The 20 Best Hip-Hop Songs from Detroit MCs
By Kiani Belgrave
Detroit has no shortage of talented MCs. They gave us one of rap's biggest superstars in the incomparable Eminem, and also more eccentric underground artists like Danny Brown and Zeeloopers. Detroit is a gritty, bold, brave city. Their artists paint vivid pictures of life in the Motor City, telling stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly that come with the city.
In honor of All City Week Detroit, we at Rock the Bells have compiled a list of some of Detroit's dopest songs from their most talented MCs. Here are 20 must-hear tracks coming out of the Motor City.
"Sunshine"- Esham (1993)
Taking samples from Parliament's "Flashlight" and Roy Ayers "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," Esham's single, "Sunshine," takes us through a summer day in Detroit. The sun's out, kids are playing outside, the sun is hot, and so is the block. Esham describes the perils of Detroit street culture; drive-bys, robberies, and shootouts, the streets are relentless, even in the sunshine.
"Boom" - Royce da 5'9 (2000)
DJ Premier and Royce da 5'9 team up on this 2001 single, coming off his first studio debut album, Rock City. The single works as Royce's intro to the mainstream; after a well-respected career in Detroit's underground battle scene, Royce spits like he has something to prove. Despite his affiliation with him, he distances himself from Eminem, solidifying himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Royce spits on the track effortlessly, showing extreme poise and confidence on the track, comparing himself to a ticking time bomb that is getting ready to blow at any second.
"Fall In Love" - Slum Village (2001)
Slum Village's "Fall in Love" is an ode to doing the things that you are passionate about. J Dilla takes care of the production and hook on the track, singing, "To fall in love, With things you do, Don't sell yourself." Dilla's message here is simple; you do not have to sell out to do the things you love. Baatin and T3 both deliver solid verses on their genuine love for music, regardless of the money, women, and material things that come with it.
The song is a classic, featuring Dilla’s iconic boom-bap and neo-soul production paired with the rap duo’s thoughtful and laid-back rhymes, making “Fall in Love” an easy listen and a timeless classic.
"Welcome 2 Detroit' - Trick Trick (2005)
Since 1996, Trick Trick has been a Detroit legend. After years of feeding the underground with his mean-belligerent style, it was finally time for Trick Trick to be introduced to a bigger audience; who better to give him the look than fellow Detroit legend Eminem. "Welcome 2 Detroit" is an ode dedicated to the city they come from.
The two paint a picture about how gritty and tough the city is, with an infectious hook performed by Em himself and consistent verses from Trick Trick, "Welcome 2 Detroit" is an excellent introduction to Trick Trick and the city of Detroit.
"Rap Name" Obie Trice (2002)
Initially known by the name Obie 1, after the Star Wars Jedi knight, Detroit native, Obie Trice III, thought for his breakout hit he would start going by his real name and stop the gimmicks with his breakout single, Rap Name.
Eminem features on the single, adding some vocals on the hook along with a sample from Biggies, "Long Kiss Goodnight." The single would later be used as the intro in Em's "Without Me." The song will also be used in the soundtrack for 8 Mile.
"Lose Yourself" - Eminem (2005)
The track works as the theme song for the 2002 film 8 Mile. The song is without a doubt one of Eminem's best songs, if not his best, and it is still his highest-charting single to date. The track is an anthem; Eminem passionately spitting lyrics about doing all it takes to change your circumstances. Eminem is at his best on the song, completely re-recording the song to fit the film's theme. The original track can be heard on the SHADY XV compilation album with entirely different lyrics and a different vibe.
"Lose Yourself" peaked at number 1 in 20 different countries and held the top position for 12 weeks straight, making it one of the longest chart-topper of all time. It also won an Academy Award and two Grammys.
"Free Woo" - 42 Dugg (2020)
Coming off one of the most memorable features of 2020 on Lil Baby's "We Paid," 42 Dugg returns with his own single with "Free Woo." The track is dedicated to his incarcerated friend, who the rapper grew up with. The 808s tremble throughout the track as 42 gives us some bars flexing his street lifestyle and shouting out his locked-up homies throughout the song.
"Try Me" - Dej Loaf (2014)
2014 was an exciting year for hip-hop. Atlanta trap music was at its peak, Chicago drill was in its infancy, and J. Cole dropped the best album of his career. The same year, 23-year-old Dej Loaf released her debut single, "Try Me." The track married the era's trap sound with ethereal synths that made the song sound like a lullaby, as Dej Loaf melodically sings to her enemies, wishing a nigga would try her.
The song peaked at number 45 on the Billboard hot 100 and eight on the Billboard rap charts. Dej Loaf would go on to work with fellow Detroit rapper and hip-hop legend Eminem and tour with Nicki Minaj later that year off of the single.
"Die Like a Rockstar" - Danny Brown (2012)
Danny Brown's drug anthem, "Die Like a Rockstar," from his 2011 mixtape, XXX, finds the rapper referencing some of Hollywood's most notable stars who unfortunately lost their lives from their self-destructive lifestyles. "Bitch I wanna party like Chris Farley/Shot of Hennessy, spike it with some molly/Tell mommy I'm sorry, God bless my soul/ My life is so sublime, goin' out like Brad Nowell."
The rapper, known for his whimsical persona and lyrics, Brown credits Quentin Tarantino as an inspiration for the song, hoping to mimic the director's quirky and dark style. "I was thinking like a Quentin Tarantino movie when I heard the beat, you know how his movies always start off crazy and action-packed? I wanted the beginning to be wild and crazy but still scare the shit out of you at the same time."
"Detroit Vs. Everybody" - Shady Records (2014)
Coming off of Eminem's Shady Records compilation album, Shady XV, "Detroit Vs. Everybody" is an anthem dedicated to the city itself, featuring verses from some of Detroit's most prominent acts in hip-hop. Em, Big Sean, Dej Loaf, Trick Trick, Royce da 5'9, and Danny Brown deliver some of the most honest and heartfelt verses of their careers, telling their personal stories about their experiences growing up in the D.
The posse track is a triumphant anthem. Each rapper gives a spirited performance, speaking about the resilience it takes to come from the bottom of a city as cold and grueling as Detroit to the top of each of their game.
"Paradise" - Big Sean (2015)
Mike WiLL Made it, and Big Sean team up on the title track of the rapper's third studio album to flex their success on "Paradise." Throughout the track, Sean reflects on all the things he wanted to do before the money and the fame. He thanks God for all of the worldly things he has been blessed with since the money "I always wanted to stunt so hard, I always wanted to ride that whip/I always wanted to fuck that bitch/Thank you, God, I fucked that bitch."
The instrumental is dark and spacey, creating a world that almost seems like the success that Sean is referencing is not the "Paradise" that he always dreamed of despite his lyrics glorifying all worldly things he raps about.
"First Day Out"- Tee Grizzley (2017)
After three years in prison, Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley had some things to get off his chest. The song begins with a slow and simple orchestral sample, as Grizzly reminisces about his time in the streets before getting locked up. He starts the track immediately calling out the haters, "These niggas prayed on my downfall, these niggas prayed on my downfall/ On all then, bitch, I stood tall." he raps on the intro, telling his rags to riches story after his release.
The track transitions into a face-melting club banger, where the rapper goes from reminiscing about his past to talking all his shit! The track is gritty, grimy, and gutter. Tee Grizzley proved himself to be a force to be reckoned without the gate. He has bars, he has confidence, and he represents his city to the fullest.
"Baby" - Guilty Simpson & J Dilla (2006)
On the 5th track of J Dilla's posthumous album, The Shining, we get some back and forth verses from Guilty Simpson and J Dilla with some dope production from both Madlib and Dilla himself. The duo spits rhymes about tour life, partying, women, and money. Guilty Simpson kicks off the track holding nothing back, "You can catch Guilty Simpson at a rave with babes/ Packin a .38 snub and a razor blade, uh!"
The track is a collision of the minds, Detroit artists Guilty and J Dilla are electric together, with the help of Madlib's crate-digging sampling skills, the song makes for a Detroit classic that should be spoken about much more.
"Whole Lotta Choppas"- Sada Baby (2020)
Sada Baby is the leader of the new Detroit sound that has taken over the hip-hop airwaves over the last few years. Sada capitalized on the popularity of the Detroit sound growing to the mainstream with his series of singles and music videos, each going more viral after the other. Finally, in 2020, Sada Baby would release "Whole Lotta Choppas," which would become a smash hit and club banger, bringing the new Detroit sound to mainstream audiences.
The success of the track earned Sada Baby a Nicki Minaj feature and a booming trend on Tik-Tok.
"Moochie" - Boldy James (2013)
It is not often a newcomer gets the opportunity to have their debut album entirely produced by one of the most respected producers of all time. Eastside Detroit rapper, Boldly James was given the opportunity of a lifetime when he linked up with The Alchemist on his 2013 album, My 1st Chemistry Set.
On the album's third track "Moochie," Boldly spits over classic Alchemist production, it's creepy, cynical, and sounds like a scene from a Micheal Myers film. Boldly James, whose nickname is the track's name, tells the story of his days on the block.
"Easter Sunday" ft Earl Sweatshirt - Zeeloopers (2019)
Zeelopers teams up with Earl Sweatshirt on the feel-good and wholesome single, "Easter Sunday." The song celebrates family, daily blessings, and just being happy. The two take a break from their usual darker melancholy sound to remind us that they can be happy, too, appreciating the things that we may usually take for granted.
“Gangstas Only”- Big Herk (2003)
Detroit hip-hop pioneer, Big Herk, is a legend of the city. Starting his career in 1997, the rapper has a long history of working with other Detroit legends like Slum Village, Trick Trick, and Obie Trice. On his 2003 album, Guilty As Charged, we get the gritty street anthem, "Gangstas Only," featuring J-Nutty. The song is an underground classic.
The two give a play for play description of the life of a Detroit gangster, with cutthroat lyrics about being a street pharmacist, riding dirty, and living what they rap about, solidifying that the city of Detroit is for "Gangstas Only."
“Cold Steel” - Phat Kat (2007)
On the J Dilla produced record, “Cold Steel,” we get some audacious verses from fellow Detroit rappers, Phat Kat and Elzhi. The two go back and forth on the track, trading verses about Detroit street life, fame, and women.
"Sunday Best"- Black Milk (2013)
In Black Milk's "Sunday Best," the rapper takes a trip down memory lane. Reminiscing on the days he would wake up to go to church on a Sunday morning, Milk reflects on his appreciation of family time, community, and the escape the church was in the dangerous city he grew up in.
"Kurt Kobain" - Proof (2005)
Proof writes a fictional suicide note in his eerie track, Kurt Kobain. The track comes from his album, Searching for Jerry Garcia, which has a running theme of death and suicide throughout. The track finds Proof killing off his alter-ego, Dirty Harry. Tired of the bullshit that comes with fame and fortune, Proof has had enough, writing his farewell letter to his friends and family much like the late Kurt Cobain, who took his own life in 1994.