There are few entities that can repeatedly compromise compositional integrity with a revolving door of contributors and still continue to perform at a high level. Detroit icons Slum Village, who’ve had more than their fair share of internal turmoil, seem to have figured things out though. Their new mixtape with Mick Boogie, The Dirty Slums, is irrefutable proof that these cats are on some John Calipari shit. No matter who’s on the team they’re winning with some serious quality Hip-Hop.
Would it be totally awesome if in some alternate universe the best producer the group ever had, J Dilla, was still alive to work with the best emcee the group ever had, Elzhi, a cyborg of a lyricist possessing all the best qualities of every backpacker’s favorite battle rappers? Unfortunately, Dilla’s been dead for six years now and Elzhi left the group under acrimonious circumstances due to beef with T3, so fans looking to hear the fruits of that creative union are limited to the joint on Jay Dee’s Welcome to Detroit and a couple on SV’s 2002 LP Trinity. Nevertheless, Slum Village is putting out some of their best shit ever without the benefit of having Dilla or Elzhi as members. Yeah I said it.
Dirty Slums isn’t as warm and lush melodically as SV’s earlier work but the signature Detroit thump they pioneered is maintained throughout. “Turnin’ Me Off” feat. De La Soul is a valiant effort at a sequel to ATCQ’s “Bonita Applebum” that’s less light-hearted; a little dirtier, dare I say it, a little slummier even. Plugs 1 and 2 turn in excellent verses as usual telling the tale of chicks in the industry who got carried away with the nose candy and demean themselves just for the sake of maintaining the illusion of a lifestyle. “Special” features Phonte who unfortunately isn’t rapping, which is a shame because his Little Brother cohort Big Pooh has got bars on both “Fresh” and “They Say Remix,” a cut in which he and fellow second fiddle Phife Dawg show and prove that they can shine individually without having to be in their respective group elements. Initially, most heads will be a little incredulous about Phonte not contributing verses, especially with what appears to be on paper the weakest iteration of Slum Village but it’ll be hard to front for long, Rapper Big Pooh really did his thing on the mic. Given Pooh’s extensive history of being the weakest link, any project on which Big Pooh had the best verses was Frisbee material. quicker than a disc golf or Ultimate tournament. Not so here. Presumably dude finally got mad enough to channel that anger and the results are stunning. This doesn’t make up for all the songs he ruined with Little Brother, but fans should definitely be on the lookout for his future material.
Notwithstanding one glaring exception, *coughs* I’m looking at you Illa J, the plethora of emcees on The Dirty Slums came ready to do work. Kanye’s protege, Big Sean, and the Detroit ‘it’ boy of the past few years, emcee/producer Black Milk, go bonkers on “Just The Past”. “Da Essence” featuring Vice is a sick synth and string-driven head nodder that off the beat alone deserves many repeat listens. Focus and Justus League affiliate Joe Scudda hop on the standout track “The Hard Way” with T3 and do the funky swinging guitars and shuffling bass kicks justice with arrogant asshole rhymes about what historically has been SV’s favorite subject matter, how much flyer they are than you and how many “chickens in the coupe” they possess. “They Don’t Know” samples Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go” and Vice, Illa J, J Ivy and T3 make the obligatory ‘deep’ song about the street life, but it works given the dopeness of the aforementioned Stevie sample. It’s hard for even the wackest rappers to fuck up a beat like that, not that Illa J didn’t try his best. Jay Dee and Baatin, R.I.P. To them both, were never any rapper’s favorite rappers. However, Illa J, Dilla’s brother who’s somehow been grandfathered into the SV lineup by circumstance and DNA, is the absolute worst emcee out of anybody to be considered a member of Slum Village. Among the rotating door of Hex Murda and Dilla affiliates to grace an SV track he’s the least lyrically advanced for a number of reasons, chiefly it’s as if he’s intentionally trying to be borderline wack as much as humanly possible, which is the only significant flaw with The Dirty Slums.
If Slum Village aren’t the flag bearers for the melodic vibe anymore then who’s gonna carry the torch? 9th Wonder? The Roots? Every artist has the right and possibly the obligation to change over time as they see fit, contingent upon where they are holistically as human beings. That being said, for some hip hoppers their feelings about this mixtape really depend on what type of Dilla fan they are. Many folks fall into one of two camps; the first likes the Jay Dee who produced “Runnin” for the Pharcyde and Beats, Rhymes, and Life, and the other rides for the more artistically indulgent J Dilla who made Donuts and Jay Stay Paid. Regardless of which camp you’re in, it’s impossible to front on the fact that The Dirty Slums not only lives up to the overall SV legacy and the foundation laid by James D. Yancy, it’s a dope music period. Anybody who parted their lips to state how Slum Village was done after Elzhi left the group now has to eat a supersize serving of crow, yours truly included.
Out of 5
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