How Michigan became home to one of the hottest underground rap scenes



The state of Michigan, particularly the city of Detroit, is home to some of the most distinguished artists in the history of music. Detroit was the home of Motown records, who brought soul music from Detroit to mainstream America and made household names for many of its artists. Detroit was also a small hotbed for hip-hop, with notable artists including Big Sean, Eminem, and Tee Grizzley. It’s been a while since the emergence of these artists, but Michigan’s music scene has quietly retooled and produced brilliant underground rap.

When it comes to Michigan’s rap resurgence, Detroit has to be seen as the cultural hotbed of the region where all of the best in the state grow up or cross over on their rise. Tee Grizzley ushered in a new era in the city’s music history with the anthem “First Day Out,” and it would be hard to find a Detroiter who couldn’t rap bar by bar. Grizzley’s movement can still be heard in the production and performance of many of the area’s most prominent young artists. Also from Detroit, Babyface Ray raps with the distinctive Detroit accent and his 2021 project uncontrollable is a prime example of the current state of the city’s rap scene, filled with noise and color.

Also from Detroit, Sada Baby has been on absolute tears lately, spitting on her piano melodies and 808 bouncy patterns. Forty-five minutes west, in the town of Ypsilanti, a comedy group of teenagers known as ShittyBoyz used Grizzley’s main producer Helluva Beats to fuel their own rise. Led by shaggy-haired BabyTron, the team at ShittyBoyz made a name for themselves with expertly hilarious punchlines and heavy synth 80s beats. Their song “Jesus Shuttlesworth” is a perfect example of their sound.

However, Detroit isn’t the only city in Michigan to have seen its rap scene explode in recent times. The oft-maligned industrial town of Flint has been in the midst of a rap renaissance, as they emerge from the ashes of their much-publicized water crisis. The city’s first notable artist, Rio da Yung OG, embarked on a mixtape for centuries upon arriving in Detroit three years ago.

Additionally, Flint’s rappers seem to have taken their plight and turned it into comedy, as many stand out for their unique sense of humor. Bfb Da Packman’s most widely broadcast song, “Free Joe Exotic,” contains jokes about his weight, his former postman job, and the women he meets. In nearby Beecher’s town, YN Jay and his hypersexed alter ego, the Coochie Man, deliver hilarious punchlines and coochie puns to the pounding beats of town’s premier producer, Enrgy. Flint’s emergence as a hip-hop hotbed has revitalized southwestern rappers from Detroit to Saginaw, and the future holds only more excitement.

Michigan rappers have left their mark on local hip-hop movements in other states as well. Bfb Da Packman now lives in Houston and has started incorporating elements of Houston rap into his sound. The connection between Detroit and Atlanta rap is well documented, from Lil Yachty and Tee Grizzley’s legendary collaboration, “From D to A,” to the recent forays of Atlanta superstar Lil Baby and East Detroit native 42 Dugg. As the sound of Michigan spreads to more and more cities, it’s also important to remember the roots of this movement.

Daily Arts writer Ryan Brace can be reached at rcbrace@umich.edu.


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