Although Ode to the Ghetto is only Guilty Simpson's first official full-length, the Detroit rapper has been around for much longer than that, making his first appearance (to be heard much outside of the Motor City) on the 2003 Jaylib album Champion Sound, thanks in part to his friendship with J Dilla. In 2006, Guilty signed to Stones Throw and previewed his style on the label's Chrome Children compilations as well as on guest appearances on records by Phat Kat, Percee P, Dabrye, and Black Milk. These tracks gave a good taste of what the gravel-voiced MC could bring, but Ode to the Ghetto truly shows off the whole man. Which isn't to say that this is a flawless album: Guilty's got a few clunky lines in here -- and his rhymes are never especially complicated to begin with -- and things slow down considerably towards the end of the record (an exception being the closer, which features verses from three of his fellow Almighty Dreadnaughtz, and is a great, energetic way to end things). But most of the production is excellent, and the MC broaches multiple subjects, from jealous girlfriends ("She Won't Stay at Home") to corrupt cops ("Pigs") to life in the inner city ("In the Ghetto") to his own lyrical dominance ("My Moment"), with his own particular insight and creativity. The title track especially is impressive and versatile, with an excellent beat from a track off Oh No's 2007 album Dr. No's Oxperiment, "Ghetto," neither demonizing nor sugarcoating life on the streets, rather explaining it for what it is and its personal effect on the rapper ("It might not get your praise/But I love the hood where I was raised/It made me the person I am today/And a part of every word I say"). "I Must Love You," too, with its typically off-kilter Dilla beat, is about feeling confused in a relationship, juxtaposing the line "Sometimes you make me feel like a king" with "Sometimes you make me feel real low," and is sweet and brash at the same time. That's the thing about Guilty Simpson, though: he's not easily pegged or categorized. Yes, his beats are often dirty and synth-ridden (mostly courtesy of D12's Mr. Porter) and he gruffly rhymes as frequently about sex and drugs as any mainstream rapper, but he's also deliberate and thoughtful and doesn't depend on a throbbing bass drum to make his records pop. Which just means that Ode to the Ghetto is an album that demands some time to actually be listened to in order for its full impact to really be felt, but an album that resonates deeply once it sets in.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
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