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Black Detroit Power

 April 28, 2023 at 9:00 AM PDT

S1: Hey. Hey. I'm Parker Edison , host of the Parker Edison Project , a podcast that explores black culture as a lifestyle. In our latest episode , Dan Charnas pops in to talk about the city of Detroit.

S2: Even then , I remember when Mike Ross , the owner of Delicious Vinyl , said , We knew that that Jay Swift was leaving the Far Side , and Jay Swift was their incredible producer. And I was so concerned for the fight , like , what's the first I'm going to do now that Jay Swift is gone ? And Mike Ross said , Oh , you know , no problem. You know , we got this kid from Detroit named JD who's coming in to produce.


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S4: Don't forget to tune in tonight to KPBS Television and watch Evening Edition with Macha Balti , where she interviews Parker Edison and he talks about the Parker Edison Project , the new podcast on KPBS. That's Evening Edition tonight at five and 630. Don't sleep.

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S2: I'm Dan Charnas , and you're listening to the PEP.

S1: Good morning and welcome to season three of the Parker Edison Project. If you've been following , you already know the theme of this season is geopolitics , Location , location , location. Today , let's talk about Detroit Central to America's growth. Its geographic location gave it access to the Great Lakes. Its landscape was highly conducive to railways , which helped to found eight automobile manufacturers. Enter Henry Ford. His early blueprints led to what we now know as the auto industry. Everybody bit Ford's formula , including Barry Gordy's Motown Records , which duplicated Ford's method of mass production. Gordy made music to drive to a strategic move that essentially put black music all over the country and eventually the world. Seminal black moments happen often in Detroit. Martin Luther King partnered with Aretha Franklin's family there to record records to help the civil rights movement. Because of its black population , Detroit has quietly been in the forefront of black issues. A few months ago , a good brother told me I should come out to a meeting that I'd enjoy. The speakers talk. So I did. And I did. The thing that pulled me in was the relatability. That's because Detroit's black population is so dense that it lives the black experience in a much more concise way. The Flint water crisis is a perfect example. Project tenements all over the country mirror the damaged foundation of the Flint water system. Black and brown people fully understood the crisis nationally because we experienced it in some capacity locally. Just as I was pondering this idea. The speaker said , We live Bunchy Carter's life just like we do Scarface. In that moment , he was articulating what I was feeling. He was comparing the Miami crime boss to the Oakland Revolutionary. Which makes sense. Those are two sides of the same coin. Look at Malcolm X. He's both. That's when I knew I needed to get this brother to share some of these insights on Detroit and basically black life in general.

S5: You said Bunchy Shakur. I'm located in black Detroit.


S5: That's deep. I think the language in black Detroit is reflective of a southern to some degree , our grandparents or whatnot. We are from the south , right ? It's so it's a soulful thing. You know , it's smooth jazz , it's hip hop. It's all those things in terms of how we rap with each other , of taking one word and making it into another word. And one of the most popular words of Detroit is , you know , a Detroit guy or a woman because we say what I've done , right ? Right. That's Detroit all day.

S1: And it's just my observation. And I catch that. Isham D12 , Danny Brown , Slum Village , even even like Casa do romantic stuff. They still got a , you know , a couple of tracks where they're talking about the liquor.

S5: I don't think it's no more violent than any other music. The violence that we hear in the music and in particular the violence that we hear in Detroit , music is reflective of that culture , of the street culture , of the subculture that is very highly intertwined with each other. And it's hard to find the gray area.

S1: Let me let me switch lanes. Let me ask you this.

S6: What do you think.


S5: I love for each other. I think at this stage of our of our place in America and our development , we have fake love with each other. Very few of us are really owning the spaces that we live in. Very few of us are really working for ourselves , like some of us are. Mirror each other from afar. Like , Dude , I love what you're doing. Damn , I wish I could do what you're doing. And because we're in different spaces , it hasn't created a space of strategically sharing our vulnerability with each other. Because people may look at me and say , Man , you're doing it , but I'm struggling. I'm not saying people are fake , but we're fake in the sense of how we interact with each other because we really don't know each other. So we build an opportunity to authentically get to know each other. You can respect me because now I know who you is. You know who I am.

S1: You touched on the importance of. Opening and sharing those vulnerabilities. I know especially for black men , it's a constant struggle in balance. Last emergency might have been a year ago , and you said liberation comes through vulnerability.


S5: Pretty much. You're being taught not to be vulnerable. And the word weak is presented to us as a negative. You tell me a human being who has not been weak is not a human being. You're denying yourself. So if I can't be vulnerable with you , then we cannot be brothers. Also , the vulnerability is cleansing ourselves , cleansing ourselves of the shame of the pain or whatever that is that's holding us down.

S1: I think that in that same time that I saw you speak to this.

S6: Other thing , you use the term social molestation.

S5: So as a young as a young boy hanging with older men and in my city and I'm running behind and they're taking advantage.

S7: And again.

S5: And they're taking advantage of me in the sense of putting me at risk of him. And you carry the gun , you go , rob this guy , man , you go cry because I'm trying to prove myself to them. But in reality , I'm being molested. The pain , the scars that that's come out of this situation. So and so in my reflection back of those of us directly , or brothers or cousins or fathers , we see the scars , we see the pain. They mention they've been socially molested by the environment.

S6: What would you like to see different ? In Detroit five years from now. Detroit is a very.

S5: Fractured city as a result of gentrification , and gentrification is not nothing new. So we unpack gentrification as a form of oppression , and oppression has always existed there , and we only can heal what we confront. And unfortunately , for a lot of us , we're afraid to confront that pain. I think it was Darrell Jones , the author of he used to Say one of his books , That Confusion is the Enemy of Revolution. It's meaning like the our ability to not to understand what's going on lead to our ability to playing and mis act within our community.

S1: That's boots on the ground. The details you can only learn from being in the trenches. I asked Bunchy Shakur for a book list because if you can't live and learn these things firsthand , at least you can read up on them and put them into action.

S5: Miseducation of the Negro by Wilson. Fear Bakari. She has a book that's called The War Before the Autobiography of Booker t Washington The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass Black Woman and White America.

S1: A smart person learns from their own mistakes. A wise person learns from others. Let's take a quick break. When we come back , we'll chat a little more about the de trois and we'll see what time it is with my guy , Dan Charnas. Give you a hint. It's still a time.

S8: Stay tuned for more of the pep. Pep.

S9: Hey , folks. My name is Bob Surratt. I'm a librarian and host of Listeners Advisory , the San Diego Public Library Podcast. Listeners Advisory is the audio access point that connects users with SDL services , facilities and staff. Tune in twice monthly for a mixture of narrative driven segments , in-depth interviews and roundtable discussions about everything from professional recommendations to community centric matters. Find us wherever you get your podcasts or at. Org forward slash listeners advisory.

S2: And now back to the Pepe.

S10: The Pepe. The Pepe.

S1: We left off on a suggested book list from a real live revolutionary. This is a great place to segue because my next guest is an accomplished author. He's written for The Source magazine , which is regarded as the number one selling Rat magazine in history. His best selling book , The Big Payback The History of the Business of Hip Hop , inspired VH1's movie The Breaks. His newest book , Dilla Time , gives flowers to a Detroit beat maker whose humble work ethic managed to move the needle on how rap sounds. The reason I wanted to talk to him is because he's such a good example of how Detroit art covers so much ground thusly impacting multiple places in the culture simultaneously. These jack of all trades are excuse the car pun hitting on all cylinders.

S2: I'm the author of the book Dilla Time The Life and Afterlife of J. Dilla. The hip hop producer who reinvented rhythm. And I'm also a professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at the School of the Arts at NYU.

S1: I'm discussing Detroit , and me and my friends always have this kind of sidebar discussion of our own with like Royce , the five nine. Danny Brown even Slum Village. When we talk about the different lyricists that come out , there's often a thread of violence in there. You know , you.

S2: Could say that pretty much for every locale in America. New York from the very beginning was gunplay. I mean , from Boogie Down Productions , you know , criminal minded. You know , my nine millimeter goes bang from Public Enemy , who are extremely political. And yet , you know , my Uzi weighs a ton in hip hop. That has always been a part of the aural wallpaper. But I don't think that it's essential to Detroit , at least as somebody who's listened to much of the output of Detroit rap for the 1990s , I don't think it was any more or necessarily any less than L.A. Or New York or Philly or Atlanta or Houston. It really is a reflection of , you know , the number one , the particular male culture of hip hop and number two , the politics of living in an underserved overpoliced community.

S6: That's fair.

S2: I always try to be fair.

S6: Just I got it. I just got to ask personally , I know that you were working with Profile Records and Def American for a while.

S2: I mean , every artist I signed , I love Chino XL and Quest , the mad Lad or two of the folks who I remain extremely close with today and whose genius is absolutely undisputed. I don't think I serve them well as an A&R person in terms of like getting , you know , getting them to situations where they could maximize their success all the time. I mean , I did my best , you know , I think my soul was more that of a producer. Producers work and craft projects , whereas an A&R person they scout and I wasn't much of a scout. You know , I turned down a lot of great stuff simply because I just did not have the vision or the bandwidth , you know , to do it. So I found I found my place eventually.


S2: And then I , like jump around , you know , like it was like 3 or 4 songs on there. And I really like jump around and I brought it to Rick and I'm like , Rick , I really like jump around , but I don't know if they have anything else here , you know ? And so we were kind of like sitting on the fence and I didn't , you know , didn't really act on it. And then they signed a Tommy boy. We were right. They didn't really have more than one hit. But what a hit it was.

S6: You said you brought it to Rick.


S6: What years were you working with with Profile in Def American from.

S2: 1989 to 1991. And then I work for Rick from 1991 to around 1997.

S6: That's often referred to as the golden era.

S2: Like , you know , in the mid 90 seconds , it really was a very small scene , first sort of centered around like a constellation of little nightclubs like Saint Andrews , although I wouldn't call Saint Andrews Little Alvin's. There was a Chinese restaurant that Maurice Malone rented out or used to promote. I think it was a weekly party called Rhythm Kitchen. And then he got his own spot , the hip hop shop on the far west side of Detroit. And so all of the folks that we know who came out of 90 seconds Detroit , you know , and the early 2000s came through the Rhythm kitchen , hip hop shop , subculture. And JD was one of those people. That cat was one of those people. Eminem was one of those people. Royce was too. But really , like all we knew of Detroit , at least in the business , was like folks like , awesome Dre who had come out , you know , in the late 80s and Isham JD was the first real lauded producer to come out of Detroit. Even then , I remember when Mike Ross , the owner of Delicious Vinyl , said , We knew that that Jay Swift was leaving the Far Side , and Jay Swift was their incredible producer. And I was so concerned for the fact like , what's the first I going to do now that Jay Swift is gone ? And Mike Ross said , Oh , you know , no problem. You know , we got this kid from Detroit named JD who's coming in to produce. And I said , Jay , Detroit. You know what ? Like.


S2: You know , my attitude was so coastal chauvinist at that point , I just couldn't imagine anybody coming. Just I wasn't even aware that there was a scene there and and still really wasn't aware that there was much of a scene other than Slum Village until Eminem started making the rounds in the late 1990s.

S13: Got you.


S2: It was around that time that I started to really notice that he was creating something truly distinctive. As the years went by , you know , I started to hear his really what he would call a loud and offbeat rhythm start to permeate R&B and hip hop. And , you know , a few years later , he died. Around that time , I was writing my first book , The Big Payback. I , I , you know , I fell in love with a woman from Detroit , and I went to go meet her family for the first time in 2008. And we got married , you know , a year later. And then Detroit sort of became a second home around that time. I'm beginning to teach at NYU. And so the thought becomes , you know , between me and Jason King , who was the now the chair of the Clive Davis Institute , he's like , well , why don't you teach a dealer class ? Why don't you teach a class on Detroit since you have this Detroit connection ? And I was like , you know , Amir should be teaching that. Questlove should be teaching that because he teaches here and be more appropriate for him to do it. But somebody named Jimmy Fallon hired Questlove so he couldn't do it. I said , You know what ? I know enough people in Detroit now. I know some people in his family. I know some of his collaborators. Let's just do it. Like let's just teach a class on Dilla. And part of that class was taking all 20 students on a field trip to Detroit from New York and that was pretty special. You know , Ma Dukes was a part of that. And also I was very friendly with a lot of his friends , too. So it was I had a certain degree of access to his world that maybe another teacher wouldn't have had. But I was also super frustrated with the way that people wrote about his music or the way that people misinterpreted his music. You know , I really felt that he had done something quite revolutionary in rhythm that people had not put their finger on. And so that's when I just said , F it , I'm going to do it. I'm going to you know , I'm going to write a book about his musical genius , but I'm a reporter by nature. And so as I start reporting the book , that muscle starts to take over and it becomes a biography of Dilla , but not just a biography of him. It's a biography of the city. It's a biography of rhythm. It's a biography in some. Ways of a community. Jay was part of a larger , a larger thing , not just a Detroit thing , but , you know , obviously a music thing and African American thing and , you know , a church thing. It's all important.


S2: And that's one of the things that I argue in in Dilla. Time for sure.

S6: What riveting and exciting things are you working on these days ? Teaching.

S2: I'm teaching at Tisch. That's what I'm doing. My full time job teaching , teaching these kids music history. You know , we are working towards Dilla Documentary , which will be executive produced by Questlove and directed by Joseph Patel. And , you know , always , always working on some new stuff.

S1: And we're here for all of it. Dan. Both my guests did this thing where they discuss how the topic relates to people in real time , and I'm wondering if maybe that's just a trait of Detroit heart and soul. Not in the cliche way of people loving each other or something like that. More more along the lines of just being passionate , whether it's politics , education , music. Speaking of music. This is my disclaimer. If you're a Detroit rap or a rap fan , no disrespect to your city or its rap lineage. This is just one rap fan throwing out some opinions and getting new ones. I'm talking about it to learn about it. Fair. With that said , I'm gonna close the show with an exclusive track you can only hear here on the pep. This is a wild combo. Detroit's guilty Simpson and San Diego's Max Carnage. Detroit Rhymes California Beats. This track is called Liberation the Lazarus Remix. Listen now rewind it two times. Let's go. Stab fire.

S14: Hey , Templeton Ride got me on five.

UU: With a foot in the wind. Got me on ten. Where I'm from We won't break or bend my real quick. Who's going to sink or swim ? They'll break all your limbs and take out the SIM card. SIP hard liquor with my Timbs on in the lab where I'm in songs where I write how I did wrong.

S14: I did a rip.

UU: In the big bong. You can hear the water bubble. Riffraff brought all the trouble that fit to take the water you cannot hold when the block rolls. I got flows to the stock roll. You wind up like it's high cold. What ? I observed. Stop the mold. You mad because I got it. Dough. I got soul. We got it on lock mode until the shot flow.

S14: What ? He'll take me out. Take me out , Take me out. Yeah.

UU: Yeah. Hey. The crown in the crown. Set him down. Yeah. Kill the style down. Get him down. Yeah. Get the crowd. Get him live. Get him wide yet. Take me out. Check me out. Check me out. Yeah. Hey , the clown in the crowd Set it down. Yeah. He'll kill the style Motor town. Get it down. Yeah. Get the crowd. Get him live. Get , Guys , Not another rap. It's hard. I'm a big.

S14: Job and I acknowledge.

UU: Others cars with anonymous regard for contribution. But I'm a mutant. Every time I drive some new shit , I'm laughing. I'm no inevitable platinum. No , they can't ride on them. Approach and pressure with a coolness.

S14: I can play in dirt in a new fit top shape , rhyming and geometrics like I'm Euclid. But you wouldn't understand that because you're stupid. The mic sounds nice and the time is right. The shine.

UU: Is bright as diamond ice and y'all should try my tight I'm sure fueled a bitch.

S14: Ass and pay the tab before dudes I walk through step then I start through Boss moves your raps better watch who you. Sure no one struggles that afar through. Thankful for the few feel. Check me out. Check me out. Take me out. Yeah.

UU: Yeah. Hey , The crown in the crown. Set him down. Yeah. Kill the style down. Get him down. Yeah. Get the crowd. Get him alive. Get him wide. Yeah. Take me out. Check me out. Check me out. Yeah. Come here. The clown and Crown sit him down. Yeah. You kill the style. Motown , Get him down. Get one. Get the crowd. Get him live. Get him wide. Yeah.

S14: Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Thanks for stopping in. Yeah.

S1: Parker Edison Project is produced and hosted by yours truly. Parker Edison and the good people at platform collection. Be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode on Apple , Spotify , or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any comments or questions , visit the Parker Edison Project and please , please leave a review so people can see what you think of the show. My guy , Chris Reyes , is our head editor. Adrian Villalobos is media production specialist. Lisa Jane Morissette is director of audio programming and operations and John Decker is senior director of Content development. This programming is made possible in part by the KPBS Explore Content Fund. I love saying that because it reminds me of Sesame Street. Seriously , y'all stay safe out there.

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Our fourth episode features a deep discussion with organizer/revolutionary Yusef Bunchy Shakur Yusef about Detroit. Then, author Dan Charnas discusses Dilla and the sound of the city.

Music: Liberation (Q Lazarus remix) by Guilty Simpson and Max Carnage.

Episode artwork: Liquid Sketch.

Show credits: Parker Edison (Host), Chris Reyes (Head Editor), Angela Rogan (Writer), Robert A. Saunders (Geo-Political Consultant), Adrian Villalobos (Media Production Specialist), Lisa Jane Morrisette (Director of Audio Programming and Operations) and John Decker (Senior Director of Content Development)