Champtown’s New Documentary Uncovers The Origins Of Detroit’s Hip-Hop Scene

January 2, 2019

Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!

Brian “Champtown” Harmon’s new documentary takes viewers on a journey through the early history of hip-hop in Detroit.

Champtown is here to make sure The Untold Story of Detroit Hip-Hop is seen and heard. While the majority of the world may believe Eminem’s journey to be what was revealed on the big screen in 8 Mile, it was actually quite the contrary.

Through the documentary, real name Brian Harmon reveals the truths and realities of how hip-hop came to fruition in Detroit, along with the careers of some of today’s biggest legends.

During his career, Champ has helped out the careers of Eminem and Kid Rock, while working with artists like Public Enemy, Ice-T, Kool Keith, the legend himself, Prince.

In addition, Champ rightfully and humbly gives himself credit for being one of the founding fathers of Detroit hip-hop.

AllHipHop: Please tell us what gave you the idea to do this documentary in the first place?

Champtown: The idea to do this documentary was sChamptowntrictly legacy. I feel that Detroit legacy was being left behind because the powers that be, was trying to start hip-hop history with Eminem. Which is no problem, Eminem is a great wordsmith without any question, without any doubt, but Eminem was on my label for 5 years before Dr. Dre had him. And hip-hop was going on in Detroit another 20 years before that.

Every time you see something about hip-hop, it started at 8 Mile, it started a hip-hop shop — it’s like no. It started back in the early ’80s with myself, the black man, ESHAM, and a few more Detroit legends were putting out records probably when Eminem was probably still living in Kansas City, Missouri.

Before he even came to Detroit, we were doing major things from Awesome Dre, A.W.O.L., K-Stone, Motsi Ski, Detroit’s Most Wanted, Smiley. It was tons of Detroit artists and these artists were signed to major independent labels like Priority and Ichiban.

The whole thing to make the documentary wasn’t to point to a finger or to be upset at anyone, it was just to make sure it was a balance. Because with them falsifying things, like saying there are trailer parks in Detroit, everyone was thinking that around the world. Everywhere I went, they was asking me which trailer park I was from. If I’m touring with Public Enemy, they’d ask “what trailer park you live in?”

“There are no trailer parks in the city of Detroit. There hasn’t been none since maybe the ’60s. This whole trailer park imaging is probably cool for the publicists to make for the Eminem’s and the Kid Rock’s, but it hurts us.”

It hurts the legacy of the city for them to portray that they were from worse conditions than us.

AllHipHop: What was there if there weren’t trailer parks?

Champtown: It was a fairytale that never existed. [laughs] When I met Kid Rock, his father owned the biggest Ford dealership in the U.S.A., and he was sitting on 7 acres of land in a mansion. Real.

AllHipHop: How did you manage to get Chuck to do the narration?

Champtown: Chuck D has been my mentor since I was a kid, roughly 15 or 16. I just knew if I was gonna do a documentary, I needed a voice that was strong to speak for the unheard. ‘Cause this is the language of the unheard, so I had to make sure it was somebody who could speak for us. A lot of people don’t know that Chuck’s grandparents live in Detroit, so he’s always hung out in Detroit a lot. I just know the love he had for Detroit hip-hop by always taking Awesome Dre on tour, always taking Ant-Live on tour, always taking me on tour, MC Breed, RIP to him. He’s from Flint, 45 minutes from Detroit.

Chuck always knew our odds were real, real hard because there was no labels there. He always played his part: let me take them on tour, let the world hear Detroit, lemme make sure Detroit got that voice after Motown. So I called him like, “Hey, I’m doing a documentary, I need you to do this.” He was like, “Yeah, you’re the only person that could do this, so yeah.” It was simple, luckily.

AllHipHop: What was the hardest part of gathering so many artists?

Champtown: It wasn’t really hard because of the respect level. Everyone that’s really been doing it for a long time, know everybody. There was really no hardcore beefs except for me and ESHAM.

We were former best friends and fell out as kids, and had a 20-year war. Me and ICP probably had… you know, little internal things. But for the most part, everybody in Detroit hip-hop loves each other. The real scene loves each other.

I invited Kid Rock to do the documentary, I invited Eminem to do the documentary, I invited ICP to do the documentary. ICP did it. Everybody was invited to tell their sides of the story to make it a very well-balanced thing.

AllHipHop: Did Eminem say why?

Champtown: No. I didn’t care if Eminem and Kid Rock did it because you have to deal with the publicists. When you have to deal with the publicists, we gonna have to tell the lies that’s been told already for the last 20 years.

“I have video footage showing the first time I took Eminem to a real studio in 1992, which was Prince’s Paisley Park studio. This is in the movie.”

We have old video footage of Kid Rock first coming in the hood with us, and showing him the ropes and stuff like that.

People wanna see the real stuff. They don’t wanna see what 5 people in the boardroom sitting around saying “this is what we gonna say, this is how we gonna sell this guy.” That’s cool for business, but for the hip-hop culture.

AllHipHop: The documentary goes into a number of subjects, like Eminem and Proof, and their role in the Detroit hip-hop scene. How did you know both of them?

Champtown: I met Eminem through a guy named Shortcut. Shortcut used to be a dancer that danced for Basement Productions. Eminem was in a crew called Basement Productions. All white guys, two Jewish brothers, Buttafingaz and Manix, and Chaos Kid, who committed suicide because Eminem wouldn’t call him back.

AllHipHop: Really?

Champtown: Eminem, yes. They were on Basement Productions, they were on my label. Proof would watch us when we were doing Detroit hip-hop in the early stages. Me and ESHAM would battle hundreds and hundreds of people. I mean, we were 6th graders with high school IDs. We battled everybody in middle school, in high school, and then anybody from college that wanted to get it as well.

Proof was one of those in the crowd watching us, that’s how he learned his fierceful battling, from watching me and ESHAM. When I hooked with Basement Productions, Proof was hanging around Eminem.

Me and Proof’s mother were extremely close as well, ‘cause I was always the older soul. I always communicated with older people better than I did people my age. The Beast Crew were a bunch of guys 10 to 15 years older than me. That’s the crew I come from, with Blackman, Mr. Glide, T-Bone Jones, Ben “Hot Mix” Koyton.

AllHipHop: Do you have any plans to release materials you have on Eminem at any point?

Champtown: There’s a song me, Eminem, and Chaos Kid did called “What Color Is Soul.” You hear it in the movie. You hear it on the soundtrack. Not only will it have a lot of dope Detroit artists, it’s gonna have 3 hours of never-before-seen footage that’s not even in the movie, on the DVD. The soundtrack and the DVD are coming next year, by springtime.

AllHipHop: Tell us about your history in Detroit.

Champtown: I am one of the founding fathers. I have been doing this since I was 8 years old. There was only a couple people doing it when I was doing it. My man Shark G, MC Word and a brother named Dale was kinda like the only rappers when I started.

Then ESHAM, his brother, and his cousin called the Def Crew. This is on the East Side. I speak highly that I’m a founding father on the East Side of Detroit. On the westside it was WESS chill and Jack Frost.

“By the time I was 10, me and ESHAM were doing crazy shows, selling out Holidays Hall and V Odyssey Hall. Hundreds would pack in front of Von Steuben Middle School and watch me and ESHAM destroy hundreds of MCs daily for years. It’s been a long road.”

It’s great to see where Detroit is going now from us had to fight for 15 to 20 years, just to get on the radio. Now, they’re playing the Icewear Vezzo, Sada Baby, a hot artist by the name of Verdict, some young kids called Saved By The Beats. It’s just good to see that at least the scars we got and the bullets we took, not literal bullets,

AllHipHop: I will say I’ve been hearing Sada Baby’s name a lot in LA.

Champtown: It’s catching fire. We broke a wall down for them guys. I see those guys’ videos or hear them when I go to a basketball game or a concert, the DJs play them on the breaks and the crowd go crazy. That’s all we ever wanted back in the day, but I still feel we got that through them.

AllHipHop: When did your professional recording career actually start?

Champtown: 8 years old. I went right in the studio. Like I said, I was doing shows, selling out halls at 10 years old. We didn’t have record labels. From the age of 10 to 15, everybody was just trying to figure it out. It wasn’t mixtapes. What we did was go to the studio and record real records, and just gave them out.

Those records were just as big as the LL Cool J or Run DMC records in our neighborhood.

You hear the drug dealers like White Boy Rick, Steve Rousell, and all these drug lords playing our stuff like we were LL Cool J.

We were putting out records ‘cause we didn’t know how to go about doing it. Me and ESHAM were in high school with our own record companies. We were actually pricing up records, selling thousands and thousands of copies, picking up thousands and thousands of dollars before we even graduated from high school. We were running record labels. Real talk.

AllHipHop: How did you come to be associated with Prince?

Champtown: Harassing him. [laughs] When I was 16 or 17, I just started sending him crazy letters in the mail for 4 or 5 months, telling him “listen to me, I wanna sign to your label.” ‘Cause I looked at it like, Paisley Park was distributed through Warner Bros, that was 12 hours from Detroit. They made it clear to me “we ain’t doing rap now, thanks for asking. Thanks for this, thanks for that.”

“I just kept being persistent, just harassing them, calling them, prank calling the studio.”

Then one day, the vice president of his company, Alan Leeds, sent me a letter “Prince OK’ed you to come and record.” I let him know I was sampling his music. They were like “I don’t know about this,” so I just did it anyway. He liked it. He was like “you come and record here forever, for free. You don’t have to pay for studio time.”

He didn’t really understand rap, but he understood how I hustled and got to him, at 17 years old.

I didn’t see him and start talking to him until I was 19. He laid in the back for a couple years, and then me and him started sharing the same engineer, Tom Tucker, that mixed “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” and a lot of his other hit records.

That was my engineer until he passed away. Me and Prince would share the same engineer over the next 10 years.

Everything I recorded from my career basically that was released, was all done out of Paisley Park studio.

AllHipHop: What was your role in developing the early Detroit hip-hop scene?

Champtown: My role was just to be different. I was always out there green hair, green afro, joker hat. I was just trying to get known. ESHAM had his little Devil worship type thing he was doing. ICP came with the clown makeup, which I thought was a spinoff of my joker man image.

I was Straight Jacket Records, they were Psychopathic records, sounds kind of close. I was first. Not a diss but… I just think in the worlds of LL Cool J, in the worlds of KRS-One, everything has been done already, what can I do to stand out? I just wore a joker hat and called myself a joker man. I’m crazy, I’m running around with a straight jacket.

“That same crazy portrayal that you see Eminem doing for 15 years of his career — ‘cause I put Eminem in his first music video called “Do-Da-Dippity. We were in a crazy home.”

The “My Name Is” with him in a straight jacket and all those videos, he just spinned it off. It was just trying to be different at all times.

I look back at it, did I have to do all that? Did I have to dye my hair green and have a big green afro? Did I have to wear a joker hat? No, but I guess it’s the creative thing of it. You wanna be creative and s##t.

AllHipHop: Being instrumental in the careers of Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, etc., can you tell us about that.

Champtown: It’s a situation where if I wanted to break it down the correct way, the Blackman brought Kid Rock into the hood with us. The Blackman doesn’t get his props. He was a DJ touring with LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Marley Marl, like in ‘84-85. He was on tour with major rap acts.

The Blackman he brought Kid Rock into the fold, ESHAM brought ICP into the fold, and I allowed Eminem to come into the hood. You gotta keep in mind in Detroit, white rappers in the hood, it was against the law. I caught a lot of flack for hanging with Eminem. I caught a lot of flack hanging with Kid Rock, from the hood. But it was a situation where I grew up with a bunch of professional hitman for hire.

They were a hitman organization called Best Friends, they killed over 150 people. That’s what they wanted to do. I wanted to do music, so I had to bump heads with my boys, which was them, telling me “man, them white boys gon’ come here, they gonna learn everything from ya’ll, and they gonna be out.”

It kind of happened like that, unfortunately. But when we were doing it, I looked at it like “look, they got equipment, they wanna come down here, they wanna do the music with us, I’m rolling with them. I’m not selling dope, I’m not killing people, I wanna do music. If Kid Rock and Eminem wanna come down here, they rolling with me and ya’ll don’t f##k with them.” And they didn’t. They didn’t mess with them.

They still joke and tease me like “we told you what they was gonna do,” but it don’t change who I am. I always had a heart.

“Some say we are the inventors of white boy rap. Kid Rock was signed to Jive RCA back in ‘87, before Vanilla Ice came out. But Vanilla Ice’s record dropped before him, so that kind of shattered a lot of the Kid Rock dreams.”

Because Jive was putting a lot of money behind him. They was really going to push him, pairing him up with Marc Simpson.

They had major plans for Kid Rock but when Vanilla Ice dropped, it was like [ugh]. But the smartest thing Kid Rock did was pick up a guitar and become a rock star. His name is Kid Rock, it’s not Kid Rap, so his destiny was written for him early.

AllHipHop: What was the hardest part about making this documentary?

Champtown: The hardest part for me was being too close to the material because I love all the legends. I gotta have this part in, I gotta have this part in it, aw man we can’t take that part out we gotta have this part in so my daughter, which was 20 at the time, she edited it, the whole movie and that was a great thing because she brought balance.

Very unbiased, not attached to it, made the screenplay and the storyline flow properly, and I was very happy with that. Now with the DVD version, I get to put out all those interviews that I thought was a must. The problem was, those crazy great interviews, they just didn’t match into the storyline, ‘cause that was everybody’s own personal world of what they did so I have the pleasure of putting that on the DVD.

AllHipHop: What are you most excited about?

Champtown: Finally, the world gets to hear another side, the truth. Not knocking any artists, ‘cause you gotta what you gotta do to sell records. It’s marketing, it’s a business, but unfortunately, there is no trailer parks in Detroit. That whole fairytale is over now.

It took years for it to come out finally but it’s a good thing that the world gets to know Awesome Dre, they get to know Detroit’s Most Wanted, they get to know who I am, they get to know who the Blackman is now. They get to know that Detroit Most Wanted’S grandfather was Jackie Wilson. They get to know that Proof and J Dilla fathers were both Motown musicians so they get to know the real story.

Because if you are sitting around here for the last 20 years thinking that Eminem was the Rocky Balboa of this city, just came into this all dominant black city and conquered every single black rapper to become the biggest rapper in the world, that’s not true.

Eminem is one of the greatest wordsmiths in the history of rap music, but the killer part is, there is about 5 or 6 Detroit artists that’s just as good as him, but you never heard about. That would destroy Eminem on a stage in any given time of day, unfortunately.

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