DETROIT HIP HOP

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Detroit hip hop is finally outgrowing its local-talent-deserving-wider-recognition, charity status. Leading the D through its growing pains is Da Ruckus. As forerunners of the Detroit skills-first aesthetic, producer-MC Hush and rapper Ill have never been ones for the obvious sampling and MC superheroics of more prominent, coastal hip hop. But while, in the past, the duo’s two-turntables-and-a-microphone purist ethic yielded results fine for battles – but a little flat on record – with Episode 1, Hush and Ill bring together a matured musical sensibility that finds a deeper cohesion in its less obvious grooves and tighter emceeing.

The standout track here is "We Shine," a pro-Detroit anthem that should be required listening for anyone who would doubt Detroit hip hop has its own point of view. Hush builds the track on layers of atmospheric, techno string samples that swirl and flow with the same kind of moody dignity that he, Ill and guest rapper Eminem rhyme with. The three trade verses, alternately stating Detroit’s case and dissing those who would who doubt them: "You couldn’t be shit if you came out my ass-crack," raps Ill – "Don’t know much about Chicago but I can still make illa-noise." Eminem adds, "Detroit’s a madhouse, so I don’t get it when I hear my city badmouthed," then threatens to leave people who do "with more holes than a Lil Kim radio edit."

Even when there’s the inevitable lapse into some gangster shit ("Paper Chase"), Hush perks the track up with a wicked soundbite from an ATM. And on "150 MCs," Da Ruckus turns hip-hop acts’ names into a cleverly smooth narrative. Throw in a vintage funk jam ("We Came Here To Party") to end the whole thing, and Episode1 isn’t just tight, it’s a pretty accurate depiction of a day in the strife. But as Hush says, "Don’t ever try to say this is a ghost-town," no matter how scary it gets.

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