The recent economic downturn has left Detroit, MI, gutted of its population and most of its hope. For the black residents, these conditions are even worse, as the perils of inner-city crime and high unemployment cause them to either leave or get a thick skin to endure their slowly crumbling environments.
Despite the desolate situation, Detroit rap has only gotten better; rappers like Jon Connor, Elzhi, FowL, Royce da 5’9”, Boldy James and Danny Brown use their trade not only to eke out a living, but also to document the hardships and struggles through their respective lenses.
In Stretch Money’s case, Detroit has been just as hard on him, but not entirely. He dropped his first album, Take Money to Make Money, in 2006 to general praise, and even managed to put his city on the map while touring with an early Rick Ross.
Coming off the heels of a string of mixtapes and singles, his sophomore release 25 Miles Per Hour features a man still distraught by his hometown’s situation, but determined to stay positive and succeed despite the odds. And although producer Nick Speed’s flawed production causes thematic bumps, the album succeeds as well.
It would be safe to say that Stretch’s conviction and love for what he does makes that possible. While he has seen a good level of accomplishment, the memories of deceased friends and his mother’s single-handed rearing keep him pushing towards whatever lies ahead. Thankfully, he has the skills to please: a jabbing, head-bobbing flow similar to the one Tupac used so passionately, a nice cache of life experiences to weave in between more declarative bars, and a solid skill in writing tight, infectious paragraph-thick hooks: “I know its hard to smile sometimes butcha gotta/step back and laugh just to make it through the drama/and I know its hard to smile sometimes but you should/even when its bad, remind yourself of something good.” It sounds way too cheery for a Detroit MC to rock, but Stretch makes it work.
In fact, the song that the hook resides on, “Smile,” is effectively the album’s anthem. As the second song on the roster, it firmly supplants the hopeful outlook on life he holds onto while not diluting the depression and frustration he vents on “Work of Art.” It displays its message through his childhood, the death of his friend, and effectively everybody, but the childhood part will resonate the most: “As long as momma ’round/I watched her use a hot plate to cook a whole dinner/and heat the house up with the oven for the whole winter.”
After that, Stretch basically gets back to business, calling the industry as well as fans out on “They Ain’t Listenin’,” rocks a powerfully proud hook on “Bury Me In My D Fitted” and, albeit in a been-here-done-that manner, spits word about the herb on “Let’s Get High.” The rhymes slightly lack on this joint, even though Stretch has a nice line about how his first high was his best, but the instrumental’s glorious. The fluttering pan flutes, caressing vocal sample and overall crinkliness gave the topic such a grander vision, like a post-Woodstock field rife with wildflowers and cannabis plants as the sun smiles down upon the red-eyed inhabitants.
None of the other instrumentals were able to reach that height, or even get close. Nick Speed definitely gave him rhyme-worthy product, but considering this is Stretch”s second studio album, there can only be room for one or two poorly mastered instrumentals… not all of them. “They Ain’t Listenin'” gets a pass because the husky drums actually make sense in that state, like they were clipped from a rare vinyl, but the amount of ambition and melancholy “Listen 2 Some Music” tries to reach is hampered greatly by the flat, grainy drums smeared across weeping strings. The same dilemma applies to “What’s Hapnin,” “Bury Me In My D Fitted,” and, to a degree, “Smile.” Come on, let this shit bang!
25 Miles Per Hour still amounts to a nicely done project based on the rhymes alone. The beats simply frustrate me due to how crucial a sophomore album can weigh on a rapper’s career. We live in an age where mixtapes can have immaculate production, one of which, Elmatic, was dropped by Detroit’s Elzhi. Stretch has the skills required to make moves, and more than enough passion to persist. As long as he takes better attention to the production in the future, there will be more reasons to smile.