Hip-hop culture has been broadening lately. Some of rap’s most mainstream productions are suddenly its most bizarrely interesting. Knowing this, it seems Detroit could play even more of a key role as urban music moves deeper into the weird and hyperactive. Booty, ghettotech, ghetto-house, or whatever you want to call it, is still very much a Midwestern anomaly. Detroit and Chicago have been perfecting the sound in clubs, cabarets, and on the radio for more than a decade, making crowds sweat and helping acquaintances get more than just phone numbers at the end of the night. Still, club-ready hip-pop — awash in silly anthems and nursery rhymes (à la Nelly) — is ready for a makeover.
Ann Arbor native and NYC transplant, Disco D (born Dave Shayman), understands that. He’s got freakish turntable skills, his newer productions are slicker than most mainstream hip-hop sample gank-sters, and he’s carrying a business degree from U-M. No wonder the industry hos are giving him heed.
Having recently signed with Tommy Boy, Disco D’s first international mix CD, A Night at the Booty Bar, hit the bins this week. The CD is an obvious cross-promotions stunt with his upstart Booty Bar label/clothing brand/promotions outfit (www.bootybar.biz), but D is shameless when it comes to marketing the ghettotech lifestyle. “They’re spending thousands of dollars to promote my own brand,” he admits. “Why not? Ghettotech never had shame to begin with (see DJ Deeon’s “Suck It”). Besides, Booty Bar isn’t trying to instantly become the next Wu Wear (The Wu Tang Clan’s clothing brand).
D figures they can forgo the hood and baggy jeans thing and start off a little smaller with, say, club nights, and the appropriate vinyl and thongs.
“I want to push what I’m doing more into the urban side of things,” D says of what you might call his ghettotech expansion program. “Ya know, having people freestyle and remixing popular hip-hop tracks on the fly. I didn’t come into this music from an electronic perspective. I came into it listening to 2 Live Crew and NWA, not Juan Atkins and Derrick May.”
After graduating from U-M last year, D set off for New York to prove that if Detroit’s ghettotech sound can make it there, it can make it anywhere.
“In Detroit, it’s saturated — ghettotech’s already hit here,” says D. “Everywhere else it’s either unheard of or it’s an underground phenomenon. The fact that it’s embraced by an urban audience as well as in electronic music in Detroit is the exception, not the rule. But from the response it gets in Detroit, I see potential for it to get a foothold in urban markets everywhere. It’s inspiring. People like Roni Size and Method Man try to do collaborations and it sounds forced, but if you put the right MC — someone with a syncopated flow — over a ghettotech track, it sounds like a natural progression.”
That’s exactly what D’s done from a production standpoint with Detroit hip-hop talents Lola Demone and Helluva on “Keys to the Whip” — a back-and-forth, male-to-female conversation rap reminiscent of Positive K’s “I Got a Man” if it were sushi raw with absolutely no patience for innuendo. Demone’s flow is buttery — like Eve after a post-coital blunt. Hulluva is similarly elastic with a verbal swagger that stands its ground in the face of Lola’s no-she-di’int demands for “the keys to the ’lac” (among other things). It seems here that merely shouting out hood anatomy lessons will no longer cut it.
D’s already worked with artists ranging from rappers 8Ball & MJG (his remix of “Buck Bounce” is stronger than their original) to England’s 2-step/R&B chart-topper, Craig David and Paradime. But his most fitting collaboration thus far has been with her highness of kitsch-hop, Princess Superstar. Their “Fuck Me on the Dance Floor” single is peak-hour sleaze the likes of which nobody would expect from a couple-a nice Jewish kids.
And it’s not exactly a song for Mom either.
“Princess Superstar met my mom,” explains D, “and she didn’t want to play ‘Fuck Me on the Dance Floor’ for her. But my mom insisted, so I played it. I couldn’t look at her — I was cringing the whole time. After the song was over, there was an awkward moment of silence, and then my mom said, ‘Dave, that was fucking awesome!’ I was shocked that she was down.”
Despite his recent credits and style refinements, not everyone is buying into the D. Many locals — who never gave him a second chance after he gained premature notoriety as a teenager — resent the man. D had blown up locally in ’97 as the resident DJ for the weekly “Solar” night at the Blind Pig. He burst on the electronic scene like the smug, 17-year-old punk he was — all technical skill with way too much scratching and nothing to say on the decks. In retrospect, he was clearly excited, if not a little overzealous.
Others, at least privately, complain that D is a white suburbanite playing and marketing urban music, which is a cliché both in Detroit and today’s music world. Some resent the fact that he’s calling the music “ghettotech” (DJ Assault, for instance, prefers to use “accelerated funk”), a term which, thanks to D, has become widely used. Whatever the issue — race, age, address, etc. — Disco D is the only ghettotech jock who still has something to prove.
“People don’t give me a hard time about that to my face,” claims D. “Look, sex is sex, partying is partying, and music is music. I’m not saying ‘go out and shoot somebody’ or talking about shit that I don’t know about. If people have a problem with it, that’s their prerogative. I’ve had people be surprised that I was white and that’s fine by me. It would be one thing if I came with some whack production and whack turntable skills and still tried to be down, but I can hang with anybody else on the decks who plays this music. Two of the three ghettotech DJs at my level aren’t black, anyway: Godfather and me. It’s not racially motivated music, so why should my race be a problem?”
Perhaps a ghettotech makeover is exactly the right colonic formula for mainstream music to unclog its lingering cultural hang-ups. “My eventual goal is that I want someone like Busta Rhymes or Ludacris saying that they want this kind of style on their next album,” D proclaims. That doesn’t seem so far off considering Busta’s recent dancehall collaboration with Sean Paul, or Luda’s frantic beat workouts with Missy Elliot and Timbaland.
Hence, the Tommy Boy connection is priceless for both label and artist. Recently, Tommy Boy’s been slipping on street cred. The label that gave us Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance,” and the entire De La Soul oeuvre alongside dance acts like 808 State is now one lame dance comp away from looking antiquated. In recent years, Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves was an instant hip-hop classic, but Amber’s dance pop and recent releases of ’80s nostalgia mixes seem unnecessary. It is, however, likely that Tommy Boy can help D — like they helped House of Pain — to break the “great white hype” barrier, bringing ghettotech to a new audience in the process.
“People like Assault have had decent success,” explains D, “but having a label like Tommy Boy behind it means that this is going to be the first exposure that a lot of people are gonna have to ghettotech. I wanted to show ghettotech classics along with where it’s at now and where it’s going. This is just a stepping stone, but it’s a hot-ass CD for people who’ve never heard ghettotech before.”
“[Ghettotech is] tongue-in-cheek party music,” continues D, acknowledging his place in pop culture. “I don’t intend for you to take it seriously. It’s pretty forward, yeah, but the people who are saying that it’s a novelty now were saying the same shit four years ago. Well, it’s still around, and I think that says it all.”
Maybe it is misogynistic, misshapen and crude, but all it takes is one night of seeing hundreds of twentysomething dorks and freaks get saucy to the sounds of ghettotech to put a smirk like Disco D’s into perspective.
Disco D will perform Sunday, April 27, at the Necto (516 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor). For more information, call 734-994-5436.Robert Gorell writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org