When most rappers his age are either fighting to recover their ghetto credibility as part of hip-hop’s nobility and petit bourgeoisie or break out of ghetto celebrity as one of its peasants, Dayton Family’s 28-year-old chief homie seigneur Shoestring is settling into the relative life of a country squire.
He just moved into his second house, which unlike the first is in a pastoral, middle-class enclave of the rust belt Lower Peninsula Michigan city of Flint. After spending a childhood and most of his adult life in the straight-up hood, this shift to a pseudo-suburban comes as an extraordinary culture shock for Shoestring.
“It’s kinda away from everything, it’s quiet, and there’s more privacy,” Shoestring says in a leisurely North Midlands brogue, reflecting a mixed sense of awe and relief, as if the idyllic domestic bliss is too good to be true beyond a dream. “Where I used to live in my other house, on Caldwell Street, was on the hooker stroll, in the heart of the ghetto. I used to get into it with my neighbors all the time.
“People were hanging in my yard with their friends or gambling under my window all times of night when I was trying to get some sleep. Or I’d have people knocking on my door mistaking my house for a drug house. My family and friends thought something bad was going to happen to me, like I was going to get robbed. Nobody bothered me, but friends and my girl was glad I moved out of there.”
The move to a sane residential lifestyle coincides with the release of Shoestring’s second solo LP Cross Addicted through the partnership suburban Detroit record label Overture maintains with New York City-based TVT Records, which could be best described as the climax to his guest appearances in several Overture/TVT album releases for Dayton Family affiliates. Unlike work from the Dayton clan half a decade ago, Cross Addicted! is not a mere time bomb of frustrated, hands-on ghetto reporting. Shoestring retains Dayton Family’s common law Ghettopolitik, a down-by-lawness that takes a dim view of ostentatious wannabe thugs and faux players that’s reflected in such Cross Addicted! cuts as “Still A Killa” and “Dead Or Alive.” The utter cynicism and fatalism of Dayton Family’s green salad days no double-entendred pun intended has given way to social commentary that’s balances urgent realities with shades of hope found in what can be gleaned from the hood that is more ghetto sacred than ghetto fabulous.
The skits are audio still lives of what is more colorful and depressing about the hood a manchild kicking out gangsta verse, a smooth sneaker pimp whose game is shot down by clubbing and savvy hootchiemamas, recounting amusing gangbanging auld lang syne with the boys, a senior citizen with apparent southern roots telling a smoothly ribald anecdote about a man racing against the clock to have a rattlers’ venom drawn out his penis, and Shoestring’s improv on jacking a genie who denies his final third wish for a bag of weed. The beats are a blend of 1970s soul, medium bass, and a lush range of bass from the á la funky worm in the “Genie” skit to the more commercial tango in “Party.”
In the rhymes, Shoestring’s flow can slide up the inflectional scale from smooth lowriding like a a maturing NWA to the scatty sangfroid of a Twista. In “Chevy,” Shoestring places the vehicle of choice for more proletariat and spiritual mic-controllers on a lofty pedestal in providing a prime metaphorical example of what he sees as the hood’s most poetically real icons. The impressionist version of Dayton Family’s “’91 pre-Relativity Records classic “Fuck Being Indicted” is characterized by loops and backspins of the title hook and slight scratching against a funky late 1960s to early “’70s soul instrumental (the original named the some of the Flint cops whose brushes with Dayton Family’s members had glued themsdelves to the clan’s S-list). “I Can’t Take It No More” could be a metaphor for Shoestring’s refugeeing from the straight-up hood to the gilded ghetto.
“Back in the days in Dayton Street [the Flint enclave from which his clan derived its nom de mic], that was like hustlers in the alley making money,” Shoestring says, explaining his evolution from the last of the angry gangbangers to a sort of Mark Twain from the congo for the hood. “Niggas got kids now, got a family now. Dayton Street is shut down, all the the drug houses the Feds shut down. So many guys from there got indicted and sent to jail.