Guilty Simpson chooses his producer collaborators carefully. The last time we saw the gruff-voiced Motor City MC on the solo tip was 2010’s OJ Simpson, a dense full-length of murky shit talk amplified by Madlib’s idiosyncratic low-end jazz and obscure vocal samples. Last year, Guilty indulged his criminal side as one-third of Random Axe whose beats were shaded with drugged-out electro by Detroit cohort Black Milk. Both projects had fairly mixed reviews, but no critic can deny the immense amount of talent behind the boards on both go-rounds. Simpson has the added benefit of working in a city under the perpetual (but, benevolent) shadow of J Dilla who, even in death, seems to positively affect Detroit rappers through spiritual osmosis alone.
Which brings us to The Mission EP, the brief collaboration between Guilty Simpson and Eric Lau, a London-based DJ/producer whose beat resume includes lofty notables like Lupe Fiasco, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Tanya Morgan. The digital version of the release is seven tracks long (including intro and outro instrumentals), which is just enough time for listeners to realize the composer is indeed heavily influenced by the aforementioned Detroit legend. (But, then again, who isn’t these days?)
On The Mission, Lau provides room for Simpson to stretch out, lyrically, providing sharply burnished kicks and snares and an airy keyboard aesthetic. It’s far different from what either Madlib or Black Milk provided sonically and Guilty takes to it with lighter rhyme fare, speaking on reciprocal accusations by the opposite sex (“He Said, She Said”) and standard rap life musings (“The Mission”). He even turns back the clock on the reminiscent “Yesterday,” a jazz-inflected tune about his youth in the D, and rhymes about keeping his head above water in an increasingly competitive hip-hop world on the R&B-dusted “Can You Feel It?” (featuring singer Fatima).
The major knock on Guilty Simpson has been that at times dude appears to lose focus (interest, even) on the beat at hand. A bored monotonic flow is a chief complaint of critics. On The Mission, Lau’s lighter sonic choices puts the rapper’s low register in the forefront, leaving no dense sonic space for GS to fold himself in to. This serves the MC greatly and actually complements his blue collar, conversational style. I still prefer the darker colorings of the Madlib collaboration, OJ Simpson, but it’s refreshing to see the rapper coexist with Lau, a beatmaker whose natural sensibilities favor wide open space.