The first time I listened to Guilty Simpson was when I had downloaded J Dilla’s album “The Shining” off of iTunes. At first, when I heard him ride the beat on “Baby” and “Jungle Love,” I was so hypnotized by his laidback demeanor and impeccable flow that I almost wasn’t impressed. At the time, my definition of a punchline emcee was Chino XL or Vakill—emcees whose metaphor-driven bars are normally spit with a vicious hunger similar to that of hyenas, or Star Jones at her first buffet table after bypass surgery. Basically, Guilt’s flow was off-putting, and it wasn’t until a friend of mine told me to go back again and listen to Guilty’s verse on “Jungle Love” that I was completely SOLD:

“Prolific, flow like blow (sniff it)
Or get zooted, banging that dope music
My mind is set: this year, niggaz better step it up
I get the job done way before the check is cut
I don’t write raps for free
If I did, I won’t make it, like Shaq from three
My motto is simple:
Without that loot, your instrumentals STAY INSTRUMENTALS
Blind man can see the kid’s potential
And take notice, so I grind and stay focused
If I was any hotter, I’d drink straight vodka
spit out flames, and piss lava
That hot, fam, try again
That’s why I got hoes/hose like firemen
You can plug ’em up to hydrants
Got a flow that’ll stop and get us
I maul/mall y’all like a shopping center”

Even MED, one of the nicest emcees on Stones Throw’s roster, couldn’t follow up that kickoff verse. Witty wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor are Guilty’s trademarks, and they’re definitely present on his debut solo CD “Ode to the Ghetto.”

As soon as Madlib’s pounding bass drums kick in on the album’s opener, “American Dream,” you know that this isn’t just the usual battle rapper debut. Guilty’s writing delivers exactly what the album’s title promises:

“Talk with the dead, deep, deep in my head
I’m off! I was bred where the hungry man begged
Taught! I was led where the red man bled
And all the other things my educated friends said
Lost in the life where the young fools sped
Never should’ve taught him that a gun shoots lead
And crack can get his brother and sister a new bed
Addicted to the game and thangs, screw feds
Any day, his name could change (Who’s Ed?)
Go to the crib—new furniture, new threads
It’s bittersweet when you see those things
To be a drug dealer’s the American Dream
To get paid some, go to every extreme
One Black will leave another red for green
Fallin’ for the tricks while The Man deceives ya
Until the day you finally bite the hand that beat ya”

The genius of Guilty’s style is that he can break down complex concepts into simple wording that won’t go over the average listener’s head, while still adding enough wordplay and imagery to keep an underground fan enticed. It’s a formula that any major label executive would LOVE to have at his or her fingertips. Another of Guilty’s assets is his versatility: whether he’s trying to deal with a psychotic significant other (“She Won’t Stay At Home” and Dilla’s only contribution, “I Must Love You”), combat racial profiling (“Pigs”), or simply rip emcees a new asshole (“My Moment,” “Yikes,” “Kill Em,” and the MED-assisted “The Future), Guilty hits the nail on the head each and every time. He also continues his string of fantastic collaborations on such tracks as “Run,” the first song from Guilty, Sean Price and Black Milk’s Random Axe project:

Guilty: “A lot of cats talk shit, but don’t test the D, though
M16s break up teams like T.O.
(Uh) So gutter (uh) ho cutter
(Uh) ‘Dro puffer (uh) dough tucker
(Uh) For a bucka, murderin’ emcees with ice
With my madman Jesus Price
NYC to the DET
AD with the legendary BCC”

Sean P: “Yo, a lot of niggaz wanna ride or die
Till I shoot up the driver’s side of your window, now die and ride
Tough talkin’, get you touched, Tupac Shakur shit
Went from a thug, but now, you not too sure, bitch
Ock, I walk with four-fifths and nines
You niggaz can’t rap, forfeit ya rhyme
Four-fifth ya mind, thirty-eight ya face
And twelve-gauge shotty ya body, I get cake”

The album’s gem, however, is the autobiographical “The Real Me.” Black Milk’s gritty breakbeat fades in as if it were a film score, with the camera panning down from the Detroit skyline to find Guilty on his block. The song is haunting especially because Guilt’s voice remains eerily calm, as if he’s been desensitized to all of what he’s witnessed occur in his hometown. It’s one of the most poignant songs written about inner-city life, and Guilty neither glorifies nor devalues the illegal activity happening around him. He simply states it as it is, no more and no less.

Guilty’s writing abilities notwithstanding, the production is pristine from beginning to end. From Oh No’s club bounce on “Footwork” to Mr. Porter’s slick guitar licks on “Kinda Live,” the beats remain consistently dope throughout. And Madlib contributes some of the most versatile and incredible music of his career, including the standout “She Won’t Stay At Home,” where he manages to turn the blues standard “Wang Dang Doodle” into an almost Dirty South experience, complete with trunk-rattling bass and rapid hi-hats.

As a whole, this album is to Detroit Hip-Hop what Biggie’s “Ready to Die” was to New York’s golden era in the early ’90s: combining raw beats with a distinct voice, picture-perfect flows and descriptive narration that Morgan Freeman would be hard-pressed to match. It’s simply a classic, and although its release date is still two weeks away, I encourage everyone reading this review that to overlook the album would be almost criminal. Props, Mr. Simpson: you’ve gotten a verdict that you deserve.

Guilty Simpson :: Ode to the Ghetto