The Dayton Family

What's on My Mind?

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Though few outside the Midwest knew it -- then or now -- Detroit and the nearby city of Flint boasted a thriving hardcore rap scene in the mid-'90s, with the Dayton Family's What's on My Mind? standing out as one of the best releases to emerge from the strictly underground scene there. A number of other hardcore rap acts recorded respectable albums during this time -- among them MC Breed & DFC, Esham and his group Natas, Dice, Top Authority, Detroit's Most Wanted, and Jake the Flake -- but it was What's on My Mind? that perhaps made the biggest mark (MC Breed notwithstanding since he relocated soon after he hit with "Ain't No Future in Yo' Frontin'"). The debut album by the Dayton Family (named after Dayton Avenue, an area of Flint renown for shady activity), it sounded unlike anything coming out of New York, Los Angeles, or the South at the time. Released locally in 1993 and nationwide in 1995, it was distinctly Midwest, an almost painfully real reflection of what was going on within the dilapidated industrial cities of the so-called Rust Belt, where poverty and hopelessness marked the post-industrial generation these young men were a part of, where factory jobs were supplanted by unemployment and, consequently, drugs and drug dealing. In fact, the front-cover artwork alone reflects this: the three group members -- Shoestring, Bootleg, and Matt Hinkle -- are standing in what is essentially a pile of trash! Throughout the album they simply rage, rapping very aggressively over hard-hitting, rudimentally produced beats. And the result is stunning. There's nothing at all subtle about the Dayton Family. They tell it like it is, and if it's shocking to you...well, you've never hung out in inner-city Flint, where desperation is just a part of life and a no-way-out mentality is endemic. All of this is summed up wondefully in three of the album's best songs: "Smoke for Free" (in other words, "ass, grass, gas -- or you be walkin'"), "What's on My Mind" (you might not wanna know), and "Flint Town" (a rallying anthem driven by a "Rock Box"-like beat). A cult classic, especially throughout the Midwest, where it made quite a mark upon its release, What's on My Mind? was only the opening chapter of the Dayton Family saga, but it was a memorable one that helped put the Midwest on the rap map five years before Eminem did what he did. In other words, years before there was 8 Mile, there was Dayton Avenue.

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