BY MATTHEW HENGEVELD Any hip-hop head will tell you: Slum Village ain’t no joke. The group launched the solo career of J Dilla, one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. It also spurned the growth of Elzhi, one of Detroit’s finest emcees. But if Slum Village isn’t a joke, why are people laughing at Villa Manifesto, the group’s latest effort? Well, let’s just say that Slum Village is cursed. Here’s a recap: When J Dilla left Slum Village after Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 2, the group seemed destined to fail without its producer. However, the addition of Elzhi revamped the group and they stayed afloat with Trinity. But personal problems forced Baatin to leave. The next two albums Detroit Deli and Slum Village underwhelmed, and fans feared that Slum Village lost its identity. To make things worse, J Dilla, still an active voice in the group, passed away in 2006. The group stalled until Baatin announced his return to the group in 2008. His return excited long-time fans— sadly, this excitement was short lived as Baatin passed away suddenly in 2009— midway through the recording of the group’s latest album Villa Manifesto. Standing on a “sinking ship”, Elzhi left the group earlier this year, citing managing issues. This left T3 solely in charge of Villa Manifesto.
T3 recruited B.R. Gunna’s Young RJ to handle the majority of production on Villa Manifesto. I’m certain that both T3 and RJ knew that Villa Manifesto would be a huge hurdle— without beats from J Dilla or rhymes from Elzhi the group really can’t make an impact. T3 knew this shit, so he decided to employ his cut & paste skills to assemble an album that actually featured every Slum Village member. Baatin verses were pasted on old J Dilla beats. Elzhi shows up on like three songs, all of his verses are forgettable. Most lyrics are absolute garbage and the beats are mostly subpar. Perhaps the biggest slap-in-the-face moment on Villa Manifesto is “Faster.” It sounds more akin to Britney Spears than Slum Village. Singer Colin Munroe sings some N*sync-style hook that says some real questionable shit.
Even the Elzhi verse can’t save this song. Throughout the album Young RJ chooses bad beats, or songs that are clearly attempting to emulate J Dilla’s Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 2-style. He constantly falls flat on his face. In “2000 Beyond,” RJ employs drums from ?uestlove, but lacks the vibrancy and originality of J Dilla, despite rehashing Dilla’s old samples and synths. “The Reunion pt. 2” has cheesy build-ups and dynamics uncharacteristic of vintage Slum Village. The song references “The Reunion” from Detroit Deli, which was meant to be a gathering of J Dilla, T3, Baatin and Elzhi. “The Reunion pt. 2” gathers Baatin, T3 and Illa J (J Dilla’s little brother and horrible rapper). This is a head-scratcher… is T3 actually considering recruiting Illa J as a replacement for J Dilla? Sadly, he is. Not long after the release of Villa Manifesto, Illa J announced that he is officially part of Slum Village alongside T3. That’s like Yoko Ono and Ringo Starr performing as The Beatles…. THIS is why people are laughing at Villa Manifesto.
T3 has since acknowledged that Villa Manifesto will likely be the final Slum Village album— marking the second major hip-hop group to disband this year ( the second is Little Brother). However, T3 recognized that he might make another if sales are good enough. I really hate to say it, but it’s time to let go. J Dilla is gone and left behind is the legacy of his music. T3 is bastardizing the Slum Village product with releases like Villa Manifesto. I said before, Slum Village ain’t no joke, so why allow it to continue this way?
W/ cameo by the dearly departed Gary Coleman.