This summer, legendary Detroit crew Slum Village has unleashed their highly-anticipated new studio album, Evolution. Coming on the heels of acclaimed mixtapes Dirty Slums and Dirty Slums 2, the project marks the 20th anniversary of the group's formation.
The LP packs 11 original jams from T3, Young RJ and Illa J, including reader-acclaimed lead single "Forever." T3, RJ, and Focus... handle all production throughout the set, which boasts guest appearances from Blu, Havoc, Jazzy Jeff, Raheem DeVaughn, Rapper Big Pooh and many more.
Evolution Album Review
Album intro BraveHeart serves as a kind of manifesto for SV’s mind state this time around. Over a haunting, drum laden beat provided by group member Young RJ (who unfortunately is left with the impossible task of filling Dilla Dog’s production role), the three let their fans know that they aren’t here to reminisce about the past, aren’t doing this for acclaim, but are here to show they still have the ability to produce good music. A chorus of, “No praise, just breaks and hooks” sums up the simple, straightforward approach that has kept this crew relevant throughout the years. Forever, the first single off the album and clear highlight, has the Detroit trio speaking on relationships that “could’ve been forever”. Young RJ does his best Dilla imitation on the track, with its crisp drums and soulful vibe. Second single Summer Breeze continues the laid back vibes established on the aforementioned track, this time with the only beat on the album provided by an outside producer, …Focus.
A variety of guests pop up along the album’s 12 tracks. Many of the collaborator simply overshadow their hosts. L.A. based rapper Blu appears on Let It Go, a solid song about letting go of the past, about evolution. His verse is easily the best on the track. Rapper Big Pooh, formerly of Little Brother fame, shows up on two occasions, and while his verses won’t blow anybody away, they are the highlights of the tracks. Instead of complimenting the verses laid down by the members of whose album this is, the guests aid in revealing the groups lyrical shortcomings.
Aside from Elzhi, who left the group in 2009, Slum Village has never been known for their pen game. T3, Illa J and Young RJ are all adequate MCs, T3 being the best of the bunch, however some of the tracks lack a strong enough beat to cover up their lyrical flaws. 1 Night, an especially clichéd attempt at describing a one night stand, is easily the worst track on the album. The choppy, elementary lyrics are laid over an oddly fitting simple, repetitive beat. In the opening verse, Illa J is particularly inept at waxing poetic, with lines like: “you knew exactly what to do, you didn’t let me go home blue”, and “your ass is so incredible, and yes I love to smack it”. Illa J and Young RJ each have some lyrical lows on the album, but then again, Slum Village’s lane has never been the technically impressive one.
That being said, Young RJ does an admiral job throughout much of the 11 tracks he produced. There are thankfully no blatant attempts at a club banger, no requisite EDM influence, and generally no experimentation to be found. Just simple, drum based hip hop with live instrumentation layered over it. Of course there are no Dilla-esque, goose bump inducing instrumentals, but there are also no obvious missteps, which is more than can be said about much of the hip hop being produced by SV’s peers.
Evolution is a term synonymous with change, with letting go of the past and moving on, with improvement. In that regard, Slum Village succeeds in sticking to Evolution’s mission statement. T3 and company avoid nostalgic Dilla tracks or posthumous reunions, and instead opt for fairly simple hip hop, both content wise, and production wise. At 12 tracks long, Evolution may lack any real oomph or spectacle, but it also contains little filler, which is an achievement in today’s singles dominated, bloated albums. It's a concise, safe work from the Detroit based group, and as was stated from the get-go, “No praise just breaks and hooks”.
DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins