It’s truly inspiring to see an artist work for nothing but the pure love of their art. Not for money, for accolades, or even respect, but just for the pure joy they get out of pushing their craft to the world. Detroit-bred Guilty Simpson has shown his love to H.E.R. faithfully for over ten years strong, and his Stones Throw Records debut, Ode to the Ghetto, is the fruit of that labor.
Guilty represents with his Ode the underdogs in the culture of rap music who are still interested in the business of making great music, as he gets back to the essence of Hip Hop by telling honest stories. As a member of The Almighty Dreadnaughtz crew, Guilty‘s claim to fame came courtesy of the late, brilliant producing czar J. Dilla. Dilla Dog collaborated with Simpson on several albums (Jaylib’s Champion Sound, 2006’s Chrome Children and The Shining, just to name a few) and singled him out as one of his favorite MC’s (talk about pressure). But Guilty stays cool as a fan, as he crafts his LP from the vantage point of an observer of Hip Hop who has been waiting for so long to tell his story. Now he has finally reached his promised land, and decided to put it on wax.
The album opens up with “The American Dream”, a brilliant perspective of certain aspects of black life on various corners in the U.S of A. Produced by the avant-garde boardsman Madlib, the fusion of gospel, blues, soca and Indian music plays the perfect assist to Guilty‘s score, (“To be a drug dealer is the American Dream, To get paid some go to every extreme, one black will leave another red for green”). This type of witty story telling and ingenuous wordplay is where we find Guilty at his strongest. “Robbery” is a eerie cautionary tale, produced by fellow Detroit native Mr. Porter, about what a mix of desperation and hopelessness can do the the psyche. We then see Guilty Simpson taking us on a journey exploring his sensitive side on the tracks “She Won’t Stay at Home”, and “I Must Love You”, the latter produced by the legendary Dilla. Guilty touches on everything from a flirtatious waitress at Red Lobster looking for extra tip money, to getting caught by his girlfriend as he is boning her cousin. He relates these tales with such an amusing, unorthodox knack for storytelling that keeps your ears captivated.
The album starts to lose focus with the songs “Footwork” and “Get Bitches”, as Guilty becomes redundant with the subject matter, with these cuts falling way short in substance. But he gets right back in his zone with the Madlib helmed “Pigs”, a song that seems to be inspired by the Black Panther movement. It is the familiar story of a young black man stating his tiresome frustration with police corruption, all while putting on his bulletproof vest.
This album also showcases the talents of the new wave maestros out of the D, with producer/rapper Black Milk putting his unique stamp on the track “The Real Me”. This song should be an anthem for every rapper to just be themselves, even if you are not a dope boy, or have not been shot 50 times. Guilty spits the truth on this song simple and clear, (“Many bloodstains paint the Ave., Makes you wonder what choice we have, I choose not to take that path, I ain’t tryna feel the D.E.A.’s wrath”).
Many rapper’s today talk about the grind, but they just use the word as a popular catchphrase in urban pop culture. For a MC like Guilty Simpson, the grind is as common in his vocabulary as the words yes and no. Ode to the Ghetto is an abundant, compelling album full of funny anecdotes and bleak narratives that all come together to sum up ghetto life. Guilty comes off as a crowning hybrid of Ice Cube‘s frantic idioms and The Notorious B.I.G.‘s unruffled colloquies, as he lays out the joys and pains of coming up in his city. He can draw you in and make you relate to his story, even if you have never seen a liquor store or storefront church in your life.
There will probably be several people that praise, reward and award the work that is Ode to the Ghetto, but no approval can be more important and satisfying to Guilty than that of Mr. Dilla, as his early co-sign of his talent is now coming to fruition. Let’s hope that Jay Dee is banging on his MPC in that eternal blue sky right now, looking to cook up some more heat for Guilty‘s next album.