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Article in Detroit News mentioning Obie Trice and D12

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  • Article in Detroit News mentioning Obie Trice and D12

    Written by Wendy Case

    DETROIT--It was hard to believe. By 1998, nearly every major city in the United States could boast a breakthrough hip-hop artist -- every city but Detroit. That a town with a predominantly African-American population and a musical legacy as compelling as those of New York and L.A. could not produce a single hip-hop star was mind-boggling.

    It would take Anglo Detroiters Kid Rock and Eminem to bring D-town to the attention of the hip-hop world. As his 1998 Atlantic Records debut, Devil Without a Cause, began to climb the charts, Kid Rock confidently predicted that Detroit would be the next city to "blow up" in the hip-hop arena. Now it appears that his prophecy is coming true.

    Detroit rap artists Alley Life, Obie Trice, Royce Da 5'9" and Drunken Master have all inked major label deals in the last year. And, propelled by the success of its most famous member -- Eminem -- Detroit rap crew D12's new release, Devil's Night, debuted at the top of the Billboard charts last week.

    Along with the industry at large, a local organization calling itself Hit Team also is aware of the commercial potential of Detroit hip-hop. On Saturday, Hit Team will host its second annual conference in the International Marketplace at the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown. Music pros who are panelists this year include rappers Nelly and Ludacris, R&B singer Keith Sweat and Destiny's Child manager Matthew Knowles (father of Beyonce Knowles).

    "Looking at Detroit, there are a lot of aspiring artists in the city that are looking to become national artists," says Michael Saunders, former vice-president of programing and operations at WJLB and Hit Team founder. "Before they get to that point, I'd like them to have some kind of education about what this business is about."

    The pricey $300 admission charge includes lunch, a panel discussion, a juried local artist showcase and a V.I.P. reception. But for local singer Dwayne Brown, who attended last year and will be back again on Saturday, it's worth it.
    "It was very informative and it brought me into contact with a lot of people who pushed me toward that further step," says Brown, 28. "I'm not real sure on how the music industry regards Detroit, but they (national-level music industry people) seem to be coming back."

    Thanks to homegrown fortitude, talent and a couple of lucky breaks, they are definitely coming back. Local rapper Alley Life has signed with Interscope, Detroit veteran Royce Da 5'9" has signed with Columbia, local rapper Drunken Master will be among the first releases by the new FUBU/Universal label and Obie Trice will be the next Detroit rap artist signed to Eminem's Shady Records label.

    This has all the earmarks of a feeding frenzy. But, despite the interest, Detroit artists are cautious -- and skeptical. "I think the industry is looking at Detroit rappers and Detroit talent, but they still have this thought in their heads about Detroit music and attitudes as being something negative," says Alley Life (nee Mark Mitchell), 27, whose self-titled debut CD is set for an August release. "The music business has been kept from us for so long that we don't really understand it. We're gonna get a lot of sniffin' around, but it's all about how we look when they get here."

    Michael Litt, who represents Alley Life locally, agrees. "These record companies are not into change," says Litt, 32. "You've got people at the top like Jay-Z and Eminem -- they want everyone to be like everyone else. They never really give us our full respect. They're starting to, but they've only got the door open a crack. They need to open it up and let us come in."

    Artists like Esham (whose latest album, Tongues, came out last month) have been toiling in the Detroit underground for more than 10 years with only limited national exposure. Many point to a lack of artist-to-artist support, professionalism and business savvy as the reasons that breakout success has eluded the Detroit hip-hop scene for so long.

    "Detroit is a hotbed for music acts, but they've got to be prepared," says Mark Hicks of Dirty Management. Hicks, along with partner Rico Shelton, manages Detroit rap crew D12 (the Dirty Dozen), currently the No. 1 group in the country. Hicks, 27, did street promotion for various labels after graduating from Highland Park High School, and Shelton owned an independent record label before they formed Dirty Management. The two are now playing hardball in the industry big leagues.

    "Maintaining is the most critical part of this business," says Hicks. "There were a few acts from Detroit already that were signed but lost their contracts due to unprofessionalism. You have to treat it like a business, or you're gonna maneuver yourself right out."

    Tyrone Manica, a local promoter who was instrumental in bringing the Detroit hip-hop and electronic scenes together in the late '90s has also joined the Dirty Management team. He is one of the many folks on the local scene who, because of the changing atmosphere in Detroit, are landing professional employment in the music industry. For him, it's a thrill to see the city restored to its rightful place as an industry player. And for its talent to finally be given the shot that it deserves.

    "It's beautiful," says Manica, 24. "People are looking towards Detroit to bring back the glory days -- you've got some cats here that's really tryin' to do something."
    My Detroit Music Stash

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