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Archive for January 12th, 2007

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Remember 2004?: ‘Detroit Deli’ by Slum Village

I picked up Slum Village’s 2004 album ‘Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit)’ the other day and have been listening to it non-stop. I have a vinyl copy of the album but it has these little, nearly-invisible surface scratches on it that make my needle skip everywhere, so it was good to find a CD replacement. Anyway, this is a really underrated album and deserves reevaluation. It’s definitely in my 20 favorite rap albums list.

‘Detroit Deli’ feels like a mixtape in its effortlessness and because Slum Village’s lyrical content is so limited (girls, girls, and more girls) it has an immediate sound to it, as if it were recorded in a few days, like a mixtape. You have the songs about girls they want to get-with and get support on that topic from Ol’ Dirty Bastard on ‘Dirty’ with his appropriately retarded chorus: “If you’re flexible, intellectual, bisexual/Can I get next to you?” Then, you have a song like ‘Selfish’ a mournful ode to the women they’ve gotten-with in every town but with a legitimate sense of respect, particularly when Baatin reveals: “I wish my arms was long enough to hug you all at the same time”. That line is hinting at the emotional reality of all sexual relationships, even mere hook-ups. That line verifies the sad feeling one derives from the Kanye West-produced beat: It almost sounds like you put your finger atop a spinning record and just subtly slowing it down so the sound kind-of wobbles. ‘Selfish’ segues into ‘Closer’, one of the many late-track sex jams that content-wise, makes me feel weird but are also legitimately sweet. ‘Old Girl/Shining Star’ is an ode to single mothers that again, is sincere without becoming maudlin or preachy. There is something to Slum Village’s modesty; they never sound like they are teaching or trying to exemplify treating a girl right, they’re just talking about it and sometimes, on songs like ‘Zoom’, they say more typical rap stuff about spinning rims and “put[ting] dick[s] in your mouth”, so it’s all appropriately conflicted. They never sound like high-minded jerks when they discuss “positive” topics because they’ve also said some “ignorant” shit. When Common raps “I never call you my bitch or even my boo” he’s proudly boasting which is unappealing; lines like that and most of the “conscious” rap community’s “conscious” lyrics often focus on appearance instead of action. They define themselves by what they don’t do, while Slum Village’s lyrics are performative, they are lyrics about what they do. Their Songs don’t tell you to “treat your woman right” they are about how they treat their women right.

Slum Village would connect themselves to “conscious” hip-hop and that wouldn’t be incorrect but more because they have no other place to be pigeonholed. I would argue however, that their form of consciousness, relating to women and sex is significantly more universal and less polarizing than the anger of the Okayplayer types. They also have a sense of humor that is entirely absent or feels forced when it comes from the “conscious” set. ‘Late 80s Skit’ sounds exactly what that title suggests and is an affectionate parody of something like ‘Friends’ by Jody Watley featuring Rakim but with a little more Debarge and a little less New Jack Swing. ‘Detroit Deli’s production has the ability to mimic and incorporate sounds from a variety of rap eras and genres without ever sounding throwback; it always has one foot in contemporary rap; that is what makes it a successful album.

Obviously, these guys learned from former member J-Dilla but I’d say, they are not derivative. The production is a strange mix of mainstream-sounding beats that, thanks to extra-thick drums, really knock, combined with homage to early 90s Native Tongues sounds, then, mixed with this weird air of melancholy. The album begins as an album should begin, with some exciting, easy-to-digest rap tracks and then, with ‘Selfish’, changes to an upbeat melancholy that progresses to the end of the album. Sad, regretful songs about others (primarily women) make way for sad, regretful songs about themselves (‘Keep Holding On’), ending with ‘Reunion’ one of the most emotionally affecting rap songs I’ve ever heard, it has the same as feeling as ‘T.R.O.Y’ and mixes a similar sense of love and outrage at family or friends, but without the “knowingness” of C.L Smooth.

The album reminds me of Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout’ in its equal interest in current, mainstream rap and the rap of the past. I hope I’m not being too nostalgic here, but this seemed to be a consistent theme in 2004. There was a subtle infiltration of mainstream rap that was still informed by the backpacker style. Kanye’s production of the time owes a lot to people like Pete Rock but it is equally influenced by the Puff Daddy production style. It was as if the “best” and “worst” eras of rap came together and by combining them, Kanye really was “the new version of Pete Rock” because if he only tried to sound like Pete Rock, he’d just be 9th Wonder.

‘Detroit Deli’ never blew-up but it was but one of many exemplary rap albums that seemed to be making an appropriate bridge between “mainstream” and “underground”.I can vividly recall watching MTV some day in Spring 04’ and seeing the ‘All Falls Down’ video and a few videos later, ‘Selfish’ and thinking about how exciting that was. 2004 was a good year for rap music and it’s just one more reason why these “bring hip-hop back” idiots kill me; when rap was showing a lot of potential, when a sea change was beginning, no one really appreciated it. They were too busy hating as usual. ’99 Problems’, Kanye West, Dead Prez’s ‘R.B.G’ (don’t forget, the ‘Hell Yeah’ video got some BET air time), Outkast-mania, Just Blaze, Nas’ ‘Streets Disciple’, ‘Breathe’ by Fabolous, and don’t forget Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’, a corny but politically aggressive and legitimately controversial rap song that got major radio and video play. Even the pop-rap and r & b songs were pretty great: R. Kelly’s ‘Happy People’, all those Usher, Ciara, and Destiny’s Child singles, ‘Lean Back’, ‘Tipsy’… where were all the heads then? They should have been yelling about how hip-hop is back or at least supporting some of this shit. Of course, those types can do nothing but complain, so somehow, the music wasn’t political enough or it wasn’t political exactly the way they wanted it to be or a million other justifications. It makes me fucking crazy.

Written by Brandon

January 12th, 2007 at 3:17 am