Before you even talk about a Slum Village album, you have to discuss the elephant in the room. Two of the group’s founding members have passed away, and the two remaining members have differing opinions about the future of the group. So if you’re a die-hard fan who had a scratched up Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 copy when some of these Dilla bandwagon-riding hipsters were still listening to Sisqo, only one question can definitively be answered when you start listening to Villa Manifesto. Is this a fitting swan song for SV or just another one of those pieced-together albums groups do to get one last advance before they end up like The Fugees?
Villa Manifesto is further proof of T3’s mastery of assembling people who can replicate the intangibles that make a Slum Village album. He’s got his finger on the pulse of what SV fans want, and gives it to them. About a third of the album is devoted to chasing the fairer sex—no surprise, since this has been an SV trademark dating back to “Climax.” It never gets redundant due to the realistic dichotomy between hilarious, raunchy locker room talk and things you can actually say to a woman in public without the threat of getting slapped.
One example is “Scheming,” with Jay Dee comparing his desired female to his Jeep and asking, “Can you do what Lil’ Kim did with the Sprite bottle?” and T3 alternately admitting “You the only reason that I show up at my job / I know that you’ll be there and my heart’s in overdrive / I wanna say / Hi hey hello but can’t say much / Butterflies in my stomach got me feeling fucked up…” When Posdnuos and Phife Dawg join in, you get a 2010 version of the type of banging, quasi-love songs like “Buddy” and “Find A Way,” which laid the foundation for Slum Village.
Young RJ handles the bulk of the production, with Dilla, Hi-Tek, Mr. Porter, Khrysis and Dave West filling things out. Much like his better-known, former BR Gunna production partner Black Milk, RJ’s sound is an evolution of the Dilla template with his own touches added in. You’ll still hear Dilla-inspired, purposely over-crisp snares and the substitution of a lower frequency drum kit for a hi-hat. The familiar sound of a dusty loop, or at least making a completely new creation sound that way are also present on “Schemin’,” “Lock It Down” and “2000 Beyond.” Fans of music from the Midwest will also appreciate the Dance/Electronica influences on “Dance” and “Where Do We Go From Here.” After all, Detroit had the “Errol Flynn” down to a science long before rappers were trying to grab their glowsticks and David Guetta beats to cash in on the current dance trend.
Lyrically, the chemistry between T3, Baatin and Elzhi is the best it’s ever been. Tracks like “The Set Up” offer a glimpse of what could have been. The continuity is a vast improvement over the Trinity album, which was the last full offering this particular incarnation of SV was found on. It belies the fact that the album is probably a mix of unreleased material from the late Dilla and Baatin added to what are likely verses e-mailed back and forth between Elzhi and T3. The brutal honesty from each member on “The Reunion Pt 2” sheds more light on the topics of the group’s break-up than any interview likely ever will. It’s unfortunate that the Slum Village never got the chance to make an album when four members were alive and on on good terms. But Villa Manifesto is a great approximation of what it would’ve sounded like. In addition to being a great, sentimental note for die hard SV fans to end things on, it’s should easily be appreciated by casual fans as one of the year’s better albums.