’m a Detroit n****, so to me it’s just some everyday shit.”
Phat Kat so thoroughly embodies the Motor City, he can essentially be summed up in the above vitriolic declaration. Rarely does a track go by on Carte Blanche that he isn’t heard boasting about his midwestern roots or Detroit lifestyle. But where other artists like Eminem and Kid Rock scream their love for the Old English D, Phat Kat personifies it.
On Carte Blanche, the longtime ruler of underground Detroit hip-hop doesn’t flow about the city, he writes it. You can see the J. Dilla produced “Nasty Ain’t It” rising off the 8 Mile concrete. You feel the humid “Vessels” hovering around neighborhood porches in Southwest Detroit. You can hear “Cold Steel” echoing through the abandoned Packard Plant. Carte Blanche wasn’t born of Detroit, it is Detroit.
In a recent interview, Phat Kat said of the debut single “Cold Steel,” “When I first heard the song ‘Cold Steel’ it just made me think about guns … We just wanted to talk about what people do when they have guns and the effect they have on society.” And he does. Phat Kat’s enraged cries about widespread gun use are felt by anyone who’s lived in or around Detroit. The song can easily be applied to the city’s failing economy, as well: the steel might be cold on his hip, but it’s also chilled on the slowing Ford assembly lines. Similarly, “Game Time”’s ratcheting, socket wrench production brags about the city’s automotive history. But, when Phat Kat spits, “Out of town in Houston” the beat turns from a praise of Detroit’s past to a mockery of its bleak future.
Carte Blanche doesn’t just focus on these unfortunate aspects of Detroit, though. Phat Kat’s love for the city seeps through tracks as he celebrates its eclectic history. The Black Milk produced “Cash Em Out” rides a chipmunked, soul sample that’s nostalgic for the days of Motown and Detroit supremacy. And even in the face of these depressing issues, Phat Kat always keeps his head up: “On the Detroit streets is where you might find me.”
It’s this—possibly misguided—optimism that keeps Detroit alive and Carte Blanche from being an apocalyptic vision of a city in disrepair. Phat Kat isn’t making any excuses for his city. And as foreboding as it might sound, he managed to capture the smoggy haze that hangs over Detroit during rush hour. A love song, then, but not an elegy.