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Black Lagoon’s Kaingoe and E-Money are sipping vodka and cranberry juice, their eyes and hands fixed on a cutthroat game of NBA Live 2004. E-Money’s Miami Heat are kicking ass on Kaingoe’s San Antonio Spurs; the score is 68-50 late in the third.
“Check up, Kain,” E-Money yells as Shaq throws down a monstrous dunk over Tim Duncan.
Doc Soos is arm-chairing it in a corner of the room. He pipes in with, “Man he’s taking all my moves! Everything E learned, he learned it from me.”
“You always talking that shit, Soos,” Cadillac Dale chirps from the opposite corner. “You know you ain’t showed nobody nothin’.”
“E knows I’m telling the truth,” Soos adds.
We’re in E-Money’s sparsely furnished East Ferry townhouse on a chilly November evening. And these young Black Lagoon guys — E-Money, Kaingoe, Cadillac Dale (who’s really a guest MC) and Doc Soos (group members Empact and Amadeus are absent today) are Detroit’s latest local hip-hop hit-makers.
Their first single, the dancehallish “Star,” off their third self-released disc, The Pimp Bones LP, has been getting much love on WJLB-FM (97.9) and WDTJ-FM (105.9), and the album’s been flying off local record store shelves since September.
Black Lagoon manager Ben Scott steps in and tells the guys it’s time for the games to end, so Kaingoe adds more vodka to his drink, E-money hits pause on the PS2, and the whole group scoots closer together.
The crew talks local music politics, fame and how the “Star” single — which the group hopes to use as a launch pad to proverbial star status — came about in minutes.
“I went to church one Sunday, came home, went into my room and made the beat and the hook,” Soos says, proudly. “I purified myself that day. Damnit, I got saved.”
Before anybody can call Black Lagoon the next big thing, remember: We’ve seen locals get mad radio spins and vanish soon after. C.O.I.’s 1998 summer hit “Cash Rules” and Drunken Master’s 2001 strike “50 Players Deep” are two examples. Every few years a scorching local hip-hop single is planted in the clubs, fished up by radio and forced down our throats 50 times a day.
And after opening for heaps of mainstream acts and appearing on every local cable access channel, the “about to explode” hip-hop act swears they won’t become some here-today-gone-today afterthought left to flip burgers at your local coney island.
“We ain’t no one-hit wonders,” Soos says. “These other cats be doing songs with no market value; that ain’t us. At one point we even gave out 20,000 mixtapes for free just trying to get a buzz.”
“That happens a lot because the main objective of these other crews is to get a song on the radio,” Scott says. “That’s not our main agenda, we’re here to sell records. We grind the streets and stay in front of everybody’s face.”
Scott has been managing the group for five years. And he looks the part too — his polo shirt, khakis and attitude gives him the aura of a cocky sports agent. Scott says he didn’t actually hawk the record to radio stations. He says they came to him: “It was hot in the streets and they picked it up.”
Soos is Lagoon’s primary producer (he’s also well-known locally), most outspoken member and Black Lagoon’s raison d’être. And Soos’ presence is commanding; at 6-foot-3, the hefty, sleepy-eyed dude could be aiding the Lions on defense.
“Soos was always the central figure because me and Kain were a part of a group called 3rd Kind,” E says. “Empact and Amadeus were in different crews and Soos was doing everybody’s beats.”
Soos: “Man we use to hang at the Hip-Hop Shop and all them places; we been building relationships and hustling for a long time.”
“We were out there but we didn’t have no direction at first,” Kaingoe adds. He talks like he raps, hard and blunt. “We were just taking beats and rapping over them.”
“Basically the first two albums [1999’s 313rd and 2003’s Keep it Gangster] we were just venting and keeping it underground. This time around there’s something for everybody,” E says.
Scott explains Black Lagoon’s growth and how it’s reflected on The Pimp Bones LP. “During those years we took the best of everybody and got an understanding of what it takes to make a quality product. There were growing pains, but we were still learning. We had to reconstruct how we made beats, hooks and lines. It was a maturation process that has made this album what it is.”
Even with the success of Em’, D12 and Slum Village, Detroit’s hip-hop scene has long been seen as suspect, at least through the eyes of local artists. A consistent underground legion of rhyme slayers has always assumed that to hit it nationally, you have to go outside of Michigan, just like Em’ did. Why? Because Detroit doesn’t often support its own, particularly in hip hop.
Black Lagoon disagrees.
“If you can’t mash in your hometown, how can you make it in any other city?” E says. “Detroit’s the hardest market to get for a local artist, but if you can get Detroit, you can get the world.”
Kaingoe reasons that ever since Motown left the city, Detroit music has left much to be desired. But the level of backbiting among musicians has gotten out of control.
“So the last 30 years we’ve been struggling to make good music, and that’s why Detroiters have been so critical, the music’s been wack. It doesn’t matter where you take it, if it’s wack, they goin’ say it’s wack too.”
Scott admits that other local emcees haven’t been so kind to Black Lagoon.
“Over the years, we struggled just to be recognized as a group,” Scott says. “I don’t want to say no names, but all these groups out here acted like Black Lagoon didn’t exist. I don’t know if they felt threatened or what.”
Soos jumps in. “We don’t sound like every group and we’re not like every group. We stay humble, you can touch us, we give other emcees advice and stay real.”
What’s next? Though the local radio hit has sparked interest from major labels (Sony, Def Jam), the Black Lagoon guys want to expand regionally.
“We got a handful of record companies looking at us to see what kind of buzz we can get and what kind of numbers we can do,” Scott says. “They are not just giving away contracts anymore.”
“We goin’ get ours,” Soos adds emphatically, as if that is for him the be-all, end-all. “My 10-year-old cousin came to me crying last week because she had to find out through someone else I was a part of Black Lagoon. Old folks have stopped us and told us how much they like the record. If cats think all we got is one hot song, then they ’bout to get shook, quick.”
Kahn Davison is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.