Let’s say you’re writing a history of Detroit hip hop. God knows you’d have plenty of shit to draw from. With all the shoulda-coulda-woulda stories of unsung rappers, the well-meaning but ill-equipped local labels, and directory of managers fighting for a national rap audience whose only knowledge of Detroit is Eminem, Slum Village, 8 Mile, Kid Rock, D-12 and Insane Clown Posse, you couldn’t go wrong. But to make it historically complete, you’d have to talk to MC Hush.
The bulldog-jawed, blue-eyed rapper and producer, who answers to the name Dan Carlisle, has seen it all — literally.
That scene in 8 Mile where Eminem’s character busts a rival rapper’s nose for sexing up his girl at a radio station?
“That is a culmination of me and this rapper Champtown’s beef with Em back in the day,” explains Hush. “Em was beefing with Champ because his girl [Kim] was trying to get with him, and I was boys with Champ, so that meant I had a beef with Em. The thing was, yeah, we got into it and, yeah, my nose got broken, but it wasn’t because Em punched me or anything. It was because we were fighting and he stood up real quickly and my nose hit his collarbone. It was a total accident.”
Hush’s vantage point on the local hip-hop scene, especially Eminem’s early days, when they were both struggling white rappers with new babies (Em with Hailie and Hush with Michael, who’s now 8) hasn’t exactly endeared him to the scene — local or otherwise. Hush offered revealing remarks about pre-rock star Marshall Mathers in England’s MixMag and in Metro Times late last summer, detailing both Mathers’ personal family and pill-popping battles, and also his love-hate relationship with then-girlfriend Kim, including the nugget that she once worked at a massage parlor in Warren.
Hush says when 8 Mile came out, MTV offered to fly him and one-time Eminem producer DJ Rec (Bob Claus) out to New York to surprise the rapper on “Total Request Live.” After the articles came out, however, “I just never heard from them again.”
Ditto for E’s more recent “True Hollywood Story: Eminem.” Hush says he received a preliminary call from a local music journalist who passed his name along to the show’s producers. But when it became clear Hush knew the kind of details of Em’s past that were more than just exploitation fodder, his phone stopped ringing.
By his own accounts, Hush has never been comfortable being just another local rapper looking to get put on.
With his previous group, Da Ruckus, he scored underground love with “We Shine,” a moody 1997 anthem extolling the local rap scene featuring a then-unknown Eminem. Since then, as a solo artist, Hush has recorded with local luminaries from Slum Village to Royce Da 5’9”, with whom he recorded the best Detroit rap single you never heard, “Knuckle Up.”
“I love that the underground gave me credibility,” says Hush. “But at some point you gotta make a decision that there is life past the underground, if you want to make a career out of this. I got a kid, in fact, I got two now, so I have to do this to the fullest extent that I can. You can be the dopest battler ever, but it’s not going to make you any money.”
In Hush’s case, however, his aboveground ambitions have sometimes overshadowed his talent. With Da Ruckus, he made a very public overture to sign with Shaquille O’Neal’s short-lived Twism label in 1998. After recording his solo album There Goes The Neighborhood in 2000, he showcased at the Viper Room in LA to no avail. Last summer he was even approached by Jermaine Dupri. Seems the Atlanta-based producer was looking for a white Detroit rapper to counter Eminem and Dr. Dre’s dissing of him last summer.
“Only a one-hit wonder or someone with no talent would be part of that,” says Hush of the Dupri offer.
The irony is that Hush has never been shy about wanting to attract a commercial audience. He has hired radio promoters to work his singles to radio programmers. Last summer Hush teamed up with executive producer Greg Weir to make an album and video for its lead track, the aptly titled “Detroit Players,” which received nominal play on the WB music show “Switch Play.”
On his 1999 album, There Goes The Neighborhood, Hush interpolated one-hit-wonders LFO for his sarcastic song, “Summer Rappers,” mocking — what else — one-hit wonders. On another track, he cut up and sampled Metallica.
His latest album, Roses and Razorblades, includes a track built on Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” which features Mount Clemens-based rap-groove band Black Magic Crossing. The album also contains quite possibly his best track to date in “Poetic Justice.” The tune brilliantly samples Moby’s lush, orchestral “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters,” on which Hush raps about the blunt truths of Detroit life.
Hush’s recent dalliances with mainstream promise have been sobering.
Last summer he hooked up with producer Teddy Bishop, known for producing Aaliyah’s I Care 4 You, to work on tracks. Unfortunately, the results were mixed.
“He wanted me to do like this hard R&B stuff, which no white rapper had ever done before. We did two tracks. One was actually really hard, but this other one was like a cheesy O’Jays sample, totally the kind of stuff you’d hear on the radio and totally not me.”
So what is totally him?
“Having a kid,” he says flatly. “When Michael came along, a lotta shit changed. It made my topics a lot more personal. I got a son that I want him to be able to listen to my songs and know where I was at that point at time.
“I want him to be able to hear ‘Barricaded Gunman’ and say, ‘Damn, my dad was stressed out.’ I don’t look at it like a rapper anymore; I look at it like a father.”
Both of his children are by the same mother. The toll of the rap game, Hush says, is the reason he’s not married to her.
“She just got tired of me sellin’ her pipe dreams,” he explains wearily.
“She kept hearing me tell her how big I am in the underground and then the rug gets pulled out from under her; she comes to shows and there’s only like 50 people there.”
That Hush even got that far is itself a minor miracle. He was born 30 years ago into a proudly working-class family on Detroit’s east side. His father hustled jobs between Detroit and Mount Clemens, including driving a bread truck and working at a gas station, before becoming a Detroit Police Department detective. Hush wasn’t as law-abiding. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy, served in Desert Storm and wound up in jail. He and some other sailors got popped for robbing tourists in Guam. He served time there and later transferred to a California jail to finish his sentence.
“It was like Midnight Express in there,” he says soberly. “I was the only non-native in there.” While in jail he started writing rhymes. When he returned home, his brother introduced him to the tight-knit group of nascent DJs, producers and MCs that made up the Detroit scene, including former Eminem bandmate Mannix. He lived with rapper Champtown and worked at Art Van, lying about his felonious past to get a warehouse job.
Champ introduced him to his former Da Ruckus partner Uncle Ill (Jermaine Habron). The pair recorded and released albums for Federation Records, including Episode 1, featuring “We Shine,” and opened for not-yet-huge Kid Rock.
Since going solo in 1999, Hush has suffered his share of setbacks. Things got so bad that he went into retirement for eight months in 2001, only emerging to hook up with Weir, who originally wanted Hush to produce tracks for another record. When Weir found out who Hush was, he offered to finance a record. Hush was back, doing his own thing this time.
Having endured the we’ll-get-back-to-you showcases, wrong management deals and myriad go-nowhere promises that every local upstart musician has had to face, Hush these days at least has a fighting chance. Besides having Roses and Razorblades done, he has a new manager, Paul Fishkin, an LA-based music mogul recognized for managing Stevie Nicks and Natalie Cole. “He hasn’t had an artist that hasn’t been gold or platinum,” Hush says, hopefully.
Hence, Hush will soon be moving to LA with Black Magic Crossing’s Mike Martinez to work more closely with Fishkin. Like many Detroit success stories, Hush will have to leave Detroit to be re-imported as a national commodity, like Eminem and Kid Rock. He isn’t bitter. Of course, the timing is questionable as more channels of Detroit media and record buyers are starting to take note.
But he can’t wait around. “I’ve never looked for anyone to help me,” he says emphatically. “I want to become an entity all on my own.”
Hush performs his last area shows at Emerald Theatre (31 N. Walnut, Mount Clemens 586-913-1920) with Paradime on Thursday, July 17, and at Alvin’s (5756 Cass, Detroit 313-831-4577) on Saturday, Aug. 2.