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Guilty Simpson Interview

April 29, 2008

by Doug CoombeWhen hip-hop heads buzz about the renaissance of Detroit’s rap scene, Guilty Simpson is universally recognized as one of its most important components. Widely known as a protégé to the late J Dilla, the Guilty showcased his gritty, throaty vocals on albums like Jaylib’s Champion Sound and Dilla’s The Shining before signing to indie powerhouse Stones Throw Records through his old friend. Under the LA label, 2007 would see him release the mixtape Stray Bullets and his debut album Ode To the Ghetto, the latter featuring production from the likes of ST breadwinner Madlib, fellow Detroit heavyweights Black Milk and Mr. Porter, and one beat from Dilla Dog himself.

Along with pushing February 08’s Ode, Guilty is also working on an album with Black and underground emcee du jour Sean Price—together, the trio of Random Axe—for a fourth quarter release. In MichiganHipHop’s debut interview, Guilty talks extensively about Dilla, Random Axe and hoops.

How has the album been received so far?
So far, so good. Most people have received it pretty well. Of course, you can’t please everybody, certain people have their gripes. But as a whole, a lot of people that I’ve talked to directly responded pretty well. So I’m thankful, definitely.

Some people think it should’ve included more tracks from Stray Bullets.
Yeah, but what people fail to realize is Stray Bullets was more or less me just doing the “emcee” thing. It’s easy to get caught up … and be selfish, being an emcee, to want to do an emcee record. But I don’t really feel like that has staying power, and I’m looking to grow my fan base. So when I’m looking for angles for my albums, I want to go for more factual things, and things I can relate to as opposed to metaphors and rambling on tracks. I feel like I can do that, but I just want to be a little more selective when I pick tracks for my album. That’s why I gave people stuff like Stray Bullets, so they can hear that I can do it on that level, but I just want to be more selective when it comes to my albums.

Madlib produced most of the album; what was it like getting into a creative groove with him?
It was dope. The main thing I did when dealing with him was that I was getting beat CDs with 30, 40 beats on it, just kind of picking it and going through the line, using my creative elements to come up with songs. One thing I can say about him that’s definitely a gripe is that when he gives you a beat CD with 30 beats on there, it’s hard to pick one or two. It almost gave me ADD as a writer, because as I’m writing on one track and I progress through the rest of the beat CD, I don’t necessarily stop and take it back to the first track. So before you know it, I feel like this verse sounds good over seven or eight beats on the Madlib beat CD, because I’ve ran all the way through the beat CD. He’s definitely dope—he’s a brilliant producer, he makes it easy to write to his songs because I think they bang just as hard, even on two track.

You also worked with Mr. Porter, both on this album, and on songs with Jay Electronica. Any more plans to work with them?
Mr. Porter, a lot of people don’t know I’ve been working with him before I was working with Dilla. Mr. Porter’s been my homie since 2000, so working with both of those guys is easy. Jay Electronica was over in the camp with Runyon Ave working with Mr. Porter, me and him sort of gelled and grew a friendship and musical relationship from that. I plan on working with him throughout my career. He’s a brilliant emcee, and he’s definitely one of the people who can carry the flag through the future. Whatever I do, I’m going to be working with Jay Electronica a whole lot, and definitely Mr. Porter.

I heard Jay came out to the release party at St. Andrew’s, too.
Yeah, I didn’t even know he was in town. He came through, we were able to kick it. I hadn’t seen him for a few months, so it was definitely good to see him there and catch up. Shortly after, I think he did a show in New York, so I was glad he was able to be in town and holla at me. It’s always good to run into him, he’s a cool dude.

You turned a lot of heads by only using one Dilla beat on the album. How do you think people—including yourself—think it turned out?
I think it turned out dope. One of the main things is that most of the songs that people have heard me doing were songs that were done while Dilla was alive. I could’ve very easily two tracked a bunch of records and damn near did 60-70 percent Dilla, but it was important to me to pull records out that would capture the element of him being alive. I do plan on journeying out and just going and getting deep into the beat CDs, but I think the main thing people failed to realize is that I gave them “Clap Your Hands” on Chrome Children … I gave them “Make It Fast,” that was on the (video game) NBA 2K8 soundtrack. “Take Notice” was on Ruff Draft. There’s a lot of songs that if I decided to hold them, could’ve been songs to make up my album. But I had sample issues with “Man’s World,” I wouldn’t have been able to put that on my record. I have another song called “Stressed” that has a Beatles sample in it. I don’t have the budget to be able to clear huge samples like that. If Dilla was alive, it’d be easy for me to say, “Hey Dilla, why don’t you remix ‘Man’s World’ so I can use it?” But we all know that that wasn’t possible for me to be able to do that. I think the main thing is putting out good music, regardless of who did it.

I communicate with the Yanceys on a regular basis. The way that I choose to keep Dilla’s name alive, a lot of it is behind the scenes. It’s not necessarily for the regular fan to know or understand. … He’s always going to be present in all the music that I do, and I think it’s very important for me not to compromise who I’m trying to be just to cater to a certain fan base. Dilla had faith in me, but at the same time, Mr. Porter had faith in me also, and I feel like the situation I’m in was the situation that was coming before me anyway. I’m just thankful to have those dudes in my circle, putting their pride and faith in what I’m doing. J Dilla doesn’t define who Guilty Simpson is; he was just a great friend, someone who believed in me before a lot of other people did. But I just feel like I’ma represent his music in my way, I don’t think I should be forced to two-track all his records just for the sake of Dilla being one of the first people to [cosign me]. So that’s the angle that I more or less took with it. … A lot of people take stuff for granted. I gave you plenty of music that I did with Dilla already, so he’ll be present in music that comes in the future, but I gave them the music I did while he was alive. There just so happened to be one track left on my album, and there are two or three more tracks that haven’t been found yet that’s probably some of the greatest stuff that I have done with Dilla. And I know for a fact that if those songs were found, they would’ve been on my album. So that’s more or less how that goes.

So there are more songs out there?
Basically, on his hard drive when he passed. People don’t even know, I had no idea what happened to “Take Notice” when Dilla initially passed. They actually found it, quantized it, and got it going right. There’s still a lot of stuff in a big library that he had that everyone hasn’t gotten all the music out of yet. So who knows? Maybe they’ll find another two or three songs, and maybe I’ll ration those out on future records to come, but they weren’t able to find them and I just didn’t want to force the issue. … I felt like I could’ve very easily did it exclusively on some Dilla shit, but at the same time, that’s not where I’m at right now. I want to sit down with the family, make sure I do it in the right taste, make sure I do the right thing, and make sure I honor his memory in the right way. I definitely don’t want to two-track stuff that people have already been illegally doing anyway, and calling it their own like they collab’d with Dilla when everyone knows that’s not the truth. I want to make sure I go through the right beats, unmolested beats, and do it the right way.

Yeah, I was about to ask you about that. A lot of cats are accusing others of riding on Dilla’s coattails since he died, though they weren’t cool with him, or even fans of his music. Is that something that you’ve noticed?
Yeah, I have noticed that. I’ve noticed a lot of Dilla tributes and Dilla events not involving his family. He has outstanding bills and different things like that. I think it’s done in terrible taste, and using his name in vain. It’s definitely terrible, and it makes me mad enough to break some shit up. I understand that it’s a bigger picture and bigger agenda. Any of those people that are trying to benefit from that, nothing good will come from it, because regardless of Dilla not being here in the physical, all of this stuff is being seen, it’s all under a watchful eye. So they’ll definitely have to be held accountable for what they do.

But at the same time, people that are doing that, my best advice to them is definitely stay clear of me or anybody involved in anything that I’m doing, because we plan in the near future to reach out with force to try and put all that to a halt. I think it’s a shame that his family is dealing with outstanding medical bills, and to see someone publicizing Dilla tributes and stuff like that and not breaking bread, that’s silly. Where I’m from, stealing warrants any action the person that’s offended wants to take. I think people should be real, real careful about continuing to use my man’s name in vain, not really being part of his circle or his umbrella, especially using his name to put bodies in the venue.

You’re also working on the Random Axe album with Black Milk and Sean Price. How’d that idea come about?
My manager Hex reached out, thought me and (Price) would sound good on a track together. He asked me if I would do any tracks with him, I said, “Of course.” He had already known Dru Ha and everybody in the Duck Down camp, so he reached out and told them, and at the time, Sean P didn’t even know who I was. So we gave him the information, told him to look into it. I guess he did his research on his end, and he came back like, “Shit, let’s make an album.” So they hit me back, asking if I wanted to do a record with him, and it was a no-brainer. I grew up on Boot Camp Clik, Heltah Skeltah, Smif-N-Wessun, all of ‘em. So it was just an honor, man. We got it together, getting beats from Black Milk, making some ridiculous ass songs. I’m pretty sure people will feel it, and that’s coming out later this year, right after the new Heltah Skeltah album comes out. Big ups to big Rock too, want him to keep his head focused on what’s going on, I just wish him the best for what he’s going through right now, he’s actually fighting for his life. In all actuality, it’s only right what me and Sean P does comes after Heltah Skeltah, because that’s the foundation of who both of them are.

How’s the album sounding so far? Is it almost done?
We’ve got 10 or 11 songs done now. We’re in the process of mixing some stuff, and we want to get the bulk of the record in place. After that, we want to reach out for some more beats to make the project complete. So far, it’s a ridiculous record. … It’s not necessarily what people expect from us, either. People that think they have a premeditated view of what the record’s going to be, they actually don’t. It’ll definitely be something for the fans that do expect certain stuff out of Guilty and Sean Price, but at the same time, we’ve got some tracks on the album that are going to throw them for a curve, too.

Is there anyone in the Michigan Hip Hop scene that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
I’d like to work with Lo, the homie OneManArmy. I’ve had the pleasure of working with AML and Buff1, those my peoples. I’ve already worked with MarvWon, I’m already working with Elzhi and Royce and Black Milk. Basically, as a whole, man, I’m already living my dream, especially when it comes down to Detroit. I’m even working with Trick Trick, Goon Squad. Of course I’d love to have a song with Eminem, or something crazy like that. That’s something I plan on doing in the future. Hopefully my work will speak for itself, and maybe he’ll reach back and holla at me. But if not, I’m still going to keep it moving. I’m basically living my dream right now, working with all the people I need to work with: Phat Kat, Almighty Dreadnaughts, I worked with Dilla, D12, whenever their record drops we’ve got a crew song on there. Hopefully that record makes placement on that. On a whole, who I’m working with in Detroit is who I need to be with. I’m definitely open to working with anybody else in Detroit. I plan on working with Invincible in the near future, that’s somebody else from the crib I plan on working with. Anybody that’s on the up and up that wants to work, I’m down.

You did a song with D12?
It’s like a big old posse cut, man, for their album. It’s only eight bars, ‘cause there ain’t even a hook on it. Just a million emcees from Detroit just running wild on it. I’ve been working with Mr. Porter for a while, for the better part of eight years now, so I think that’s something I can definitely achieve in the near future, even if that doesn’t make placement. I’ve got records that’s coming out, and I definitely want to work with the big homies. Keeping Detroit hip-hop alive, we’re all playing for the same team.

Who gets more love in the fam: you, or your cousin that plays for the Utah Jazz?
[laughs] I get a lot of love, but he’s in that position, he’s at the forefront of the family right now, on my father’s side. He represents the fam, and they see him as somebody that’s achieved and moved on to the next level. I’m still in the early stages of my rap career, but he’s well on his way, in his second year playing with Utah. He’s on the up and up. But at the same time, when I think of my grandma, I like to think she’s proud of both of us. But at the same time, I’ve still got a long way to go. Hopefully, he’s got a long way to go, too, because he has all the potential in this world, and I feel like I do, too. So it’s a hung jury right now on who gets the most love, but I think he gets the edge, because he’s more of a provider than me right now. [laughs]

2 Comments »

  1. William says:

    Yep!

    April 29th, 2008 at 9:49 am

  2. HipHopDX Blogs » Why MI State’s Better Than Yours: Final Edition says:

    […] Gunna, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks) this morning, but previously, we posted two-piece articles with Guilty Simpson and Fat Ray, along with premiering the video for Buff1’s "Beat The Speakers […]

    March 2nd, 2009 at 5:19 pm

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