Guilty Simpson is Detroit hip-hop’s favorite young OG. Age wise, he sits firmly between the heavyweights (Eminem, D12) and up-and-comers (Quelle Chris, Denmark Vessey, Nolan The Ninja) while toting a street-level wisdom both can learn from.
Even as he’s slightly perched on a couch in the green room of New York’s Highline Ballroom, his commanding presence is countered by a calm conversational demeanor. He and fellow Motor City heavyweight Phat Kat are just finishing up their dinner as the room is buzzing with conversation from the rest of the performers. Bits and pieces of five different conversations are layered over our interview like a hazy sample with Guilty’s booming voice serving as the low end.
That low end has added punch to the man’s persona since he was sticking his feet out at movie seats with Jaylib back in 2003. He’s built a consistent and healthy library of music since then (Dice Game, O.J. Simpson, Random Axe, Highway Robbery) and his concise no frills bars speak to the lasting bonds he’s made across hip-hop. One of those was with J Dilla, who started off producing one of the tracks from his debut Ode To The Ghetto and ended up as a friend.
WatchLOUD caught up with Guilty and Phat Kat while on The Kings Court Tour with Slum Village to talk about working with one producer per album, his thoughts on J Dilla’s The Diary, and the next generation of Detroit hip-hop.
Favorite Simpsons character?
GS: I’m not really a big Simpsons fan. My last name is Simpson, so I was a Simpson before they were (laughs). I have casually watched it through the years cause I heard it was a great show, so if I had to pick somebody, I’d probably pick Maggie. That’s the one who plays the horn, right?
WL: Actually, that’s Lisa.
GS: So you know I don’t know (laughs). I’ll take Lisa, the one on the saxophone. My father plays the saxophone.
On making Detroit’s Son w/ Katalyst:
GS: I was in Australia for a tour. Me and Phat Kat was actually over there together and we was tryna smoke out, man. We had nothin to do, so somebody from Stones Throw hit me and said that somebody I did a feature with previously was out there and willing to smoke us out and play us some beats. At the time, Phat Kat and I just wanted to get high.
PK: Just tryna get outta the damn hotel room.
GS: We kinda sold him short thinking we were gonna go listen to these wack ass beats. We went over there and [Katalyst] started playing beats and he was crazy with it. Pleasant surprise. At the time, Phat Kat and I did a feature for the Quakers album called “War Drums,” right there on the spot. Stones Throw told me those was label mates and asked about doing a project with him, but at the time, we’d heard about 30-40 of his beats, so it was kinda easy for me to say yes. Having heard so much, I at least knew he had the depth to be able to carry a whole album. But it wasn’t planned out or anything; we just stumbled onto him looking for some weed.
On only working with one producer per album:
GS: My very first album [Ode To The Ghetto] I was getting beats from everywhere, and that was a stressful process. Also for me personally, I don’t really get the range of a producer if they only send me about 5-6 beats. 5-6 producers will usually give me 5-6 beats that’s in the same vein as the previous, so that doesn’t really give me what I need sonically for an album. If I got with a dope producer, I’m more likely to go through everything they have and make the album sound like a body of work instead of a scatter-brained project. No disrespect to OTG, but if I could do it all over again, I’d have focused on one producer. Dilla was gonna be my producer for that project.
On his favorite moments spent with J Dilla:
GS: Just chillin out in Cali. It’s not really anything complex like that. He was just somebody from [Detroit] that I admired musically. I was lucky enough to get cool with him and have talks deeper than music. Things that I usually don’t share with people and just talking in general. The best moment(s) for me were kickin’ it with him outside of the music and seeing him as a family man with his daughters and mother. Catching someone you put on a pedestal in human moments, you see that the same things that are important to them are important to you and brings it down to earth and strips away the idolization.
On hearing The Diary;
GS: I heard [The Diary] a long time ago. I haven’t heard the new version, though. I heard that it was kinda different from what it was. I probably need to go check out the differences. [Dilla] remade this beat that House Shoes had given him [“The Introduction“] and it was bangin’. I like what he did with “Cars” and the way he was talkin’ shit about how he loved his vehicles. People like to hold Dilla in this quote unquote “underground” hip-hop element, but he was super flossy and super Detroit with it.
PK: He had an Escalade and he took the letters off it and it said Dillalade. He got a brand new Range Rover and took all the interior out of it and put cowskin in the whole motherfuckin’ truck, man.
On working with Denmark Vessey:
GS: [Denmark] had been around for a while in the city. We used to go to this place called Greenfield Plaza where there were a whole bunch of studios and he was always out there and super hungry. ‘What’s goin’ on? Let’s work.’ And we’re like ‘Who is this cat?’; we didn’t know at the time. He started working with this guy named Marvwon, which is how I found out about Denmark. He’s super dope, got his own sound that I hold in high regard. He’s not afraid to be himself. It was really easy to work with him, so it’s more like an extended family thing with him. Him and Quelle Chris, Mario Butterfield, etc.
On the next generation of Detroit hip-hop:
I think it’s in good hands, man. I think the main thing for them is to not lose their own identity. Detroit is a unique place and we should hold onto our culture within the music. I think the talent level is definitely there and all I wanna do is help out and motivate them in any way I can. Not necessarily everybody, but definitely the stand-up guys I rock with and Super Kane, Nolan The Ninja, A-Minus. The younger generation is in good hands, man. I’m not really here to judge or anything, I just hope that they can stay original. Just hold on to Detroit because that’s sacred to us. I just don’t want people to follow trends and lose who they are in the process.
On Sean Price and the birth of Random Axe:
GS: Sean was a good friend. I connected with him because I was trying to get a feature for my album and he hit me back and said he wanted to make a group. He didn’t even want the money I was gonna pay him for the feature or nothing. So we formed a group and a great friendship. Our wives are friends, my daughter and his son are friends; we’re almost trying to build a small little empire and tryna play matchmaker (laughs). I’m just blessed to have been able to spend the short amount of time with him that I did and rock with him and travel and do this music. It’s all about the friendships you build. There’s a lot of talented rappers out here, but I’m big on character. It’s about how many bonds you can form, and P was definitely one of them.
On future projects:
GS: I’ve got a couple things I’m workin’ on. Nothing’s final or in stone, but I’m workin’ on two EPs right now: one with Oh No out on the West Coast and one with Nottz. I’m not exactly sure which one will come first, but I’m just listening to the beats and sponging it up. I’m very happy with this music thing right now, so keep a look out for me.