Detroit's rap scene has always suffered from a sort of identity crisis. While the city's technoindustry has long bedazzled the world's hippest areas, it boggles the mind how Detroit'snegative hype may have deterred its rise in the hip-hop realm. Now, with an assist from producer Jay Dee, groups like Slum Village are balancing the scales for real.
Besides being sonically diverse in his outreach, Jay Dee amazes by saving some of his finest beats for his Detroit players. As one-third of the production unit, the Ummah, Jay Dee's musical alchemy must have seemed perfect for that team's main segment, A Tribe Called Quest. Whereas the Tribe's DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad virtually made the upright bass his own with ATCQ's seminal album The Low End Theory, Jay Dee reinvents hip hop's pulse with complex runs of bass and sound vamps and blurts. Jay Dee's beats are a triumph of cultural continuity, in that they explore and conflate the ways in which hip-hop and jazz rhythms both swing.
On Fan-tas-tic, rappers Baatin and T3 approach their topics with equal parts aplomb and verve. Avoiding the local culture's tedious "Big Willie" obsessions, the Villagers instead hold a reckless attitude approaching that of so much classic rap. Far from the gangsta leanings of most of their precursors, SV's raps are mostly relational.
The splendid "Fat Cat Song" finds Baatin drawing necessary lines: "You think we soft, 'cause we don't bust caps/Others be real weak, 'cause they don't kill in they raps." Equally pointed is the mellow "Look of Love," a midtempo piece built from hi-hat tremors and sweet guitar licks. The splendor deceives though, witness the chorus: "Become the man and handle it/Your biz, what's love got to do with it?/Ask SV, it's all bullshit/You know what love is."
The album's big winner is "Rock Music," a tightly produced knocker wherein all of SV's elements gel perfectly. Here Slum Village seems to break down all the parts of its scene to the basic presence of two hands clapping. Baatin leads the jam: "It don't make no sense/ You don't have to grab the microphone to pay the rent." The MCs, Jay Dee's bass line and the relentless beat attain a synergy best described by the chorus, "Rock to the rhythm, forth and back. Forth and back. Forth and back."
Despite its bent for sometimes jarring street sensibilities that are uniquely Detroit and the inclusion of a couple of well-worn R&B samples, Fan-tas-tic promises much for the D's new wave of rap music. Slum Village envisions the future.