You can forgive Phat Kat for being supremely confident; it’s a trait he’s had all his life. And though this legendary Detroit MC (“from the East side”, he points out) has had his share of ups and downs in the music industry, he refuses to badmouth former labels, preferring to express himself in his rhymes. “I’m not even gonna say nothing, I’m gonna let it show in the music”, he says adamantly.
No doubt, resiliency has been a hallmark for Phat Kat, a pioneer of the Detroit hip-hop scene who was putting it down for the underground long before anyone ever heard of Eminem, Proof, D12, Slum Village, Natas or Royce the 5’9. And while rap from “the D” has come into the national limelight in recent years, few of Detroit’s current crop of MCs boast a track record or reputation as credible as Phat Kat.
“Most cats don’t know the history of hip-hop in Detroit. Cats don’t know that they had a culture prior to the release of 8 Mile", he says. Reason being, “Detroit is a city of followers”, he explains. "If you’re not on (BET’s) 106th & Park, they’re not feeling you”. Nevertheless, he says, "I’m not making music for Detroit, I’m making music for myself. That’s why we call it soul music. It’s your soul you’re putting up there".
Phat Kat speaks of major players in the rise of Detroit such as Proof, Eminem, D12 and Dilla with the insight of a sibling. "We all knew Detroit hip-hop had some real lyricists, more than the drug dealing, violent types that everyone assumed Detroit would be full of, and whether it was in 5 or 15 years the songs we were putting down would get their due. Unfortunately for Dilla, he had to be gone for people to come out and say he was the greatest I’ve always said that", says Phat Kat.
In the wake of Dilla’s passing and with the national spotlight securely focused on Detroit Hip-Hop for more than a minute now, Phat Kat puts it on his shoulders, "To give the world a crash course of Detroit Hip-Hop. This is what it is". Almost everyone associated with Carte Blanche represents the D.
Phat Kat may not be a household name yet, but he can claim to be both a leader and an innovator. Back in the early ‘90s, he helped to put the D on the hip-hop map as a member of First Down, pairing with legendary DJ / producer J Dilla (R.I.P.), then known as Jay Dee, years before Dilla’s involvement in Slum Village. To Phat Kat, Dilla was the greatest of all time, more than just a collaborator, but a friend whose loss will be sorely felt.
After meeting Guru and Premier during a promotional stop through Detroit in 1994, Phat Kat gave them a demo tape – the first demo he had ever passed on to industry folks, he says, and he ended up getting signed to Payday Records on the strength of one song, the now-classic “Front Street”. The song appeared on the Representing The Streets compilation, and First Down seemed poised to be one of the first midwestern groups to blow up nationally.
Unfortunately, their label was folded into a much larger company and they were lost in transition. Phat Kat says the experience was, “devastating”, but it didn’t deter him from pursuing a career in music – if anything, it strengthened his resolve. “I use that as coal for the fire. That’s why I’m so tenacious in my rhymes”, he says.
The MC also known as Ronnie Cash stayed on the grind in the ensuing years, putting out independent projects, appearing on albums by Dilla and Slum Village, hitting the road frequently, and waiting for another shot to prove he belonged among hip-hop’s elite. In 2004, after inking a deal with Barak and releasing his first solo album Undeniable, he thought he’d finally broken through. Despite critical praise, ultimately, he fell through the cracks of the music industry once again – an issue he addresses on “My Old Label”, a Dilla-produced banger from his new album, Carte Blanche.
- Cold Steel Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz0XZl2Lkx4