While the Detroit area has long been a bastion for music and has produced many a fine rapper, the west side of the state — and Grand Rapids specifically — is getting national recognition for its hip-hop music. Much of this is due to the work of William Jackson, better known as Willie the Kid.
Willie the Kid, who grew up on the southeast side and attended Ottawa Hills High School, is the younger brother of Wu-Tang Clan affiliate LA The Darkman. LA is also the coiner of the term "Gun Rue" (hip-hop slang for Grand Rapids). However, Willie the Kid traces his roots in hip-hop further back.
"My father was an avid collector of vinyl records," he said, adding he was introduced to Run D.M.C, Public Enemy and Prince at a young age. "My father ... was one of the first people that was converting vinyl to cassette. That's really my earliest days of being introduced to music."
It wasn't till much later, when LA began collaborating with Wu-Tang that Willie the Kid decided to try writing his own music.
"I was an avid fan [of Wu-Tang]. For my brother to be hanging with them, it was immeasurable. That inspired me to take hip-hop seriously as a career."
Taking it seriously appears to have paid off well for Willie, as he has opened a few shows for Wu-Tang on its most recent tour. Having collaborated with everyone from his brother to Nas to T.I. and Gucci Mane, he continues to push higher, and keeps taking on new projects.
"I've worked with everybody," he said.
Up next for Willie will be a mixtape he's calling The Return of the Fly, which will be the third part in his Fly series.
Although he currently lives in Atlanta, Willie still visits Grand Rapids regularly and holds the whole area dear to his heart.
"I've been repping Michigan since I first put my voice on a record."
On Feb. 17, he will be back for a show at The Pyramid Scheme, sharing a bill with LA the Darkman, Bronze Nazareth and Detroit rapper Dopehead.
"Thank you to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you for the snowed-in days in the winter. Thank you for the hot summers. Thank you to all the ladies and families. Thank you for all the good food in the ghetto."