Like ďirony,Ē the word ďtragedyĒ gets a lot of misuse. So letís just say that, in a genre pockmarked with fallings-out and early deaths, Detroitís Slum Village has had particularly rotten luck.
Originating in the 313ís Conant Gardens before the turn of the century, Villa didnít get a national hearing until 2000ís subterranean classic Fantastic, Vol. II, which did well enough in spite of A&Mís ineffectual promotion. After that, the groupís unmistakably organic beatmaker J Dilla abruptly decamped, pursued a workaholic career as a freelancer, and, in Ď06, when it was too late for him to enjoy the benefits, became the official icon for hip hopís legions of posthumous jock-riders. Meanwhile, rapper Baatin was cut from the group while battling severe mental illness, making T3 the only remaining originator. He pushed on, partnering with Elzhi, whose Raekwon-style battle raps proved a fitting complement to Tís deadpan delivery. Before his mysterious death in Ď09, Baatin rejoined SV long enough to contribute a few more raps, which, along with some leftovers from Dillaís donut shop, appear on Villa Manifesto, an amazingly seamless statement of purpose that beats the odds by existing at all.
The discís first half focuses on the bedroom jams Villa minted on Fantastic, Vol. 11, by turns ridiculously blunt and genuinely sexy. The second half moves into boasts and capers, closing with some unflinching autobiography, more defiant than defensive.
The album does adopt some of the more irritating conventions of post-millennial rap long-players, with mixed results. Thereís ďFaster,Ē a blatant bid for airplay in the crossoveriffic B.o.B. mold, which dictates that The Future of Hip Hop is half-assed rapping over dogshit waiting-room pop music. (Note: None of these dudes will never suck like B.o.B., but theyíre still way too old for this crap.) And, without Dillaís consistent, anchoring presence, SV ushers in a number of special guests (L.A.ís ace producer Babu, the Native Tongues throwbacks in Little Brother, and Dillaís less talented little brother Illa J). The good news is that none of them manages to fuck up the flow, and although Slum Village is a different outfit now, Villa Manifesto is every bit a Slum Village record. As itís likely the last, itís worth enjoying on its own terms.