The international collective of hip-hop and soul producers, musicians and curators blends clever rhymes, pulsating beats and introspective narratives into 15 compelling tracks on their latest album, East Grand, which dropped Feb. 29.
“I think everywhere we go, we’re very inspired by where we are. I’m always a huge advocate for what’s happening in Detroit and so that drove a little bit of the inspiration as well as the sounds and what we captured while we were here and being together, too,” said Rod Wallace, East Grand executive producer and a metro Detroit hip-hop producer.
“We’ve all had a really huge effect on each other. All of us have very, very diverse styles. You have producers that have very, very pronounced kind of styles that are very noticeable amongst the group, and we’ve rubbed off on each other.”
Last July, Wallace and 14 other hip-hop producers gathered in a Detroit loft at the corner of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue for a three-day Scratch Magazine retreat to collaborate on tracks for the new album. Dirty Ol’ Men collaborators arrived from Michigan; Ohio; Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia, California; Florida; Pennsylvania; Tennessee; and Japan to participate.
Creating East Grand
Together, the producers, musicians and curators brought initial stems, beats and samples to lay the foundation for their fifth collective project while magically capturing the authentic vibes of the Motor City. They also visited local record stores and dug through crates to find alternative sounds that could inspire music for East Grand.
“I think part of what’s built into the culture of digging and sample-based producing is taking the most obscure music possible and trying to pick something out of it. Customarily, we don’t necessarily look for music based on who’s making it, but we look at the potential vibe and sound that could be involved. It may just be something that we don’t have, like something with church bells,” said Wallace, who’s been part of Dirty Ol’ Men since their formation in 2014.
As East Grand’s executive producer and mixer, Wallace seamlessly combines stems, beats and samples for a jam-tastic adventure that cruises through the fast lanes of hip-hop, soul and R&B. Dirty Ol’ Men’s vinyl treasures uncover vintage grooves interspersed with catchy, swift lyrics and fresh beats for a new school sound wave. It’s a banger follow-up to 2019’s San Francisco-centric Phuckenum.
“I think we challenge ourselves to be different things. A lot of times, producers will start with a sample, a beat or a vocal to build things around it,” Wallace said. “What we did for East Grand was they sent me the stems or the pieces or the elements to their beats, and they trusted me to be able to produce entire songs out of them.”
Wallace initially collected the Dirty Ol’ Men samples at the July retreat and started producing and mixing the album in September. Three months later, he put the finishing touches on East Grand for a February release.
“You find little quirks, you find little things, so yeah, it takes a little bit of time, so the way that I produce and mix this it’s relatively intricate. There are a lot of intricate pieces, not just instrumentation and rhymes, but there’s a little bit of a narrative that’s involved so I really tried to make it something special,” Wallace said.
Stopping Along East Grand
In January, Dirty Ol’ Men dropped their first East Grand single, “Alabaster,” a slow, groovy jam filled with steady drum beats and vibrant, twirling synths as F13ldz raps, “It’s F13ldz from the 313, this is what I bring to/This 9 like Loretta Divine, I make it sing too!” Sam Poetry, Mental da God and Young Dame nicely pass the torch throughout this four-minute leisurely bounce with producers Jelani Beats and CX Tha Producer.
Another captivating track includes the Gadget-produced “Cherries and Blueberries,” which beautifully fuses deep, throbbing bass with a thoughtful R&B groove intertwined with bright guitar and sparse piano as Sam Poetry raps, “Misdemeanors and the felony/Choppin’ records like celery/Blendin’ 70s soul with poetry/That’s the recipe/Like cherries and blueberries these rappers is very sweet.”
F13ldz and Mental da God join Kristianna and The DayNites bassist Tim Blackman for the track while Crystal Campbell adds a compelling poem at the end. “For the first time in my career, I’m not just making a record in my basement and putting it out. I’m getting an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, do you have anything for this?’ or ‘Hey, let’s do splits on that.’ It’s been really great to collaborate, and ‘Cherries and Blueberries’ is kind of a testament to that,” Wallace said.
As producers, Wallace and Agent Smith 78 also collaborated with Kristianna and The DayNites guitarist and Grove Studios co-owner Rick Coughlin to create a hypnotic instrumental ode called “Delay.” Coughlin lends a brilliant echoey guitar riff to the track, which features voice excerpts from interviews mixed with steady beats and lingering synths.
“Being in Ypsi was probably a bigger inspiration for me simply because there are so many different flavors that I encounter here working a little bit with The DayNites. I remember there was a night where in August, it was a First Friday, I got a chance to see Violet Sol. It was very, very inspirational for me to be able to go back to the board and allow that influence to affect how I recorded a record,” said Wallace, who’s also heavily inspired by the Ypsilanti music scene.
“It drove me to having Rick Coughlin from The DayNites come and perform a guitar part on one of the songs that we have put together, and it ended up really well. Rick got a chance to play on it, Tim (Blackman) got a chance to play on it, and being around Taylor Greenshields and some of his music and all that stuff kind of inspired not only the production of the album, but actually the mixing of it as well.”
East Grand also features a behind-the-scenes companion documentary chronicling the collaboration between the Dirty Ol’ Men and their journey to record the album. Compiled by Gadget of Scratch Magazine TV, the comprehensive documentary includes video footage, photos and thoughts from the album’s producers.
With the release of the new East Grand album and documentary, Dirty Ol’ Men are now contemplating their next collaborative project and retreat, which will take place in July at an undisclosed location.
“This year, we’re looking to invite more artists, and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take a couple of artists from here who we’ve built connections with to really make it something special,” Wallace said. “If not, then we’ll probably go through a similar process where we’ll work on a bunch of music and record who’s there and then bring it back and really refine it into a completed project.”