Cutting through the dilapidated side streets of downtown Motown their sound is heard yet again. Returning for one last go around, Detroit’s most celebrated subterranean sons have released what some believe due to a few minor in-house grumblings, will be their last record, perhaps, ever. Slum Village’s new manifesto toward a game has long been waited on, 5 years to be exact and the Hip-Hop world they all once inhabited is a far cry from what’s out there now, but as usual, they’re willing to try and transcend the time off, rise above the loss of two of their brothers and original group members and push onward with new material.
In a stirring manner Villa Manifesto jumps off…the first track “Bare Witness” is as promising a way to kick start your sixth studio album as there is. Full of energy thanks to a Khrysis beat that I’m sure has a few Justus Leaguer’s pissed it didn’t land in their Pro Tools session, the Villa’s core members go to work. We notice the unmistakably powerful squeakiness of Baatin after a verse or two…this seems so right, so on point…and it is. T3 made it a point to posthumously feature not only Baatin, but Dilla as well on this album and even brought in Illa J, Dilla’s younger brother, to take part. Inclusive, thoughtful and something that I think any longtime Slum fan can truly appreciate, it’s an ode to Baatin and Dilla as well as one last chance for everyone to come together and get their rhyme on. Makes sense. “Bare Witness” concludes with some pinpoint cutting from DJ Babu and the promise of finishing what they all started in the correct manner.
T3 and Elzhi definitely send us into orbit with “2000”. Not only does it feature rousing verses all around, but flexes a chiseled drum pattern courtesy of Hip-Hop’s illest percussionist ?uestlove. It’s a great track, but it does come after a rather sideways pair of offerings in “Faster” and the Madlib produced “Earl Flinn”. Not many traces of the signature Slum sound on either, the latter of which even borders on being grossly un-inventive and undemanding. “Dance” is also yet another unfamiliar type of territory that we are taken through, sporting a relentless kick that pulsates wildly while the fellas try their best to crossover onto the dance charts. Meh….Often the excursions into the netherworlds of experimentation didn’t leave me standoffish, but in fact really just out right forced my hand in disliking a lot of the misses that much more. I mean it’s one thing to make a joint that I’m expecting you to and it just comes out stale, it’s a whole other thing to go all out with the bells and whistles and have that be cheesy; *cough* “Um Um” *cough*. It just meanders at times and doesn’t mold into anything memorable. For every adequate song like “The Setup”, there seems to be one before and one after that just won’t grow on me. That’s a prevailing problem throughout that makes it difficult to sincerely give Villa Manifesto a co-sign as being a worthy Slum outing.
Auspiciously we’re granted a reprieve from the streakiness of Villa Manifesto on the last three tracks which all gel together pretty cohesively. On “The Reunion Pt. 2”; a spacey Young RJ concoction, we find Baatin cycling through the genesis of the group’s formation while simultaneously laying out his own demons for the world to see, leaving an unshakable impression. His contributions all over this LP must be praised, he sounded sharp and ready to go to work again. Damn shame we won’t get to have him around in the future. I am tempted to throw “The Reunion Pt. 2” in the discussion as the strongest cut on the entire LP based mostly around Tin’s emotive verse. From that gem we move into the moody “Where Do We Go From Here”, a Little Brother assisted joint that airs on the side of both menacing and inspiring that Phonte stole the show on. I liked the feel of it and this Young RJ cat definitely made the most of his bulk beat slotting, producing every banger the album owns. Finally things come to a close with the stuttery and concise magic that is Dilla’s production, as his cohorts go to work. If only T3 had a cache of J Dilla beats right? [insert sarcastic look on face here]. “We’ll Show You” is almost as bitter sweet as that final, deep kiss from your woman right after she tells you she’s moving away. A last, glimmering peek into the vivid sweetness that could’ve been and conceivably should have been. Dilla’s music is as brilliant as ever and his absence on the boards was dully noted.
I hate that Baatin died on the street. I hate that Dilla is more popular now that he’s passed. I hate that T3 and Elzhi are contemplating maybe burying the Slum Village brand (and I have a hunch that they may), but most of all I hate that Villa Manifesto fell decidedly short of the expectations that all of us had for it. It sits so poorly with me because this was a great opportunity for a worthy swan song for a group that was at one point hailed as the heir apparent to A Tribe Called Quest. If this album had even sniffed at being somewhat special I would’ve been able to say, hey, you know what, lets leave it at that. Instead, I’m left with regrets and bitterness about how this unraveled. True, there are some fleeting, first-rate performances here, but for the most part this manifesto’s declaration’s and promises go largely unfulfilled.
$13.75 out of $20.00
-Dominick “BIG D O” Ledezma
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