The pure elegance of Slum Village

The pure elegance of Slum Village

A low frequency soundprint, “Fantastic Vol. 2”

GoodVibe, 2000

“The three brothers of Conant Gardens”

The city of Detroit tends to remain an enigma for music and for Hip Hop. This city has been the underground cradle of several styles of music, electronic music, garage rock and later Hip Hop, with the peculiarity of having always remained more or less in the shadows. Despite a prolific underground scene, big stars were born in this city, the most obvious for Hip Hop is Eminem. 

In the 90’s, the Detroit scene was not well represented on the Hip Hop map, that was the case until a certain J Dilla a.k.a. Jay Dee made his appearance. Before founding Slum Village with his friends from Conant Gardens, the producer made his debut with a few beats in the underground before producing part of the incredible Labcabincalifornia for the Pharcyde, an album with a hypnotic and pure sound. J Dilla began to forge his own style and reputation, which was to attract the attention of Q-Tip, with whom he founded the producer trio The Ummah, along with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, also a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest.

Alongside the two New York legends, the young Detroit beatmaker was launched. The Ummah produced the two future A Tribe Called Quest albums, Beats, Rhymes and Life in 1996, and The Love Movement in 1998, in addition to a few productions for Busta Rhymes, Keith Murray, Janet Jackson and Mad Skillz. However, Jay Dee did not forget his childhood friends from Conant Gardens with whom he founded Slum Village. As early as 1996, an album is in preparation, Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1, planned for 1996 or 1997, but again and again postponed until the project is abandoned by the record company. At war with the label, the group decided to release the album in bootleg version and to sell it at concerts, which contributed to forge the legend of the group on the local scene. The album was finally released officially in 2006.

Unfortunately the young Detroit group struggled to break into the national scene, yet they didn’t give up. In the late 90’s, Jay Dee co-founded the collective of rappers, producers, crooners and instrumentalists, the Soulquarians along with Q-Tip, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def Questlove, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu to name a few. The end of the 90’s and the beginning of the 2000’s will be marked by the imprint of this collective with great achievements for Hip Hop and albums that are still classic today, with an identity that is both Jazz and Soul, and an Afro-centric and conscious philosophy, just like the Native Tongues collective. Although short-lived, the Soulquarians carry the values of the collective born in the late 80s and revive its legacy for a short time. Some of the collective’s greatest achievements include The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides, D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, and of course the album that is the subject of this article, Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2. 

With all due respect, appreciation and love to T3 and Baatin, the two emcees of Slum Village, the soul of Slum Village is carried by Jay Dee, at least until this album since he will leave the group after this one. Despite some difficulties to release this opus because of the closing of the record company, the talent of the trio did not remain unnoticed. The album recorded between 1997 and 1998 will finally be released at the beginning of the summer 2000 on GoodVibe, and will be one of the pioneer achievements of the Soulful vibe of the beginning of the years 2000 of which J Dilla is one of the great architects.

“A light, pure and ethereal Soulful atmosphere for a sweet monotony”

Fantastic Vol. 2’s sound imprint is unique, with a subtle, minimalist tendency, Jay Dee uses very low frequencies, clean bass lines and small rhythmic beats for a light, pure and ethereal Soulful vibe, while remaining fundamentally Hip Hop. Slum Village revives its A Tribe Called Quest predecessors by returning to simplicity. The album melts into a false versatility with a real homogeneity that tends towards monotony. Surprising as it may seem, this monotony is one of the main assets of the album, the minutes pass and the songs follow one another without noticing that you have moved on to the next track. The fluidity of the album is remarkable and lulls us into a relaxed atmosphere.

Always on slow rhythms, the Soulquarians and other pioneers of Hip Hop came to lend a hand. Q-Tip accompanies him on Hold Tight with his witty rhymes, D’Angelo grabs Tell Me for a Soul song, Pete Rock lends his talents on Once Upon A Time and DJ Jazzy Jeff offers a more funky/jazzy beat on I Don’t Know. Busta Rhymes makes an appearance on What It’s All About with his deep voice on a faster beat. More surprising, Forth and Back features Kurupt on a sample of Herbie Hancock’s I Thought It Was You.

Despite a slight monotony, the musical palette Dilla uses offers an adventurous groove that keeps your head bobbing on each track with samples that are just as inventive and obscure. The way he incorporates them into his beats is hypnotic and creates this particular beautiful monotony. He manages to change registers while maintaining consistency, from simplistic melodic electronic sounds with Raise It Up to funky ramblings on Eyes Up, the soul-jazzy atmosphere is always overall confined and evasive. 

“laid-backs flows tinged with a lightness and poetry”

After praising the talents of Jay Dee, T3 and Baatin offer laid-back and instinctive flows with elementary lyrics, tinged with a dose of lightness and poetry. With Dilla also frequently appearing on the mic, they have a somewhat disorganized approach, always very slow and calm. The album naturally introduces with an ode to their native Conant Gardens, but the central theme of the album remains love and sex which comes up very regularly. The boastful Go Ladies, the tribute to sexual freedom Climax or the more romantic Tell Me are all part of this theme. The two emcees have a rather sincere approach, Fall In Love proposes an introspective vision on their love of music. Baatin himself defines Slum Village as a contradiction and a paradox, defying the rules and doing things that others don’t do, both in music and in lyrics.

Unfortunately, this will be the last Slum Village album in its original formation. Jay Dee left the group in 2001 to pursue a solo career, and the producer tragically died of a heart attack a few years later in 2006. Detroit rapper Elzhi joined the group for the third album Trinity (Past, Present and Future) in 2002, before Baatin left the group suffering from hard drug addiction and mental problems. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar and depression. Baatin died in 2009, at the age of 35, found in his home after taking too much cocaine. Despite the group’s various tragic ups and downs, Slum Village continues to live on with one of its founders, T3.

Fanstatic Vol. 2 is an elegant album with a clean style, quality emceeing and a charming soulful atmosphere. An album that offers a rare consistency and a remarkable cultural imprint. It can seem boring for its monotony but it is in my opinion its main attraction as it is mastered. This album is a gem and a masterpiece of Detroit rap and Soulful rap.
In memory of Jay Dee and Baatin, who brought this talented group to life in the early days. Rest in Peace.

By Grégoire Zasa

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