Guilty Simpson's been a Detroit hip-hop anomaly since coming on the scene as a mid-'90s contemporary of Slum Village, J Dilla and the like. While other MCs increased the peace and evolved into Midwestern versions of A Tribe Called Quest, Guilty proudly flew the flag for old-fashioned thug-ism more akin to Mobb Deep; his battle skills, legend has it, weren't limited to the mic. His appearances on the 2002 Dilla/Madlib collab, Champion Sound, and on Dilla's swansong, The Shining, displayed enough promise to warrant a full-length, originally intended as a split production effort from D12's Denaun "Kon Artis" Porter and Dilla.
Dilla's passing, of course, changed the game, and what's emerged is highlighted by standout production from West Coast heavyweights Madlib and his cousin Oh No. Simpson's sprawling drawl pairs nicely with 'Lib's lazy, thump-y beats, especially on "American Dream," on which Guilty sounds like a bear coming out of hibernation over a surly rhythm that does exactly the same. "Robbery" and "She Won't Stay At Home" both have the same hook; the former is a Porter sing-along about robbing pet stores (that would make Prodigy proud), while the latter is a Jerry Springer episode set to rhyme and a rolling beat. At 16 tracks — most of them under three minutes — Guilty is master of the less-is-more school of rhyming. Oh No's skittery synth staccato on "Footwork," as well as the title track's beats, give Guilty's rhymes more punch as he lyrically rises to the occasion. "I Must Love You" shows he's got depth and can wax poetic on the thorny subject of relationships; meanwhile Black Milk's "Run" shows he can keep up with the West Coasters while using Detroit cats. Guilty as charged on all counts, charged as Guilty!
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.