Editor's note: The Detroit and international hip-hop family suffered a huge loss on Saturday, Aug. 1, with the passing of Titus "Baatin" Glover, co-founder of the legendary Slum Village rap supergroup, who was found dead on the 14000 block of Anglin Street in Detroit. The cause of his death was still undetermined at press time. The rapper — who founded Slum Village with T3 and the late J Dilla — had admitted in interviews over the years that he suffered from schizophrenia and other emotional problems. It led to him leaving the group in 2003, but he recently rejoined a new version of Slum Village, and the group has been touring this summer with the Rock the Bells hip-hop tour, the season's biggest rap festival, performing at DTE Music Theatre earlier this year. Manifesto Villa, a new album by the group — which now also includes Elzhi, who replaced Dilla, before his lupus-related death in 2006 (it was Dilla who'd requested that Baatin be invited back into the fold) — is officially set for release on Sept. 22.
The Detroit native adopted the name Baatin in the '90s after he had found a new spirituality, claiming in interviews that "Baatin" was "Islamic for ‘hidden.'" He was still a high school student when he began rapping and formed Slum Village. It wasn't long after that the band began performing at the now legendary Hip Hop Shop on Detroit's east side, performing alongside another aspiring rap star who'd adopted the stage name of Eminem.
His untimely death inspired the following open letter to the Detroit hip-hop community from one of its best-known members, Khary Kimani Turner.
As a proud member of Detroit's family of hip-hop artists, I felt compelled to write after learning about Titus "Baatin" Glover's passing.
Baatin was a good man. He was a unique talent who owned his artistry, as well as his shortcomings. When I interviewed him on several occasions, he never avoided discussion of his illnesses and emotional conflicts, even when he himself was unclear as to its assessments. We would also occasionally speak off-record, and he always remained open and honest. He was stand-up and I took pride in never violating his trust.
His talent also often shined too bright for some of us to comprehend. Hex Murda, Slum Village's road manager, recently wrote an Allhiphop.com column in which he reminisced about Baatin's desire to rap a verse in Hebrew! Those of us on the periphery of Slum Village's inner circle can pull other extraordinary moments from our personal archives memories of Baatin flipping onstage and incorporating other unorthodox maneuvers into his repertoire. He was hip hop in the purest sense, unpredictable and unapologetic.
He was also deeply spiritual, helping to draw hundreds of friends toward the teachings of the Order of Divine Reality, a small, east side sect whose lessons and rituals were insulated and protected by its members. He latched on during his teen years. Many members evolved beyond the Order over time, but Baatin remained committed to his own spiritual pursuits. It's not unreasonable to wonder if the combination of his faith, its clash with a devilish music business, and his well-documented battles with schizophrenia drove him to sanity's edge.
Baatin's passing — especially because of these dynamics — saddens me on a particularly acute level. I believe that we reap what we sow, that actions have reactions, and causes have effects. Have you noticed that we first- and second-generation hip-hop heads are now old enough to see our comrades paying a different kind of price for the way we lived our lives? The last three years — which also included J Dilla's battle with lupus and Proof's battle with personal growth — prompt some key questions.
How healthy are we? How many of your thirtysomething friends look much older when you see them on the street? Do too many of our people look unclean — or unhealthy — when you encounter them?
I fear that we in the hip-hop family are living too hard … and killing ourselves in the process. We've become comfortable with our collective dysfunction. Hip hop, too, as an art, often feels like — as my brother Teferi "Kaos" Brent (of Kaos & Mystro) put it — like the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel had to contend with. We're in a severe spiritual depression that has chain-reacted through our physical health, our concern for scholasticism, our diets and our willingness to actively love one another. As a result, we are setting dangerous examples for the children we should be raising responsibly.
In the streets, sickness masquerades as health, lifelessness as lifestyle, fear as courage. The hood wears a veil. And hip hop, as thrilling as it is, too often baits us with unhealthy trappings.
I believe that Baatin was aware of these problems and sometimes forced his spiritual beliefs into his lyrics, even when it didn't match the subject of certain Slum Village songs. He helped the Slum Village aura to grow as a result. And I give props to RL "T3" Altman, because he went to great lengths to accept that part of Baatin's being. It was a testament to his understanding that Baatin added value beyond the business of music.
On the other hand, I wonder what toll the war between spiritual fulfillment and man's unhealthy interpretation of hip hop heading into the turn of the century took on Baatin.
I miss the way we in hip hop once shared our philosophies and beliefs through our music. Sure, some of it was a front. But we still promoted the importance of "health, wealth and knowledge of self." We fed each other. I'll remember Baatin's embrace of his own spiritual well-being. That alone inspires me to continuously monitor my own thoughts and actions, to guard myself psychologically, and to always study the hearts, and the intent, of men.
Rest in peace.
Baatin is survived by his son, Michael Majesty Ellis, age 9; his daughter, Aura Grace Glover, age 1; his parents, Howard and Alberta Glover; his sister, Eleanor Glover; and two brothers, Richard Riggins and Wendell Scott, all of Detroit. A memorial fund to help his children has been set up at: rensoul.com/2009/08/baatindonations.php. Donations can also be sent directly via credit card or Paypal by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.