The Elevated Ms. Detwah

How she combines ghetto and tech and old-school-black-movie-star glamour is ineffable. Detwah brings class and wit to our perceptions of the ghetto.

Profile by Matthew Clair

It’s her smile, I think. 

She climbs the stairs and takes the seat across from me. Here we are: the upstairs of the Connecticut Muffin in Brooklyn Heights, huddled around a small, two-person table. She has a pastry; me, a cup of earl grey tea. Pop music plays over the speakers. She takes off her pink-rimmed shades and leans into the table.

Is it OK for me to record you, I ask.

A smile and a little laugh: Of course, she says.

The rapper Dulcinea Detwah is immediately affable. It’s her smile. And her laugh too. But also it’s her talk—the way she talks, what she talks about. Her language is casual, familiar, inclusive. She doesn’t go on about the “industry” unless prompted. She asks me what it is that I’m studying in graduate school. I tell her. She seems interested enough. 

I like her right away.

The two of us chat about Brooklyn, her day job(s), the weather. It’s the end of May but it’s already hot. I’m not a hot weather person, Detwah tells me. It’s because I’m from Detroit.  

That’s probably the first thing you learn about Detwah. Whether you stumble upon her music through social media or at a show in BK, you know, right away, that this rapper reps Detroit. She grew up there, on the east side—which, she tells me, laughing, is the super hood part of the city (she clarifies: the whole city is hood but the east side is just a bit more hood than the west). She speaks easily—lovingly—about the city. Her stage name—Detwah [De' - twah]—is the French pronunciation of Detroit (Detwah’s real name is Lia McPherson).  Detroit drips from her pores. Sitting here, I’m learning just as much about the place as I am about her.

The first song I heard of Detwah’s was “Cool Kid.” At once, I felt accosted—it was fast, repetitive, loud, maybe obnoxious. And then, a few seconds in, I was hypnotized. My head bounced reflexively to the beat. I was hooked, physiologically, to the track, replaying it over and over. I listened to the rest of her debut EP, also titled Cool Kid. My reaction, track to track, was the same.

Her music reminded me, a bit, of the southern rap my brother (four years older and exponentially cooler) used to blare, windows down, on our drives home from school. We’d coast through the suburbs of Nashville, the synthesized sounds and silly lyrics of the Hot Boys and the rest of the Cash Money Millionaires leaving a trail of playful belligerence behind us.

But Detwah’s music, of course, is not Cash Money in particular or synthesized southern rap in general. Detwah’s sound is faster, the beat and the lyrics dizzyingly repetitive. Like Cash Money, the lyrics are clever, quick, and witty as hell. But Detwah’s lyrics are not just street smart; they’re also scholastic smart. They’re cosmopolitan. They belong to the 21st century. Her lyrics test boundaries and play with the fluidity and diversity of the black experience. “Cool Kid” is a prime example. Its lyrics are a veritable catalogue of the multivalent character of contemporary black subjectivity—

Black, Uppity, Ivy League

Gucci, Prada, Fades and Weave […]

Jack and Jill, Bourgeoisie,

Links, Boulé, conformity […]

Dreadlocks, Afros, lavender

Incents, weed, world traveler

Conspiracy theory, no content

Free spirit, can’t pay the rent

North Face, Patagonia, Mad-Hippie, 

Bohemian, Granola, save a tree

Detwah’s music is both club music and hip hop music. By name, it’s known as ghettotech, or Detroit mix (depending on which side of the Detroit city limits you happen to find yourself). Most people outside of Detroit know the music as ghettotech—a moniker that makes plain what the genre is all about: the Ghetto and techno music.

Ghettotech, which originated in Detroit, has infiltrated not only the Brooklyn music scene but also the capital cities of Europe—Paris, in particular. Europeans, it seems, are attracted to the heavy bass and repetitive structure of the genre, which resembles general techno or electronic dance music. Techno (which also originated in Detroit by way of Chicago) and house music have become characteristic of the European club scene. And now, through popular European DJs and producers like Avicci and David Guetta (who have collaborated with numerous American artists), these genres have woven their way back into the mainstream American music scene.

What distinguishes ghettotech from the rest is (among other things) its raunchy, gritty, often vulgar lyrics. As Detwah tells me, ghettotech is kind of hood. It’s techno meets street.

I ask Detwah if she considers her music to be “black” music, whatever such a classification might mean. She acknowledges that many of her lyrics are particular to the black experience—how many of her non-black fans would know about the Boulé, the Links and Jack and Jill?—but she doesn’t consider her music to be black music, per se. She tells me:

I am a black person, so if people want to label it as that, that’s OK. I wouldn’t label it that way […] It’s just me writing about my experiences, but my audience tends to be, like um, women mostly, nowadays gay men, and like Trustafarians. You know, the Hipster who pretends to be broke but really has a trust fund.

She’s mentioned Hipsters a few times now. A very Brooklyn thing to do. I take a sip of my tea and wonder, aloud, how she feels about Hipsters, especially the ones who consider themselves fans of her music. She laughs. Her gripe isn’t with Hipsters, in particular; they just happen to be a readily available target. Her gripe, really, is with people who latch onto “new” trends or art forms without understanding the dynamic history that has brought those art forms to the fore. As ever with a sense of humor, she says:

It’s cool to hop on something like, “Oh, that’s that new shit,” but it’s important to know the history so you don’t look like an idiot when it all comes down. You know, drink coffee all day and wear Wingtip shoes, I don’t care. Just know a little bit about the history of the music. Whether you’re a Hipster or a kid from the east side of Detroit, it’s important to know the history of ghettotech so you don’t look like an idiot and get confused about the difference between, say, house music and techno music.

Through her, I’m learning precisely what those differences are.


In mid-June, I saw Detwah perform at Trash Bar in Williamsburg. She wore an off-white dress and heels, earrings and two bracelets. Two male back-up dancers flanked her, snapping their fingers in the air and striking exaggerated poses.

We’re going to get sexy and have a party, she yells into the mic.

A maybe-gay guy in the audience shouts back: Girl, you on Instagram?

She responds in the affirmative, adding: Tag me in whatever pictures you take, but if I look fat, don’t tag me, y’all.

The audience laughs. I laugh.

Detwah’s act is a visual and aural kaleidoscope. It’s intoxicating. At Trash Bar, she performed the now-classic (to her most loyal fans) songs from her Cool Kid EP—“Cool Kid,” “Dulcinea,” and “Hot 32.” Both “Cool Kid” and “Hot 32” had the crowd live. People danced and rapped along with her. Tables shook. A glass of beer shattered on the floor.

“Hot 32,” like “Cool Kid,” seems to exemplify ghettotech. In the first line, Detwah shouts out Detroit. The song is fast-paced, silly and confrontational—a hat-tip to freestyle rap. In the middle of “Hot 32,” Detwah spits:

You tryna doubt me, don’t make me put you on blast

You tryna stop me, I’m road runnin’ your ass

You tryna box me, but boo your arms too short

You can’t outwit me, ‘cuz shit I do this for sport […] 

I’m about to go insane, like that bitch on a MARTA train.

Thought I couldn’t freestyle on you, and beat you in your own game […]

That night at Trash Bar Detwah also performed three new songs—“Paradise,” “Whitney’s Warning,” and a song tentatively titled “Work.” She’s been working on these songs with producer Alex Gale, a member of the New York-based hip hop band Dujeous.

The new songs are good, if a little different from her earlier work on Cool Kid. “Whitney’s Warning” is gritty, street, and heavy on the bass. During her performance of the song, Detwah’s face was, if you will, stank: her lips pursed, her face verging on the serious, if not the angry. But beneath it all was that characteristic wit and humor. After all, the song is an allusion to Whitney Houston, who, as Detwah told her audience, always kept it classy, not trashy.


A few days before I met her at the muffin shop in Brooklyn Heights, Detwah tweeted: Your girl just got a grant from the Jerome Foundation to study from the techno greats in Detroit!! #grateful #whoop. The rest of this summer, Detwah will be working in Detroit with electronic music producer Mike Huckaby and the producers of the Bruiser Brigade. The goal: to learn how to produce her own music.

She can’t wait to return to Detroit. While she’s enjoyed working with a couple producers in New York, she feels that their ears are different, that they aren’t quite sure of the exact sound she’s looking for. She’s been taking a few workshops on Garage Band and Ableton. And now, using the grant from the Jerome Foundation and working closely with Detroit artists and producers, she feels that she can finally leverage these online platforms.

The music industry, she tells me, is super-crazy these days. Digital technology and online media are changing the game for up-and-coming artists, altering everything from production to promotion. While digital technology has made it easier for unsigned artists to produce their own work, it has also made it harder for that work to actually be seen. Detwah puts it this way:

It’s hard to just be visible and not get caught up in the saturation […] everything is super-saturated now because it’s online and everybody’s doing it. You can get on Garage Band, upload you a song, and Bam! you’re an artist. That’s just the reality.

For now, Cool Kid is free to download online, and Detwah plans to keep it that way. The idea is to make money from performances. Still an underground rapper, she is more concerned with making herself stand out in the seemingly-infinite Internet void than she is about making a few bucks from the sale of albums.

For Detwah, there’s a silver lining—her music is not just music. It’s more than that. It’s also a style that manifests itself through (and thrives in) her live shows. Her music holds its own, certainly, but it’s her live show that captures the graduated and gritty ghettotech aesthetic that she’s becoming known for. For a fan, the consumption of Dulcinea Detwah is best carried out live. 


Detwah happened upon the rap game. None of this was planned.

Before she was Dulcinea Detwah, Lia McPherson was a dancer. True, she’s written rhymes and poetry for as long as she can remember, but dancing is her main trade—she went to school for it and moved to New York for it. In fact, it was through dance that she fell into the music industry.

As the story goes, she was choreographing a dance to the ghettotech song “Assess Jigglin” by DJ Assault (a major artist on the ghettotech scene whose infamous song “Ass-N-Titties” was parodied on the Chappelle Show) when the lyrics, after hearing them over and over, began to wear on her. The lyrics were, like much of ghettotech, equal parts misogyny and comedy. Here’s a modest taste:

I’m a Mack

I like to hit it from the back

Everywhere I go

I see the same ho

Shaking that thang

Trick bitch, let me bang

While she loved the quick-witted street elements of the song, she could do without the gratuitous vulgarity. And so, she remade the song. The lyrics above, she replaced with these:

My butt is fat

But that don’t mean you can tap

Everywhere I go

I see the same ho

On my trail

I mean I kiss but I don’t tell

The result of all of this was her first song, “If You Know What’s Good,” which also became a music video. The experience proved addicting. She returned to the studio several times to record songs, toying with the Detroit mix beats she had become fond of while growing up in the city and making them her own. She was taking the ghettotech she knew and loved and re-making parts of it for a diverse audience. She was elevating it.

Detwah’s music reminds us that the ghetto does not equal misogyny and vulgarity. While misogyny is aggrandized in the popular imagination as a meaningful descriptor of the ghetto, the ghetto is more than ass and titties and the men seeking them. Her lyrical elevation is creative exploration. But also, it’s a re-imagination of the what, exactly, the terms “ghetto” and “street” are allowed to connote.

I ask Detwah if she still dances. She nods. She still keeps up with dance through various outlets, like the Brooklyn Colored Girls Dance Team. Also, her live show background dancers are often dance friends. Often, she finds herself laughing and carrying on with her dance friends at parties in BK.


Detwah is young—maybe twenty-something or barely thirty—but there is something old-school-cool about her. A sophistication that usually comes with age. On her Tumblr, she reblogs old photographs of black artists and luminaries: Dianne Carroll, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Sidney Poitier and Eartha Kitt—there are many photographs of Eartha Kitt. Detwah refers to these artists as her inspiration. 

How she combines ghetto and tech and old-school-black-movie-star glamour is ineffable. But she does, and she does it well. She brings class and wit to our perceptions of the ghetto. More accurately: she shows the underlying worth and dignity of a ghetto ethos that is too often marginalized, degraded and oversimplified.

After her show at Trash Bar, I wait behind a small crowd that rushes the side of the stage to hug and shake hands with her. Most are friends, I think; some are friends of friends. When I reach her, we hug. She thanks me for coming. You know, I still get nervous, she whispers, a wide smile on her face.

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