When it comes to Detroit, they say I yell it too much/ And yo, when you think about it, I ain't yelled it enough/ Everybody loves Detroit, they always selling us stuff/ We been hurting, though, since Berry Gordy bailed on us. - "313"
Detroit native, Alley Life, is in a precarious position. His mission is to put his hometown on the map in an "aggressive, but non-offensive" manner. But there are some things to consider: Detroit already has a name as the Motor City and musically, there's a small legacy called Motown. Oh yeah, and there's hip-hop's biggest star, Eminem, who happens to be signed to WEB Entertainment, the same production company to which Alley, who also goes by ALKI (Alley Life Kurupt Individual), is signed.
Alley's self-titled debut LP, the inaugural hip-hop release from Farmclub.com/Interscope, is a collection of percolating bass stabs, liquid rhymes and party-starting chants telling the story of the unseen Detroit: a land littered with liquor stores and street hustlers who fashion Airforce One's with argyle socks and Guess shorts with Rockport boots. "My album expresses the way we do things down there; the way I do things. Where I hang, where I'm from, who I hang with, who I don't hang with, what crews I was with," says ALKI. "It's like a resume. I got my crew, Alley Dwellas, on there "they my references. They'll tell you, 'Everything he say on there is real.'"
Alley Life "The hip-hop scene in Detroit is very competitive," continues Alley, who hails from the city's East Side. "Very few places to do hip-hop. It's not a lot of love for groups from Detroit given to each other. But I'ma break that up." Alley Life's first single, "That's The Way We Roll," reps for all of the Mo-Mo (that's Detroit to the uninitiated world-at-large), like Jay-Z spits Brooklyn every time he busts, like Xzibit (actually a Detroit expatriate) throws up that big-ass W, like Nelly goes down-down baby for St. Louis. A smattering of hyperactive bass and erratic snares plays home to "That's The Way We Roll's" hollering chorus, "Five'll get you tripped up/ Ten'll get you fixed up/ Twenty get you lit up/ That's the way we roll bro/ Thirty get you touched up /Forty get you sucked up /Fifty get you stuck up/ Welcome to the Mo-Mo." It's one of those quintessential pop momentsfun yet menacing, familiar yet challenging, avant-garde yet atavistic that, like its creator, paper can't do justice to.
Influenced by everyone from Bob Marley ("He made you feel like you could do anything.") to Public Enemy ("They was smacking people in the face with what they was saying and they had so much personality to it.") to NWA and the Geto Boys ("They were saying anything they wanted.") to LL Cool J and soul masters like the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, ALKI's music has a bit of everything --- deep, dark hip-hop, jazzy tracks, conscious numbers.
In 1985, Alley Life began making an album every year (you do the math), in the hopes of getting signed. He would pick out his own samples and instruct local producers to work with whatever they had on hand. "I used to make good songs to horrible beats sometimes," he laughs. In 1989 he worked with Demetrius Biggs, the brother of saxophonist Ray C. Biggs, who collaborated with the Detroit 80's rock band, Was (Not Was). In 1991, he made songs reflecting the emerging gangsta sound of the day. "In Detroit, if you ain't had no gunshot in your song in '91, I ain't know what you was gonna do," he laughs. "No one would want to hear it. If you had a big gun, like a gauge, you had a hit. You'd sell 2,000 copies. That would be gold in Detroit."
A self-described "street chameleon," Alley spent years in a cycle of hustling, working, hustling and working. But, "always rapping," he says. "Rap was the object. Jail wasn't an option. If I was making too much money hustling, I be like, I gotta quit. I need to get a job, be broke for a minute. This is going too good."
Alley Life He joined a 7-piece black rock band, Black Planet, spearheaded by former Parliament Funkadelic member Frogg Dogg, which was looking for a second rapper. Alley stepped up as the lead rapper, all the while pursuing his solo career. When he got a call from the band to perform at industry showcases in L.A. in January of 2000, he thought, "'Damned, they ain't like the hip-hop.' When I got out there they was like, 'what hip-hop? We ain't never heard none of that.' But we did like 30,000 showcases."
It was during these showcases that ALKI caught the eye of Farmclub.com CEO Jimmy Iovine (also Chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M Records) and the rapper was encouraged to upload his solo music to the company's pioneering web site (www.farmclub.com). Enthusiastic response was swift, leading to his current record deal with the innovative label. Alley Life has also since performed on the "Farmclub.com" television show, and his strong stage presence whipped the crowd into an appreciative frenzy.
The culmination of years of hard work, Alley Life features songs of struggle and triumph, boasting and confidence. Dealing with existence within a circle of snitches, haters and dishonest women, "Mouths To Feed," is a hustler's anthem that throbs with car-chase adrenaline. On "Stuck in Da Game," Alley is joined by West Coast rhyme whirlwind Kurupt, and the two trade self-affirming wordplay over a track laid back like reclined velour seats in a 64 Impala. "Kurupt was working in the studio down the hall from me," says Alley. "He came by and heard the track and was like, 'Who's that?' I told him, "that's me," and next thing he says, "let's do a track."
On "Powerful & Dangerous," swathing guitar riffs, raucous-causing chants and counter melodic keys mix into four minutes primed to mosh pits, bob heads and rage hearts with singular ease. "This ain't a game no more," raps Alley. "This is truly war." Just as powerful is "Death Ain't Gotta Name," where Alley teams up with his little brother and fellow Alley Dwella, Baby Verse, over a bed of cascading keys to recount the feelingsguilt, love, lossfound in the wake of the death of their best friend; their grandmother. "All I ever gave her was these grandkids out of wedlock," raps Alley.
"Addicted to Rhyme" encapsulates Alley's struggle to the national platform. Powered by a host of frenetic and melodic strings and Alley's endearing childlike superhero theme song, "Addicted To Rhyme" puts forth his work ethic: "I keep my mind on my mission/ My mission is to grind/ Spend my earnings in the studio, addicted to rhyme."
"I would always tell people, It's gonna have to be a new label to get me because I'm bringing all this new stuff to the table and it's going to blow up. They would have to be new and they would have to have a big push," Alley recalls, somewhat astonished at the power of his own conviction. "I would say all this crazy stuff, I mean years ago. Everybody who know me now be like, 'He used to say that shit.'"
Alley Life's music is indeed a resume. It's also a slice of life, the culmination of a dream well earned. And it's destined to give Detroit the key to hip-hop that has eluded the city for far too long.
Brothers proud of their city/Get your contract and yell that/ I been tryin' to scream for my team and I been held back/ . . . Now, you prepared for the coming of the Mo town/This wicked showdown/If you didn't, well, you know now." "Tonight"