With J Dilla and Proof gone to that great
recording studio in the sky, Slim Shady in semi-retirement and
Slum Village’s output nearly as sporadic as Presidential
elections, casual Hip Hop heads might think the Detroit scene is as played-out
as the Running Man and high-top fades. But in the wake of Black Milk‘s
promising Popular Demand and now Phat Kat‘s impressive
Carte Blanche, it’s clear that the Motor City’s mantle as a
headquarters for hard-hitting hip-hop rests in extremely capable hands.

Of course, it ain’t like the emcee also known as Ronnie Cash
is a newcomer to the game. Discovered after handing a demo to Guru
and Primo back in 1994, Phat Kat was Dilla‘s
(then still knows as Jay Dee) original collaborator, working
together in the group First Down long before Slum
made the DJ/production mastermind a star. But when the group’s
deal fell through due to record label restructuring, the Detroit native stayed
on the grind by putting out indie projects and making guest appearances,
eventually getting signed to a solo deal in 2004. Unfortunately, his solo
debut, Undeniable, also fell through the increasingly expansive music
industry cracks, providing plenty of fuel for the fire he spits on his
sophomore effort.

My old label they don’t really want Kat to bubble/ Cuz they know me and
my team plus green spells trouble/ Silver spoon suckas, y’all don’t want to
meet in a struggle/ Cross my path, I’ll leave yo ass face-down in a puddle
he rhymes fiercely in the opening bars of My Old Label before
unleashing another dozen or so intricately-constructed bars that make it clear
he does NOT intend to be overlooked again. That slammin’ track is just one of
five on the album produced by J Dilla: There’s also the freaky
futuristic funk of the opening “Nasty Ain’t It,” the driving beat and squealing Bomb
accents of “Cold Steel” (featuring Elzhi), the
off-kilter Asian influence of aspiring strip club anthem “Game Time” and
the closing “Don’t
Nobody Care
About Us,” a rare mediocre track from the late, great

But Dilla isn’t the only production mastermind at work
here. Young RJ brings a smoother sound to the string-laden “Get It Started,”
the vibraphone-driven sex-you-up soul of “Lovely” (featuring sultry backing
vocals from Melanie Rutherford), and the gripping storytelling
of “True Story
Pt. 2
,” a nostalgic trip down the memory lane of Detroit Hip Hop
history. But it’s Black Milk who proves Kat‘s perfect partner in crime on “Cash ‘Em Out,” a maddeningly
infectious track (featuring a guest spot by Loe Louis) truly
deserving of mainstream airplay, and “Hard Enough,” a grimy hardcore track
featuring Fat Ray that proves Ronnie Cash has
no plans of cutting ties to his gritty underground roots.

Forget what you heard about 8 Mile: This is the real sound of
Detroit Hip Hop. And while not every track here is a winner, there is more than
enough evidence to prove that Phat Kat is an emcee worth