Despite a rotating cast and heated debate surrounding the authenticity of their name, Slum Village’s run has far outlasted the expectancy of observant skeptics. Originally the brainchild of J. Dilla, T3 and Baatin, the trio only produced one official release in the immaculate Fantastic Vol. 2, a cult classic that can be viewed as a gift and a curse in hindsight. With the well-documented passing of Dilla and the elephant in the room that was Baatin’s tragic fate, the group’s naiveté and innocence have since taken a backseat to T3’s measured means of career survival. 15 years and six albums past their timeless debut, YES! is Slum Village’s latest attempt to create magic from a mix of fond memories and present hope.
Refusing to be weighed down by loss, T3’s ongoing resilience has been the natural byproduct of a hard fight to escape Detroit’s depressive status quo. Feeling left with no choice but to carry the torch, over time he has aligned with the esteemed Elzhi and an assortment of others to pick up any potential slack in lieu of a rocky solo career. YES! extends his trajectory as the sole living member of the original Slum Village unit, a brand that has now come to represent more than the sum of its parts. With the exception of Black Milk (who also makes a vocal appearance) on “We On The Go”, production is handled by way of Dilla outtakes and regular contributor Young RJ, making this completely a family affair. Though just on the cusp of pandering to long time tagalongs, the earnest respect for SV’s legacy should go appreciated overall.
A staunch advocate with a sharp ear will be able to distinguish between J. Dilla’s cutting room floor material and the fully executed visions on YES! Mostly retrospective snapshots of the departed legend’s trade, the mellow and bass heavy “Expressive” comes off bland and expired as if it were never meant to see the light of day. Albeit also falling slightly short of originality, Aftermath affiliate Jon Connor impressively goes to bat over vintage Jay Dee drums on the hardcore left field “Tear It Down”. The remix to “Yes Yes” puts another one of the late great James Yancey’s renowned staples to use with the handclap style of percussion. Given his reputation for seamless reinvention, it’s mildly disheartening to find his sounds recycled in 2015 without express consent given.
As Slum Village’s most utilized producer over their past few LPs, Young RJ’s musicality helps them appeal to day-one followers in a more modern manner. His piano-driven melodies bring the best out of T3 who addresses the chip on his shoulder on the somber “Right Back”. Holding his own alongside usual show stealer Posdnuos he laments: “Aint it hella kinda strange where they list him/I’m not a victim/I’m just tired of niggas that say they know bout Dilla, but they don’t fuck with Villa.” Bringing similar fire to “Push It Along” (also done by RJ), the relatively new guard outshines extended family member and Native Tongue graduate Phife Dawg who has lost a few steps over the years.
Young RJ is the secret weapon in Slum Village’s arsenal, both “Too Much” and “Where We Come From” being near perfect reminders of their past exuberance. While Baatin and Dilla appear posthumously, with YES! we’re left wondering what their evolution would have become under brighter circumstances. As for T3, he remains an adequate emcee regardless of facing slanderous accusations that he uses the crew’s name to coast off of former glory. Left to his own creative devices and unable to feed off of the organic energy of his day one cohorts, his best shots at carrying on tradition are generally respectable.