The Five New Names to Know in Michigan Rap
Sounds Like: The hunger and drive of a first-round draft pick rapping earnestly about life in the fast lane
For Fans of: Tee Grizzley, G Herbo, and adolescent Lil Wayne
Why You Should Pay Attention: For an artist so young, GMO Stax has several lifetimes of experience behind him. His songs are filled with dense imagery and careful details conveyed in a measured cadence that exudes a hunger and intensity that far exceeds his 18 years. His 2021 single “Lockdown” is a gripping narrative about what it takes to survive — from the ski masks in the backseats of cars to avoiding potential snitches — every day on the corners of his native Detroit. “It’s just stuff I’m going through and been through,” says GMO. “It’s life experience, for real. Everybody ain’t good with storytelling, but it’s just something that was in me.” Those riveting tales are all over GMO’s 2021 album Youngest Pit in America. The video for “Back From the Dead,” whose Pooh Shiesty–assisted remix is on that album, has, as of this writing, 1 million views on YouTube. The teenage wordsmith recognizes that Detroit has everyone’s eyes on it right now. And he plans on proving that both his youth and experience keep him that much more in tune with what’s bubbling in the streets.
He Says: “I think what makes me stand out — I started young, you know? I feel like ain’t nobody been through what I’ve been through. I just had a story to tell earlier than everybody else, you know?”
Hear for Yourself: “By the Gun” is a tear-the-club-up-style hit with an aggressive trap tempo, blaring synths, booming 808s, and some real talk about karma.
CHALMAINE THE GOD
Sounds Like: The classy soul of Motown embodied in a wise-cracking rapper with a penchant for reflective, sweet-sounding bops
For Fans of: Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Kim, and contemplative Cardi B
Why You Should Pay Attention: Chalmaine the God is the epitome of a survivor. Raised on Detroit’s crime-ridden east side, the single mother of three sings about being sexually abused, at age seven, by a family member, and losing both her father and cousin to murder on “Chalmaine.” To heal her trauma, she picked up the pen at age 13 and hasn’t put it down since. Her debut, The Maine Reason, is a heartfelt collection of ballads, bangers, and introspective gems announcing a fully formed MC repping Detroit to the fullest. Blessed with a lithe but no less emotive flow, virtually every bar Chalmaine spits conveys authenticity and reveals her inspiring journey.
She Says: “I really went through everything that I talked about in my music. It’s no faking; my story isn’t made up. A lot of people out there [are] like me, hiding behind molestation, abuse, peer pressure. I’m a open book. I don’t mind talking about it because it’s a part of my breakthrough. It’s a part of overcoming things and becoming who I am and pushing my music. Maybe I can help one or two people. But I know when they hear a song like ‘Chalmaine,’ it can relieve a lot from a person that’s holding stuff in.”
Hear for Yourself: “Tap In” is a breezy two-step anthem about staying true, all deep bass and slinky ‘80s-inspired synths, anchored by Chalmaine’s crisp, confident delivery.
Sounds Like: A battle-tested hustler with a biting sense of humor
For Fans of: Rick Ross, Beanie Siegel, and Benny the Butcher
Why You Should Pay Attention: Detroit’s Risktaker D-Boy specializes in high-key motivational music that gives you a poignant glimpse into his struggles, aspirations, and how he made it out the mud. But he also has the humor of a seasoned stand-up comedian: On his 2021 cut “2am witt antt,” he sneers, “I been beatin’ on a brick so much this shit should be abuse/I been fuckin’ with them Blues, they will never have a Clue.” This distinguishes Risktaker from blasé coke rappers who only hustle on social media. The 31-year-old lyricist, whose song “Take Risk” was released last fall and already has 213,598 Spotify streams, is not just a virtual presence; he’s put in his fair share of work outside. “I been through a lot, bro,” he says. “I might have got on the road, driving somewhere with no license, and plate expired — everything. You feel me? It’s over if they stop me. I used to be really wild.”
He Says: “When you make music, and you start to make people feel like they can relate to you, people feel like they know you — that never met you. Because you talk that shit they be living. It’s real life. Everybody go through the same shit. As crazy as it might sound, I don’t think about the people when I make songs; I think about me — what I’m going through. And it’s just crazy that it relate to so many people.”
Hear for Yourself: “Switches” is a grind-till-you-die anthem animated by hypnotic keys and a titanic 808 thud.
Sounds Like: A punchline-loving evil genius absorbed the entire Netflix “Horror” category by osmosis
For Fans of: Eminem, Draeko the Ruler, and “Whisper”-era Yin Yang Twins
Why You Should Pay Attention: For a rapper with some of the hardest, most gore-fixated bars, Kookei has a laughably “soft” name. The Detroit native, whose sweets-invoking nom de plume was inspired by a childhood stint as a bake-sale maven, raps in a hushed, almost jokey tone, which makes his grim lyrics — about pissing on the opposition’s graves, when not outright blowing off their heads — sound both seductive and scary. Inspired by the carnage-heavy one-liners of early Eminem, Kookei decided, two years ago, to turn himself into a rapper. After posting a few loosies on YouTube, he released Psychopath, his excellent debut — boasting 20 macabre but mellifluous songs — earlier this year. You don’t have to have a cast-iron stomach to digest it: Psychopath is fun, provocative, and wildly inventive. “A lot of stuff you can’t take serious. You gotta laugh at that shit,” he says. “That’s just me. And I be high as hell.”
He Says: “I just dropped a little video and got the words on there. It’s called ‘Chris Brown.’ It did a hundred K in two weeks — it got the words on there. But I did that because it’s so many metaphors, I just knew it was gonna go over people’s heads. I’m going to start doing that from now on, though. ‘Cause I know it’s kind of hard. I ain’t gonna lie: a lot of stuff I be saying, I don’t even realize until later. I go listen to it again.”
Hear for Yourself: “Straight Jacket Flow” is a bonkers bombardment of hush-toned swag and bleak bars worthy of all the skull emojis.
Sounds Like: A breezy summer day party you have to pass through a metal detector to attend
For Fans of: Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, and Drake circa More Life
Why You Should Pay Attention: JaiFive makes impeccably produced, lush, atmospheric songs with big, tasteful hooks that split the difference between bedroom-ready ballads and block-approved trap mantras. Indeed, the artwork for the east side Detroit native’s 2021 song “Pack Heat” is an uzi with a rose sprouting from its barrel — there’s no clear distinction between ardor and the angst of the streets in JaiFive’s world. He had a harsh upbringing, coming up poor — with seven siblings — squatting in houses, and even running briefly with neighborhood gangs. It makes sense that the former high school athlete sought multiple means of expressing his passions and pains. JaiFive’s single “Tell Me You Get It” is a hypnotic hit in the making, dedicated to willful compromise. It leans more in the direction of R&B, perhaps, because the melodic frequencies open up more possibilities for conveying raw emotion. The multi-hyphenate looks to draw in listeners with his smooth inflections and expressive lyrics.
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He Says: “If you can get a crowd or a person to mess with your song, emotionally, then I feel like you got that person. Because a lot of people relate through tone, you know.”
Hear for Yourself: “Tell Me You Get It” is a rose-petals-all-the-way-to-the-doorstep-approved slow burner, with a sweet, soaring chorus that’s all about ecstasy.