wanted to get into making beats yourself. What is it about producing that makes you want to pursue this path?

Just sitting around with producers making beats has always given me an interest of wanting to journey off into that, but at the same time I respect the environment so much that I had so much I wanted to accomplish as far as rapping went; I didn’t want to half-ass it so the speak, or go half way.

As far as production, I have so much respect for producers, and if I wanted to do then I had to get off tour, to really journey off into it. So that’s why I kind of put it on the back burner, to get somewhat accomplished with the rhymes or get to a certain kind of level; I’ve been able to travel and do shows and work with amazing artists on the strength of the rhyming.

I think once I kind of wear down a little bit more then I’ll start journeying off a little bit more into production. But right now, I’m so busy as far as rapping goes that I can’t really dedicate the time or energy I need to to even be remotely close to calling myself a producer, or even a beatmaker. I’m not even a beatmaker right now, I’m just tinkering and trying to figure stuff out. Maybe I think it will come in due time but that will happen once I kind of die down from the rapping; as long as I have a strong rap demand I’m sure I’ll keep doing it though…that’s my first love.

One of the things I most admire about your work, as well as the majority of rappers from Detroit, is the kind of consistency and sharp dedication to your city and the culture. Detroit’s got an insular sound in that it’s maintained that raw, honest sound without being overwhelmed by outside influences…I guess it’s robust from a fan’s perspective. What is it about Detroit and Detroit emcees that you feel lends to this kind of consistency?

I think we have a chip on our shoulders, so the speak. We’re not really recognised sometimes. You have New York, the birthplace of it, then you have the beautiful West Coast with the great weather and weed, women, or whatever you choose to indulge in. Then you have the South who, as far as the mainstream goes, have been dominating for a lot of years. As far as recognition in general, not really having our own stamp in hip hop…even though we’ve had Eminem and success, I’m not taking that away from the city….but in general, I think not really being recognised or acknowledged instills self-pride, in anybody who feels overlooked. Especially if you can get a group of people…maybe one person that feels ostracized might crumble under the pressure of not being accepted…but when it’s a group of people that have the same kind of upbringing and the same kind of bumps and bruises, so to speak…once you have that it brings pride into it. I think that’s the thing, even with the different sounds and types of artists you might find in Detroit, that gives us a sense of pride. Most of the time to be able to admire Detroit usually comes with experience in Detroit…not many people are gravitating towards Detroit so I think that makes us empathise with the city and what the city has been through. I think there’s a level of pride that we wear as a flag, so the speak.

I guess the thing I notice about Detroit is, also the point your making, but also when those artists do go worldwide like Eminem, J Dilla, and yourself – you’re often referred to as one of rap’s best kept secrets – I think the few that do make it through to that worldwide recognition, they end up shooting straight to the top of either the mainstream or underground scenes, or both.

Most definitely. It’s because of what they’ve been through. To go through certain things and certain obstacles. Once you get there then you’ve achieved it, you’ve been through so much. When people look at your body of work and what it took to get there, a lot made that stuff happen. Like with J Dilla, the fans that were just kind of getting into the music can go back through his catalogue and hear what it took to get there. Same thing with Eminem and whoever the artist may be from Detroit, I think that chances are whatever they went through wasn’t handed to them. That’s a safe assumption.

Eminem went through a lot, a lot of turmoil to get to the level he deserves. We always have to go that extra mile in Detroit. You really had to get out there on the streets and connect to people just to get recognised.

Obviously Detroit is a big consideration in all of your music, but what has it been like working with Stone’s Throw with artists from everywhere?

It was always a blessing to be with Stone’s Throw. With artists from everywhere I was able to speak to different people and some of these people I’m still real cool with to this day. People like M.E.D and Oh No, and I don’t really talk to Madlib that much but that’s still the homie. To be able to travel has allowed me to think outside of the box and kind of figure out something bigger than Detroit. Even though I do champion Detroit everywhere; Detroit is more of an awareness, I want to champion that because I want people to be aware that people make it from Detroit and are able to do things that count.

For anyone that’s from Detroit my biggest advice would be to travel outside of Detroit to meet different people and understand that we have great opportunities that you might be missing just because you won’t step outside of your box. Being able to go to L.A and sign to a label, to meet people from different regions but with common interests, the love of the music, that was amazing to me. They were able to expose me to the world. That was dope. Being with Stone’s Throw was a true blessing for me.

You seem to have this preference for working with one producer at a time, like an album with Oh No, an album with Apollo Brown, an album with Katalyst and all that. What are the advantages of this over something like having a different producer for each track?

It makes the album sound cohesive. My very first album, Ode to the Ghetto, I started taking beats everywhere, from this producer and that producer, and it was kind of difficult…I just like the way an album sounds with one producer. That was my initial goal in the first place, because it makes the album sound more cohesive rather than just everywhere. Even when people comb through my catalogue they’ll say I get better on the later albums.

I really like working with one producer. And another thing a lot of the time when you’ve got like 10 producers working on your album you’ll get 3 or 4 beats from each producer, but me personally, I believe that to get to the depth of a true producer you need to get into the 15th or 16th…20th beat to get what they do. A lot of producers haven’t yet set in their mind what sound they want you to have. You find the true gems when you get deeper into their catalogue. I really like to really listen to what a producer can do. I want to get like 50 beats from them at times.

Getting to future projects. Have there been any talks between you and Black Milk about maybe continuing the Random Axe project as a duo?

We talked about it lightly. I’m not exactly sure what kind of stuff Sean Price was working on and what kind of stuff he has to work with, but I’m sure we’ve talked about it tentatively. Me personally, not saying I wouldn’t do it, but it’s not the same without Sean being here. I definitely would contribute to the record…we were already into the process of working on it, we recorded like 6 songs already so I was already in the process of recording for a new Random Axe album. It really depends, I know [Sean] was writing for it, I don’t know exactly what, but I’m not necessarily opposed to working on it.

Guilty Simpson + Katalyst Australian Tour 2016

Saturday 30th January
Transit Bar, Canberra

Sunday 31st January
Laundry Bar, Melbourne

Friday 5th February
Plan B, Sydney (formerly Goodgod Small Club)

Saturday 6th February
Mojo’s, Perth


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy-Editor-At-Large of the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.

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