The slum of their parts

Oct 26, 2005 at 12:00 am

When a group is as fabled as Slum Village, history becomes a kind of invisible instrument. Four years of lineup changes, bouts with troubled members, struggles to indoctrinate replacement players, all led to this, their fifth (and tellingly self-titled) album. And the one question their fans want answered is simple and direct: What shape is the crew left in now that the smoke has cleared?

Answer: They’re fightin’ good. In fact, T3 and Elzhi have, on their second album as a duo, succeeded in group redefinition. And that’s what might make Slum Village their best work to date. After all, it’s harder to reintroduce yourself with the same appeal you had before fans watched you shovel internal shit for nigh half a decade. Compliment SV for surviving, on some real Chariots of Fire shit. This is, after all, a group whose saga warranted a cover story in this paper a year ago.

SV may never again record an album that matches the eclecticism of 2000’s classic Fantastic, Vol. II. That one was buoyed by Jay Dilla’s enigmatic beats, T3’s innovative wordplay and Baatin’s indecipherable but appealing mysticism. Dilla’s subsequent departure marked the group’s entry into a period of instability. For the next three years, they struggled to resolve themselves with Baatin’s much publicized schizophrenia, while redefining their sound and coaching new member Elzhi.

The boastful, aggressive openings on “Giant” and “Set It” feel victorious. And T3 combines the lyrical depth he showed on last year’s Detroit Deli, with tugs on his old innovative stylings: “Theydon’twantit ... nah. Can’eygetit? Yep.” he raps. Translation: “They don’t want it. Can they get it?”

The syllabic whims are vintage T3, and it marks a return to a comfort level he struggled with during the years of duress. Elzhi, once akin to the player who joins the team after a midseason trade, has secured his place. On the testimonial “05,” he raps, “I finally realized we ain’t make it this far, to fall on our faces, though mistakes is just part.” A live band complements the song’s live-and-learn sentiment with muted trumpets and Fender Rhodes keys. DJ Dez plays drums, and his musical roots, which extend far beyond rap music, are apparent; he comes from a line of Cuban jazz musicians. (What’s important to note is that people like Dez, and also longtime supporter QD and the Barak Records team, helped to keep SV afloat through their transitions.)

The re-energization continues on the menacing “1, 2.” The song is aptly titled, with midrange boosts added to the mix to give the boot-stomping Godzilla-like sound a progressively hypnotic feel. It’s a great tune for underground hip-hop fans who love loops that run the length of a song without changes or movements.

Production duties are all in-house. BR Gunna, Young RJ and Black Milk know each other’s styles, and the combination gives SV a new musical ID. That’s the end cap needed to officially bring them full circle.

Skits, usually a hilarious strong suit, are the album’s weakness. “1-800-SLUM” sounds like an inside joke, and the children spelling out the group’s name wears thin by the third time you hear it. Thankfully, skits ain’t songs. And all the full tunes bang with new purpose, making it appropriate to say this team has seriously been reintroduced.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].