Album Review — 22 December 2009

By Fawn Renee

Only champions can turn tragedy into triumph.  Truth be told, Hip-Hop almost lost Detroit when producer extraordinaire and Slum Village founder James “J Dilla” Yancey lost his battle with lupus in 2006. Dilla was the epicenter for soulful Hip-Hop, and his body of work, inside and outside of Slum Village, is a reflection of that. Slum Village would suffer another tragic loss with the untimely death of group member Baatin earlier this year, leaving T3 alone to carry the torch.

Not accepting defeat, T3 has teamed up with Illa J, the younger brother of the late J Dilla, to release their latest EP Villa Manifesto. The EP, which precedes the forthcoming full-length studio album of the same name, features verses from Baatin, before his passing, and is supported by some of Hip-Hop’s most influential producers, including Black Milk, Karriem Riggins, and Pete Rock.

The album’s “Starter” sets the tone for the remainder of the album as the trio (and occasional quartet) boldly spits, “We’re still fantastic. Everything we spit is classic.” Lucky for them, the remainder of the album almost supports their claim. The 6-track teaser is overflowing with the grit, authenticity, and lyrical bestiality absent from much of their mainstream work over the past few years; thanks partially to the contribution of honorary crew member Elzhi, who ferociously murders the album’s second track, aptly titled “Nitro,” which features production from Barak records’  Young RJ. The beauty of this track is the simultaneous growth and anchorage that’s found within the lyricism of both Elzhi and Young RJ.

“Da Night” is one of the hardest songs on the album, unearthing the hunger present on 96’s Fantastic, Vol. 1. While Elzhi continues to showcase his lyrical abilities, listeners get a taste of the familiar tag-team rhyming style of Baatin and T3, which still sounds fluid and effortless despite the break-ups and make-ups.  Similarly, long-time Dilla collaborator Madlib does his part to add to the cohesiveness of the group with the syncopated, retro backdrop on “Money Right,” which borrows from Strong Arm Steady’s “Best of Times”.

The EP closes out with “Cloud 9,” a track for the ladies (got to have one of those). Slum Village is known for their uncanny ability to cater to the introspective female listener, and with the help of Marsha Ambrosius, this track does just that. While this track has been floating around for a few months, it’s still refreshing to hear, thanks in large part to its heavy Dilla influence on the production end and Baatin’s unique flow and charisma.

That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger and Slum Village has personified this with their latest offering. With the same grit, compassion, and fervor that they have become so widely respected for, Slum Village are on their way to greatness, impartial to roadblocks, with the memories of Dilla and Baatin as their fuel.

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