Slum Village – Evolution album review

What gives music its soul?

Slum Village is a rap group that has featured an ever-changing lineup, drawing upon a collective of Detroit MCs and producers since the early 00’s when hip hop deity Jay Dee aka J Dilla withdrew his full-time guidance from the group. Since then, the group has experienced several renaissances, and each incarnation of the group has pushed the music of Slum Village in new directions while retaining the essence of generations past. For the group’s latest release, the aptly titled Evolution, T3 is the only living member left from the group’s legendary founding trio; Dilla and Baatin have both passed on. Reverently carrying on their legacy are Dilla-sciple producer/MC Young RJ and Jay Dee’s brother Illa J. Together with T3, they are Slum Village for a new generation, and with Evolution they are proving that music has a soul of its own that outlives the illuminated individuals who give it life.

While Evolution benefits from a polished, contemporary sound and fresh flows, it still pays tribute to Slum Village roots from the Fan-tas-tic era by sticking to a tried-and true formula for boom-bap group rap. Effervescent loops are matched up with crunchy vintage drum breaks to create an intuitive backdrop for no-frills raps. However, the tone here is a little more brooding than classic Slum Village, owing to darker, more ethereal samples taking the place of more straightforward jazz and R&B sounds. The verses are more aggressive, and feature faster, grimier flows in contrast to the poetic delivery of the Slum Village of yesteryear. Even with these updates, a raw passion that has always been central to the group’s consciousness comes across on every track. Consequently, Evolution’s high points soar, for instance “Let it Go” which induces chills thanks to spine-tingling piano riffs, spitfire rhymes and a verse from Blu, who delivers one of the most interesting guest appearances on the album. The first single, “Forever” is a laid-back rhythm machine that rivals the clean, even production values of a contemporary De La or Blackalicious. In its entirety, Evolution is an extremely taut album, which bristles with the passion and professionalism exhibited throughout. This is music for music’s sake, and even listeners unfamiliar with the history and influence of Slum Village will appreciate this well-crafted album.

On Evolution, Slum Village remains a rap group with a clear sense of purpose, begotten by a musical ethic born in a by-gone era of hip hop. To hear Evolution is to realize the continuity of the soul of music itself. In philosophy, the properties of continuity are demonstrated through the story of a sailing ship. Over time, parts of the ship are replaced one-by-one when the ship returns to port, until finally none of the original parts remain. Even though the parts are new, it’s hard to argue that you’re not still talking about the same ship. There must be something more than the sum of the parts that gives Slum Village its soul. Despite numerous lineup changes and the death of two founding members, the sound and feeling originally forged by J Dilla, T3 and Baatin is a living entity that survives in and of itself. Evolution is nothing less than a fresh and thoroughly triumphant testament to the eternal spirit of Slum Village, a landmark hip hop group in every way.


Ta-Ku – 50 Days for Dilla, Vol. 2 album review

When James Dewitt Yancey, A.K.A. J Dilla, passed away in early 2006, the hip hop community was neither reserved nor insincere about paying its respects. The prolific MC and producer’s impact on the genre – achieved largely in behind-the-scenes, under-the-radar fashion – was irrefutably proven by the outpouring of tribute tracks, from the likes of Q-Tip, The Roots, and Erykah Badu, that were released in the years following his death; hip hop artists seemingly embraced the cause of commemorating Dilla’s life and work as fervently as any they’d ever dedicated themselves to.

While the big-name tributes reinforced his stature as one of the most influential producers in the game, however, Dilla’s legacy is perhaps most palpable in the output of his younger, up-and-coming devotees – after all, what twenty-something beatmaker wouldn’t be inspired by a guy who accomplished so much before the 32nd birthday he barely lived to see? It’s that youthful energy and ambition, so perfectly personified by J Dilla, that inspired Australian producer Ta-Ku to craft a very different type of tribute to his late, great idol.

The two-volume collection 50 Days for Dilla developed out of a challenge that Ta-Ku imposed on himself: to create one new track each day for 50 days straight, with Dilla’s aesthetic – if not always his precise sound – as his inspiration. 50 Days for Dilla, Vol. 2 compiles the second set of 25 tracks that Ta-Ku recorded day-by-day, its roughly two-minute-long beatscapes encompassing a variety of smooth, chilled-out soul and R&B samples and beats that most often coast and groove rather than bang. The overall mood is upbeat, yet yearning and soulful; on tracks like “Day 45” (each is labeled rather than descriptively named), energetic vocal samples bob and weave over dreamy keyboards and strings, while the warm crackle of a phonograph needle adds a nostalgic glimmer to the proceedings.

Ta-Ku’s grooves, overall, are ethereal but gritty, playfully funky yet finely emotional, and based on the strength of this collection, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine fledgling MCs coming out of the woodwork to collaborate with him. Considering the type of guy that J Dilla was, one would imagine that the project is the type of tribute he would have appreciated the most.