A cratered cultural landscape sprawls across the North End in central Detroit. Crumbling Victorians line the streets dotted with shuttered businesses. This formerly grand neighborhood sits dormant along a broad boulevard cutting through downtown. The neighborhood howls in protest to its neglect, but its cries are muzzled by the plywood barricades. Oakland Avenue, once a mecca for African-American music, served an entertainment hub for this thriving, predominantly black, middle-class neighborhood. Venues like Phelps Lounge and Apex Bar featured acts like Tina Turner, BB Kind, Al Green, Miles Davis, and George Clinton in their heyday. The demise of Detroit’s auto industry decimated this neighborhood. It sits smoldering and barren only 5 miles from the center of downtown Detroit.
Bryce Detroit is a native Detroiter spearheading multiple cultural and community revitalization projects in the North End. He’s also the Music and Cultural Curator of Oakland North End (O.N.E) Mile Project. He is a hip-hop artist and music producer who is devoted to building a resurgent cultural narrative in Detroit. Bryce’s philosophy is rooted in the desire to honor the legacy of native artists and institutions and create new opportunities for this undervalued community. He is intent on self-sufficiency. He is pursuing a new economic model that can provide for the needs of the community, by harnessing its latent creative potential.
In 2014, Bryce partnered with a team of designers to implement the O.N.E Mile Project. They reclaimed an abandoned mechanic’s shop in the middle of North End and built The Mothership. The Mothership is a sculptural totem sheathed in gold vinyl and dichroic film that breathes life into the gray canvas of the surrounding terrain. It’s also an interstellar structure that acts as a beacon to broadcast a call for renewal in this community. Bryce and his team have specifically identified the legacy of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic as the reference in their design. This legacy still vibrates through the community. New movements have emerged that draw upon the musical framework of funk, indigenous African influences and the cross-cultural ethos of modern hip-hop. The O.N.E. Mile Project was created to house The Mothership, and to serve as an activation and call to worship at a communal alter of shared retro-futurism. O.N.E. Mile is solidly anchored in the geography of the North End, but Bryce intends it to act as an awakening for the large African-American community in Detroit.
I met up with Bryce in an empty lot across the street from O.N.E. Mile. We sat on rusty lawn chairs teetering over ruptured asphalt, and surrounded by tall crabgrass. The sound of jazz-infused techno layered on African tribal drumming drifted over from the street. More cars pulled up to park along this desolate section of Oakland Avenue. A party is starting to take shape. Bryce is the organizer and host of the event, but he is kind enough to take a few minutes to talk with me about his endeavors.
RA: So tell me how this all came about.
BD: O.N.E. Mile is a project that was born in 2014 out of the coming together of members of the North End community. It was represented by the Oakland Avenue Artists Coalition and a team of architects, Jean Louis Farges and Anya Sirota, from outside this community. Our mission is to re-activate the creative identity of our members, so that we can use those skills to re-imagine and co-create this community.
RA: What’s the importance of doing that in this neighborhood?
BD: Oakland Avenue represents a major artery in the historic Paradise Valley, which was the seat of our 20th century African-American and indigenous music industry. Aretha Franklin, Smoky Robinson, John Lee Hooker… he recorded his first single on the second floor of Apex bar, which is right across the street. Up the road we had Phelps Lounge — Tina Turner, BB Kind, Al Green, and Miles Davis. George Clinton became Dr. Funkenstein on the stage at Phelps Lounge. An entire cultural narrative and history was formed right here.
I chose to uplift this cultural legacy, particularly the narrative of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic because of the huge impact it still has. A resurgence of that original funk sound in the 80’s was cultivated by artists like Dr. Dre and directly gave rise to West Coast rap music. Eminem, for example. Eminem’s career success was only possible because of Dr. Dre’s success as a producer with Death Row Records, which was based on sampling Detroit music. That’s a real thing. You all need to know that the shit that has deeply impacted you and the guys that created that sound… they’re actually still here.
RA: What are the commercial aspirations for O.N.E. Mile?
BD: This is a unique approach that we are practicing in building new economies. The conventional approach is starting from the market down… you know, what’s gonna sell, period. But this is: what are the needs? What are the cultural needs? What are the infrastructural needs? Alright, create that, and let that reveal the market and let that become the new model.