2010’s Villa Manifesto was supposed to be the last album from Detroit’s highly respected Slum Village crew. But, instead of ending on that sour note, group members T3 and Young RJ decided to keep the music flowing with some mixtapes and now this album. The title, Yes!, couldn’t be any more appropriate, because, after my frustrating recent experiences with a lot of new rap, “YES!” is exactly my reaction to finally hearing something soulful and fun like this.
I won’t give my version of the Slum Village backstory, but just know that they’ve had a very interesting journey, and that they’re one of the only hip-hop groups to survive an ever-changing roster, they’ve influenced and brought attention to much of the Detroit’s underground hip-hop, and they’re the group that the legendary J Dilla started in. Back in 2000, when Fantastic Vol. 2, their first official album, dropped, I was floored that people could make such smooth and genuine songs about shit like threesomes:
Behold the days of durags, big-ass shirts, and flip-phones!
Now, 15 years later, Yes! is the the Slum Village that everyone’s wanted since Fantastic Vol. 2. Not that the albums in between have been bad, but I don’t recall any of them coming this close to that original feeling. To recapture that spirit, most of the beats come from the Dilla archives, and some even have unreleased Dilla and Baatin verses. So the jazz sound, the bumping drums, the gritty-ish rhymes, and the random interludes that made Slum Village different and special are back in full effect!
To describe Slum Village’s sound, I’d say they mix soulful samples with hard drums and everyday topics, to create a relaxed art that’s instantly relatable without ever feeling too simple. Like the song in the video above, Yes! might seem artsy, but only until the lyrics are truly heard. Then the realization hits that a lot of these songs are about sex. The rappers often get pretty explicit, but none of these songs feels too gross for me, because every blatant moment is counterbalanced by a more clever or fun one. So even when, on Love Is, Illa J (Dilla’s younger brother) raps the eye-roller “damn you so regal, to be able to give head like that is illegal,” I’m fine because the next verse has Young RJ saying “she speaking in tongues and rubbing on cohibas, no air in her lungs and never catch a breather, we never quit the ghetto ballerina.” There’s a tongue-in-cheek tone that makes this stuff fun, and Bilal’s sweetly sung hook almost tricks me into thinking the song is really be about love. The magic of Slum Village is making these clashing elements work so well together.
They work because fun and the vibe are the top priorities here. I swear I can hear the smirk in silly songs like Yes Yes (remix). So yes, things are being said, especially when Jon Connor obliterates Tear it Down, and when T3 spits on Windows about #blacklivesmatter and the current civil unrest in America surrounding police murders:
so intense, put on our hoodies, for remembrance,
nah we ain’t forgivin, in my niggas, strong sentiments
so I use my penmanship to see if y’all are really in
they put thorns in your side and say you ain’t feeling it
twist the blade in your heart as they cut it up to mil-li-on,
watch us, we assembling, three turn into a bil-li-on
But the album is mostly about having a good time. Slum Village knows the earthy, feel-good vibe that they are creating, and that they manage to do so while also being good lyricists, while having interesting things to say, is pretty amazing. At times I mistook Young RJ for Baatin, because his rhymes fit into the Slum Village groove that well. Still, it sucks that Dilla’s beats seem to be the catalyst for this return to glory, because that well will eventually run dry. I understand that Slum Village has to keep moving forwards, but today I’m happy to see them so comfortably and effectively bringing their past with them.
Who knew BJ the Chicago Kid could sing so well??
- Tear it Down ft Jon Connor
- Windows ft J. Ivy
- What We Have ft Kam Corvet & Illa J