Doughboyz Cashout / Photos by Kristin Adamczyk
It’s Friday night, and I’m sitting at the Westin hotel bar in Southfield, Michigan, with Payroll Giovanni and Chaz Bling of Doughboyz Cashout. Payroll and Chaz are passing a bottle of Patron beneath the bar, stealthily pouring shots while we wait on a photographer to arrive so Payroll can take us on a mini-tour of what the Doughboyz call “Real Detroit: hood ghetto shit, ballin’ grimy shit where everybody is their own boss in their mind.” The ‘boyz are celebrating Payroll’s recent album Stack Season, which is currently sitting atop iTunes’ top-selling records chart for metro Detroit. Tonight will end with his official album release party and performance at the Sting, a strip club in southwest Detroit. As he brandishes the Patron, Chaz shines a murky grin at me: “You’re gonna get faded with us tonight.”
It’s not hard to believe the night could get wild. In Detroit, Doughboyz Cashout are longstanding underground superstars. Right now, they’re the city’s most respected rap crew and a face of the Detroit streets for those outside the city. Their music videos routinely generate hundreds of thousands of views despite almost zero media visibility and, other than intermittent support from Jeezy’s CTE World label, limited engagement from the rest of the hip-hop world. They are a big deal, and they have been for a while—and not always because of rap.
“We was balling, all hoes on my nuts, and we was getting money,” Payroll told me a couple nights earlier with a shine in his eye. “Shit, Quis had a beamer in the tenth grade.” Sipping a grapefruit margarita, he added, “We all hustled different avenues.”
The collective came together as a street crew around 2006. Dyed-in-the-wool Detroiters from around the metro area, they met at Southfield High School, the west side suburban school where they were sent due to the scarcity of public high schools in the city itself. The official lineup of the crew seems unclear to even those in it, and they stumble to not forget anyone. Members include Chaz the manager, Payroll, Big Quis, Dre, HBK, and Roc. Chaz and HBK are actual brothers, and Chaz and Payroll have been tight since the first grade. When I first asked them what they were doing together as a crew before they started rapping, they all chuckled and looked around, “we was getting money” is as much as they’d divulge. “Just listen to the music,” they offered.
“We was getting money before we was rapping,” Payroll said later, over the phone. “We were into street shit,” he said, refusing to answer the question on the record except to say, “My neighborhood [Fenkell Avenue/5 Mile] was legendary for drugs, and I am a product of what I saw growing up.”
“On the day we signed to our label our manager [Chaz] and Dre caught an attempted murder charge, so that money went to paying our lawyers,” Quis explained at our first interview. They later got off. “We were on pins and needles and they were kicking in doors, so when we got signed we [knew we] were targets,” Quis said. Coincidentally, DoughBoy Roc is also “fresh out of jail” from a pistol charge that was subsequently dropped. Violence has followed these guys all their lives, but, improbably, given the viciousness they’ve experienced so close to home, the group, who are now all in their mid-20s, have remained together as a unit. When asked how they’ve avoided becoming casualties of their environment, Payroll offered a straightforward answer.
“Loyalty,” he said, stone-faced. “Loyalty from street shit.”
When the crew realized they had gained a following they started to pursue rapping as a career, utilizing grimy, primitive beats they made themselves while philosophizing about “dogging hoes” and shining in French sunglasses on their first mixtape, 2007’s We Run The City. That mixtape solidified their signature bulletproof sound of ice fucking cold rhymes and rhythms, which they expanded on future volumes of We Run The City. Many songs address the obstacles of their life in Detroit, whether that means the looming threat of beef with rivals or the feeling of cops constantly surveying their each and every move. Violence in Detroit can be particularly unpredictable: It’s clear throughout my time with Doughboyz Cashout that they feel eyes on their back, and that sense of urgency translates to their music.
“It goes through our mind every day when we step outside,” Chaz recently told me over the phone. “This is Detroit. You’ve got to [mind] your Ps and Qs wherever you go.”
Still, their sound lacks the blunt gun talk or monolithic sounds of Chicago’s drill movement, to which they are often compared, instead drawing on a funkier, more classic style. On one of their strongest tracks “Good Ass Day” HBK documents a day in Detroit typical of the ‘boyz, offering a sort of homage to Ice Cube and a glimpse into a world of weed, trips to the mall, visits to a baby mama, stops from the police, and partying. Their solo work showed members maturing, with DoughBoy Dre speaking out after his incarceration on “Love Me,” a twisted testament that tested his limits. Payroll has recently taken the mantle of the underground voice of real Detroit rap music.
Top row, left to right: Big Quis, Payroll, Brightmo Maine; Bottom: Fenkell June
Tellingly, Doughboyz Cashout don’t look to the same names most commonly associated with Detroit rap, like Slum Village or Eminem, for inspiration. They feel a closer tie to a West Side scene centered on the rapper Blade Icewood, who was part of a West Side group called the Street Lord’z that dissolved in the wake of one of the city’s most notorious feuds. Detroit breaks down by simple geography rather than complicated gang affiliation: According to Chaz, West Side gangs tend to be flashier and more flamboyant with their cash, while Eastsiders are considered to be grittier and rougher. That rivalry played out in the rap world when the Street Lord’z, who also went by the Chedda Boyz, took issue with a new group called the Eastside Chedda Boyz. An all-out street war over the name left Blade paralyzed in 2004 after a gunman sprayed his home with an AK-47, and another ambush at a car wash on Detroit’s West Side less than a year later left him dead, days after the killing of Eastside Chedda Boyz member Wipeout. The remaining group members went their separate ways after but left behind a large underground legacy and rifts that spilled over into a new generation. Doughboyz Cashout see themselves as a continuation of the Street Lord'z, which raises some obvious uncertainties about what path their careers might follow.
T.I. was the first major rapper to notice the group’s ‘hood to Heatseekers potential and reach out to them, but it was Young Jeezy who would put money up to sign them to his offshoot of Atlantic Records label Corporate Thugz Entertainment in 2013. At the time, they seemed like Detroit’s answer to Chicago’s budding industry success, but despite that cosign they failed to gain the same kind of national momentum as similar up-and-coming Midwest artists, and they are now waiting for just the right amount of hype before releasing “hard drives of music,” Payroll said. This fall they plan to release their first proper Dougboyz Cashout record on CTE, with the title G.O.D.: Greatest Outta Detroit. The group’s buzz in Detroit is as big as ever, and Payroll is clearly the breakout star. There are some issues with the ‘boyz building their audience, though.
“We was banned from doing any shows in Detroit, ‘cause of the bullshit that happened with dude,” Payroll said the first time we talked. The bullshit in question happened in the fall of 2013, when East Side rappers Icewear Vezzo and Green Guy Webbie attacked and robbed HBK of his chain outside of Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. Vezzo and Webbie simply wanted to “start bullshit that day,” HBK explained. For the most part, Doughboyz Cashout claim to keep to themselves in relation to other Detroit rappers. That said, they’re cool with ascendant star DeJ Loaf, who shot her “Try Me” video in their neighborhood, and Payroll appeared on a remix of Eminem’s hometown pride posse cut “Detroit vs. Everybody” with a smattering of local rappers.
The Icewear Vezzo incident, then, was more some familiar East Side versus West Side brawling. “Detroit looked at us as if it was our fault, they looked at us like we were trouble [with] the crowds we bring out,” Payroll said. “But people come to our shows to beef with us.” The police eventually intervened and monitored both gangs to successfully prevent an all-out neighborhood war. Still, that fight is hardly the only time the ‘boyz have left a show on less-than-positive terms.
“One show we was runnin’ through kitchens in the club in Grand Rapids,” Payroll described. “There was a war with bullets flying and shit. That’s the crowds we bring out: It’s strictly hood brawling, and shit—brawls always escalate to shooting.” Video footage shot at a hotel shows members of the Doughboyz fighting with alleged Eastern Michigan University students after a show, but Payroll claims they were just defending themselves from attackers.
“Actually,” Payroll continues, “When we go out to the clubs and come home and there was no shooting, no fighting we’re like, ‘damn that was a good night.’”
I wonder if tonight is going to be a “good night” and begin to ask myself what I’ve gotten us into. The photographer, Kristin, arrives with her friends Amber and Samantha, and we set off in a little convoy snaking through the streets of the west side. I ride along with Chaz and Payroll, taking more Patron shots in the car. We’re on our way to pick up Jerry Johnson, a local director who will document the night’s mayhem for a music video for Stack Season’s “Da Nigga.” Johnson is still in high school, but, at 17, he’s already the most in-demand local music video director, having made his name shooting the “Try Me” video for DeJ Loaf and virtually all of Doughboyz’s recent videos.
“He’s the next Hype Williams,” Payroll assures me. We scoop him and head to a spot called Toya’s near Payroll’s old stomping grounds on Fenkell Avenue. Quis and some other ‘boyz are already there, and Jerry shoots some B-roll of everyone chilling, posing, playing pool, crushing Coronas and—yes—drinking more Patron. And since none of us have ever really met or even hung out with each other before, we imbibe (heavily) to keep the conversation flowing. We discuss our respective backstories and meet some of Payroll’s friends. Everyone begins to relax in each other’s company, and the night is looking good. Around midnight, someone remembers that maybe we should get to the strip club so Payroll can perform.
We walk out, bottles in fist, and from this point on no sound decisions are made.
We head south toward the strip club, and when we arrive to the coliseum-like entrance I am immediately reminded of the urban legend that pouring tequila onto a scorpion’s back will cause it to sting itself to death. The Sting. We enter, and Payroll parts the crowd like a mafia don: The whole audience pauses from eyeing the strippers to watch the crew make its way to the VIP balcony. We settle in, but it’s too loud to carry conversation, and everyone’s already a little too far gone anyway. So I leave the area to see if I can talk with the patrons and get some thoughts on Doughboyz.
I’ve got a small notebook and pen in my hand, and I’m asking questions at a strip club: Big fucking mistake. Everyone assumes I’m a cop, and my long hair, flannel, and winter beard have outed me as undercover. People are talking shit to the bouncers and pointing at me, so when I try to head back to the VIP area a man stops me: “Hold it Donnie Brasco!”
“No it’s cool,” I assure him, explaining I’m with the Doughboyz, “I’m writing a story about them.”
“Why you askin’ people questions?” he continues, unimpressed.
“I’m writing a story. I’m a writer, goddamn it! It’s for Noisey.”
“You know, VICE?”
“What the fuck?! Vice! You with Vice?!” He has mistaken the global news organization for the moral crime-solving detective squad. He confiscates my notebook, and I slink back into the shadows to pull a poor man’s Gatsby and watch the party from afar. A stripper tries to pull me into a room, but I’m not sure if it’s for a dance or an interrogation, so I pull away and watch a man wearing wraparound sunglasses eating what appears to be mustard off the blade of a knife during a lap-dance. I move closer to get a better look, he pulls out the knife from the jar of Dijon and beckons, “Wanna do a liiiiiiine?” I back away slowly as he cackles maniacally, dripping globs of mustard all over his shirtfront like a psychedelic alligator getting a sandwich striptease.
Men are walking around with pillow cases filled with stacks of singles that can be exchanged for $100 bills in order to make it rain. They tuck the stacks between their necks and chin to hold while they retrieve more money. The singles fall to the dancers’ heels and more bags are brought in to collect all the money throughout the night. This endless exchange of cash and the ritual of rained currency paired with the mind-numbing bass and shaking asses is nauseatingly hypnotic. Finally the music switches up, and Payroll grabs the mic, going into his first song. Quis joins him, with the rest of the ‘boyz to his left. I can make out Amber and Samantha dancing to his right. The strippers are gyrating below as Payroll drops singles from the balcony, but it almost looks like he’s just going through the motions of making it rain, doing it half-heartedly as if he’s done it countless times before. But I guess that’s the point: This is any other night for them.
Watching Payroll up there it’s clear that he’s the star of the Doughboyz, the Cam to the group’s Dipset. He’s charming as he sheepishly spills more bills. Earlier he’d told me about his four-year-old son and how he spends some nights at home with his family, some nights out like this, and then some recording music. It’s interesting to picture him increasingly at odds with the very things that gave him inspiration to rap in the first place—drugs, violence, luxury—but it makes sense. Success is a new form of liability as well as a new type of incentive. With a foot in the streets, how long can you rap about what’s around your neck or wrist before it’s handcuffs?
As the group’s members have navigated their personal lives, they have increasingly realized what is truly important to them, and they have all moved to the suburbs to escape the areas they grew up in and the threats that linger. Right after the group signed their contract with CTE and news of it broke, some of the members faced kidnapping threats to their children. After describing the unpredictability of the streets a few days later, Chaz added that they’re considering a move to Atlanta or California, where it’s safer and there are more music industry opportunities.
“I don’t want anyone knowin’ where I lay my head,” Payroll said at one point, of his decision to move to the suburbs. “Man this is Detroit, and [when you get] a record deal, they think you got millions, shit.” Now Payroll raps from the perspective of a “big homie.” He explains, “I try to school [people], tell you what to do or not to do, [share] my past experiences.” And from below the balcony in the spotlights and cheap perfume sticky in the air, he’s got that sage aura of someone who has seen it all. You can’t help but be enthralled. Doughboyz Cashout party with different eyes on the world, and they party like no one else.
As the night winds down, Kristin is frantically searching through the club, unable to find her keys. But no one can do anything at the moment, and everyone—your humble correspondent included—is getting too sloppy at this point for it to make a difference. We agree to figure it out in the morning, as it’s nearing 3:30 AM and my girlfriend keeps texting and Payroll is posing with a gun in his hand for Kristin in his car. It’s time to go.
I wake up to a call from Kristin. “My car is stolen!” she says, explaining that she’s standing in front of the Sting and her SUV has vanished. Eventually we’ll discover that a valet found her keys and moved her car around the back of the club, but right now she’s wondering if the Doughboyz remember anything that might help. I call up Chaz to see what he says. Before I can say anything he cuts in, asking me the only question that really matters after a night out with the Detroit rap crew, these icons in their city. I grimace and notice yellow mustard stains on my jeans, my head pounding from a hangover. I can almost picture the glint in his eye as he asks, “Did y’all enjoy yourselves?”
Maximilian de la Garza is a writer living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter.
Kristin Adamczyk is a photographer living in Detroit. Follow her on Instagram.