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Slum Village - Villa Manifesto

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Artist: Slum Village

Album: Villa Manifesto

Label: E1 Entertainment

Review date: Aug. 10, 2010

Like “irony,” the word “tragedy” gets a lot of misuse. So let’s just say that, in a genre pockmarked with fallings-out and early deaths, Detroit’s Slum Village has had particularly rotten luck.

Originating in the 313’s Conant Gardens before the turn of the century, Villa didn’t get a national hearing until 2000’s subterranean classic Fantastic, Vol. II, which did well enough in spite of A&M’s ineffectual promotion. After that, the group’s unmistakably organic beatmaker J Dilla abruptly decamped, pursued a workaholic career as a freelancer, and, in ‘06, when it was too late for him to enjoy the benefits, became the official icon for hip hop’s 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 T’s deadpan delivery. Before his mysterious death in ‘09, Baatin rejoined SV long enough to contribute a few more raps, which, along with some leftovers from Dilla’s donut shop, appear on Villa Manifesto, an amazingly seamless statement of purpose that beats the odds by existing at all.

The disc’s 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. There’s “Faster,” 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 they’re still way too old for this crap.) And, without Dilla’s consistent, anchoring presence, SV ushers in a number of special guests (L.A.’s ace producer Babu, the Native Tongues throwbacks in Little Brother, and Dilla’s 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 it’s likely the last, it’s worth enjoying on its own terms.

By Emerson Dameron

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