Published Aug 14, 2013Exclaim!'s coverage of a Slum Village show in 2003 began with the line, "They're nothing without Jay Dee." Since then, things have only gotten worse for the Michigan hip-hop outfit. The immensely talented producer James Yancey (aka Jay Dee, J Dilla) died from lupus complications in 2006, cementing his absence from the group he helped create. Founding MC Baatin passed away in 2009, and shortly thereafter, long-time Villager Elzhi left the group on bad terms.
These days, Slum Village operates as last founder standing T3, wordsmith Illa J (Dilla's younger brother), and beatsmith Young RJ (son of RJ Rice, whom Elzhi referred to as "poison" upon getting the boot). Performing in front of a banner advertising their poorly received new album Evolution, the trio had great chemistry this evening between the two primary MCs, and with RJ getting in the odd verse and hype while throwing beats down on a laptop. They worked an otherwise sleepy, largely unresponsive Tuesday night crowd into a room-wide groove with their precise rhymes and refined beats.
T3 had a big grin on his face much of the time, Illa J was on point, and Young RJ provided a liquid flow for their set. They hummed along through tracks from across their catalogue with barely a pause. "Fall In Love" brought the crowd out of its slumber, followed up by "I Don't Know" and "Get Dis Money," all from the Jay Dee-heavy 2000 album Fantastic, Vol. 2. "The Look of Love" from 1996's Fantastic, Vol. 1 had everyone singing too, over another Dilla beat.
Judging from the skill of their execution, they are worthy on their own merits. Yet, given the constant Dilla homages, it feels a lot like they're hanging onto the Slum Village name merely to grasp onto the past and milk it for all it's worth, which their inherent joy and talent prove unnecessary. From the opening acts to the interim DJ spinning Ruff Draft and Donuts, no one throughout the evening could go five minutes without dropping a Dilla beat or saying shit like, "When I say 'J,' you say 'Dilla!'" Eventually, you hit a saturation point when giving respect becomes grave-robbing. As such, seeing Slum Village now is a bit like seeing the Doors of the 21st Century, the husk of what became of a brilliant artist's group years after their demise.