“You on TV — I’m getting laid tonight!” jokes Paradime’s DJ Mark EP, red baseball cap cocked to the side, as he blazes up what’s left of his blunt and heads out to pick up his lady friend for the evening.
Tonight is kinda special. Not because it belongs to Löwenbräu — although from the copious amount of empties around, Michelob has squatter’s rights — but because local hip-hopper Paradime and his crew are assembled at the Dearborn Heights crib he shares with Mark EP to watch the Kid Rock installment of VH1’s “Driven.” ’Dime (27-year-old Livonia native Freddie Beauregard) was interviewed for the show and provided videotape of himself and Kid Rock in downtown’s White Room Studio. ’Dime has no idea what made the final cut.
As the show revisits Kid Rock’s breakdancing days, it inexplicably gives local hip-hop mouthpiece Champtown mad footage as ersatz authority on all things Rock. ’Dime and an assortment of rappers and managers from fellow hip-hop act Almighty Dreadnaughtz sit sipping and smoking, snapping and chuckling. Then, as the show catches up to 1994, Paradime enters the picture, filling in the blanks of Rock’s lean years, leading up to Rock’s 1997 State Theatre showcase that got him his Atlantic deal.
’Dime’s been living his own microversion of “Driven” for the last few years, right down to his record-release party at the State Theatre last October (with new Eminem protégé Obie Trice). But all ’Dime seems to have to show for it is that gnawing on-the-cusp feeling everyone in Detroit seems to have these days being around all these New Jack millionaires.
These last few years have been leaner for ’Dime than anybody would have guessed. A year-and-a-half ago he was signed to Kid Rock’s Top Dog label and set to break out nationally. He appeared on Uncle Kracker’s Double Wide and co-wrote two of the songs on Kid Rock’s latest, Cocky. Rock’s rhyme-happy “thumpin’ like a drum kit with riffs that split picks/bumpin’ for the chicks who twist spliffs and sip fifths” verse on “Forever” was ’Dime’s handiwork.
But Rock got too busy being Kid Rock to develop his Top Dog label. ’Dime’s contract lapsed and the two parties parted amicably. Meanwhile, Kracker’s Sugar Ray-ish new album and (relatively) sluggish sales of Cocky mean ’Dime’s previous revenue streams have dried up.
He’s now living low to the ground — washing windows to make ends meet — and tonight’s dinner was ramen noodles and beer.
In a way, the humbling days have been good. ’Dime has turned his everyman (or at least everyrapper) frustrations into his trademark. His 1999 disc Paragraphs, with its “Ode To Guinness,” “Same Ol’” and “Broke,” built proud anthems for likeminded suburban kids who grew up on “Yo! MTV Raps” and drove around beat-up Escorts listening to House of Pain. On his just-released Vices, ’Dime steers clear of the obvious hard-partying caricatures, working with D12’s KonArtis and DJ Hush on more aggressive-sounding tracks. On “All That,” he calls out local almost-rans over a queasy DJ Hush beat. “’Dime is like an inbred pit/Y’all are lopsos opsos/Stick yer for your watch even if you rock a Fossil/The clique’s collosal/fuckin’ up more grills than Picasso/’cuz ’Dime I raise more ’caine than a nostril/These words is hostile/spit unholy gospels to denim clad apostles/who smash their foes with bottles.” It’s familiar braggadocio territory, sure.
But for the album’s closer, “Closure,” ’Dime turned to former George Clinton maestro Mike E. Clark to produce a gut-level tribute to deceased friend Ryan Morrison that is far and away the album’s most enduring song. Not a track, but a song.
Aesthetically, Vices hangs easily between the worlds of underground hip hop — with its emphasis on skills and hooks and stern-faced, abstract drum machine funk — and the good-time roller-coaster rap of Black Sheep or House of Pain that came a decade earlier.
’Dime concedes it’s not all the fun and games of Paragraphs. “The one mistake I think I made was not having any radio songs. The last record, I had my party songs but this one, I don’t know, there was so much smart-ass, tongue-in-cheek stuff, but it’s like, my boy got killed and that just affected me.”
So, Paradime would rather be closer to a beer-soaked Eminem than the white Afro Man. There’s no crime there. Just try telling that to major labels.
“I still talk to [Kid Rock’s A&R man Jason] Flom and he still off the top of his head will rattle off ‘Guinness,’ ‘Broke’ and ‘Same Ol’ — he remembers that shit. But I sent him my new stuff and it’s like …” ’Dime pauses, his frustration obvious. “If it doesn’t have an electric guitar in it, he doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Despite the lack of crossover-friendly guitar crunch on his albums, it’s in his live shows that ’Dime’s brand of bob-and-weave hip hop distinguishes itself. A 1996 tour with Kid Rock’s band taught him the value of having a live band. He’s on his fourth now — Ann Arbor’s Prime #Z — an ultratight group of Shaolin martial-arts enthusiasts.
“When we practice, they make us take off our Timbos before coming in the house,” ’Dime laughs. “I asked then if they had any kung-fu shit for my throat and they pull out tree bark — and it worked!”
The unlikely pairing of a White Castle-sponsored, Guinness-swilling rapper and straight-edge Shaolin monks may be Detroit hip hop’s most promising combination these days.
At a Blind Pig gig two weekends ago, the band proved itself invaluable to ’Dime’s in-yer-face sound, bringing the choppy, G(uinness)-funk alive in an eddy of electric violin stabs, earthshaking bass rubs and electrified arrangements of programmed sounds. Even a cover of Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy” (with vocals by local diva Aja), sounded like something from LL Cool J’s “Unplugged”; vital and in the moment, as opposed to rap’s usual DAT karaoke. The man can throw down live.
If ’Dime could be accused of one sin, it is this: He’s too true to hip hop. As a white MC, he has held his own, playing New York showcases with Bahamadia and Jeru the Damaja, while opening locally for Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Run DMC. But hip hop these days has a more refined trajectory: hit singles and going platinum. And Eminem, despite his ghetto-pass skills, is a pop phenomenon, not a hip hop one. Hip hop, see, is all about passing the Courvoisier and going to clubs; ’Dime’s sitting at home, broke, sippin’ beer and watchin’ TV with a bootleg cable box.
This is not lost on him, and if anything, his resolve to make a more suburban, everyman sound that can still hold up to screw-faced underground hip-hop heads seems bold and laudable, especially since he knows he’s not writing tracks for WJLB.
“We wanna get labels to come see a show,” he says. “When it comes to the live show, the only other hip-hop band that’s well known is the Roots, but that’s backpack, I-chew-on-liquorice-sticks hip hop. Right now the smartest thing for me would be to get the fuck out of town and do shows, but that costs money.”
VH1’s “Driven” now over, two-way pagers fill the room with anemic, Halloween-theme tones. Local scenesters are calling to give ’Dime some shit. ’Dime returns a page. “I was hoping for a little more, but not bad,” he explains to the caller.
DJ Mark EP shows up with his date.
“Damn, Missy Elliot lost a lot of weight,” she says.
“She’s rich, she’s probably got trainers and nutrition people and shit,” someone says.
“It’s hard to lose weight when you got money,” Mark intejects. “Look at Biggie. He was skinny in the ‘Juicy’ video.”
“I dunno,” ‘Dime smiles, “I’m broke and I’m still chubby.”Hobey Echlin hips and hops for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org