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R.I.P Baatin.

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“Pregnant (Baatin)”

The story of Slum Village seems to me, to be in many ways the story of post-Golden Age hip-hop. Steeped in tradition but subtly bucking it and breaking it down until you had something new.

Working with the same blueprint as all those second-generation “real” rappers but minus the possibility of hit singles, so just choosing to get really insular and weird. Fantastic Vol. 1 is an absolute classic and it’s maybe what Tribe or De La would’ve made if the possibility of minor major stardom was completely out of reach and catchiness wasn’t something to even try to fuck with.

Baatin’s the clear star–rap wise–of all the SV albums he’s on, but especially Vol. 1 where the unhinged, stop-start, cloudburst of pop brilliance and then some trippy weirdness pattern’s pretty much perfect for his flow…and his attitude. Take “The Look of Love”, one of SV’s stone-cold classics, and a song that perfectly captures the group’s mix of the “conscious sound” with a beyond-healthy dose of ignorance.

“The Look of Love” sounds like a head-wrap love jam, but what’s stuck between the hook’s pure wanna fuck stuff. This is perfect though, the mix of the kind and aggressive, polite and destructive, smart and ignorant. This whirl of contradictions, anchored in that beyond healthy dose of ignorance could probably sum-up Baatin’s rap career and the personal life exposed in those raps as a beyond healthy dose of ignorance.

One of my favorites aspects of Baatin’s rapping style is how he can (could…) both expertly enunciate but also use his accent and like, the spit in the back of his mouth as a tiny little extra percussive device, again creating an odd tension between craft and emotion. You hear this on “Pregnant” especially.


Though Baatin’s influence certainly never left the group, well after his exit due to drug problems and a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, for better and worse, Baatin’s all over Detroit Deli, the first SV album after he left the group. There’s a palpable sadness and a wizened sense of empathy to Detroit Deli–the SV sound finally lining-up with the lyrics.

Still plenty of shit and fuck talk, but the moody, sadness of the production starts to align with the lyrics which work their way through disappointment. By 2004, when Detroit Deli dropped, Baatin’s mental issues and exit and Dilla’s leaving of the group and his illnesses were all realities. And it floats through the entire album.

Most telling is Detroit Deli’s closing track “Reunion”, intended to be a track that featured current members T3 and Elzhi as well as Dilla and Baatin. Baatin never made it onto the track, but they kept the “Reunion” title, giving it an angry but also palpably sad tone. Dilla begins his verse with “El and Tin killin them, 3 killin them…” as if it really is a reunion. T3’s verse wraps-up with a look to the future (“maybe we’ll reunite”) when maybe they can all finally rap together.

And then, there’s Elzhi’s verse, one of the most affecting and damned honest verses ever really…and now, a weird eulogy for Baatin. Groups like SV forever live their rap lives partially under the shadow of their influences but that’s really okay, because more often than not, SV were interacting verbally/musically with their heroes. “Reunion” is SV’s “T.R.O.Y” and Elzhi takes CL Smooth’s responses to the fuck-ups in his life further in terms frustration and his empathy.

The verse is transcribed below, because it needs to be, but that final line, of the verse, of the song, of the album, “Getcha mind right nigga”, a line full of straight-forward advice, friendly honesty (“Dude, figure your shit out”) and a hopelessness that’s communicated by the choked-up delivery, destroys. That’s a weird balance, really hating someone and really understanding them. In a way, it’s the balance of living and considering other people.

Yo, Tin killin ‘em, 3 killin ‘em
You thought we broke up and well you right we really did-
I wrote a verse that I recited, it was hot
But I had to rewrite ’cause I thought we was united and we not
And though, all the love that I got for you partner
I picked apart your words and I’m shocked,
In them interviews I’ve been accused of not caring
When the city threw your furniture out
It’s not fair what I’m learnin about
How stressed you feel in a article
Forget a rhyme, I’m just as real when I talk to you-
And you know that we share Kodak moments
I wish we could go back
But don’t act like you wasn’t buggin’ out like a phone tap
Chasing cars in the street
I saw you throw a part in the sink
Then after, hit the bar for a drink
Who asked you to slow down?
Even though niggas told me you was gone clown
But I tried, you didn’t know I cried
When I saw you wildin’ at the State Theater
Near the door by the side
Throw you in the trunk and find a preacher for you
Cause I thought you had unlawful demons on you
Sinkin’ fast in the deepest soil
Your parents finally got you some help
You came out seeming normal and
I heard you on medication
Had a illness you couldn’t heal with herbs and meditation
And believe me, Me and T3 kept it low
Don’t take this as a dis this is just to let you know that I love ya
But watch the company you keep
Swearin’ niggas don’t care, but they love you in the streets
Get ya mind right nigga…

Written by Brandon

August 3rd, 2009 at 5:14 am

Posted in Dilla, RIP, Slum Village

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Trimming the Fat: ‘Ruff Draft’ & ‘Detroit Deli’.

The recent Stones Throw re-release of J Dilla’s ‘Ruff Draft EP’ contains two alternate takes of the ‘Intro’ track and the outro track ‘Shouts’, as well as two unreleased songs ‘Wild’ and ‘Take Notice’. The alternate takes and unreleased tracks are interesting as examples of Dilla as self-editor. Earlier in the year, I happened to come upon a promo version of Slum Village’s ‘Detroit Deli’ containing two tracks that didn’t make the official album release: ‘Intro’ and ‘Hood Hoes’. These tracks must have been removed at the last minute because some online reviews even mention ‘Hood Hoes’ in reviews; tellingly, these reviews are often negative towards the song.

To see what the artist removed from the album, unlike rap-dork rearranging, is grounded in reality and therefore, a bit more relevant. Looking at these removed or altered tracks moves the listener closer to the thinking of the musician. Concerns with pacing, track-order, content, etc. present the musician as sculptor. Once the songs are finished, the album begins, and the musician starts chipping away, making things smaller or different in an attempt to make a cohesive product.

Part One: Ruff Draft, the EP.

Beginning with the ‘Intro’ track where Dilla calls the music you are about to hear “that real, live shit” down to the lyrics, which oppose materialistic rap as well as backpacker rap (lyrics from ‘The $’: “and these backpackers wanna confuse it/Cause niggas is icy ain’t got nuthin to do with the music”), the EP is undoubtedly Dilla’s statement of self. The music is too weird to ever be picked-up by the corporate rap of the time but the aggressive focus on money and sex puts it in a weird position in relation to the “conscious” rap Dilla is generally connected to. The album isn’t really for anybody but at the same time, it isn’t overtly contrarian; it’s length and scope have a modesty that nearly all of Dilla’s work maintains. Even when singing his song of self, Dilla does it in a way that is never off-putting.

Part Two: EP song vs. Alternate Take

-‘Intro’ vs. ‘Intro (Alt)’

The ‘Intro’ found on ‘Ruff Draft’ is short and sweet, no music, just Dilla introducing the album; it lasts 17 seconds. The alternate take is 48 seconds long, with an incredible beat, the kind of thing DJ Shadow would make if he actually had a soul. The beat bounces as a really trippy, ghostly voice sample echoes in the background; the set-up to a John Woo shoot-out could be choreographed to it: slow motion guns being drawn, atmospheric walking, that kind of thing. Over the beat, Dilla excitedly yells a series of typical Dilla clichés “Yeah! Uh!…Brand new…long-awaited…yeah…I’m back…shut it down…there’s a whole lot of imitatin’ goin’ on!” In every way the alternate intro is “better” but if was actually placed on the album it wouldn’t really fit. That Dilla would just get rid of a beat this cool is a testament to his interest in a cohesive product. The simpler ‘Intro’ of just Dilla talking directly to the listener is more effective in introducing the EP while briefly delaying the music. The alternate ‘Intro’ also does not transition well into ‘Let’s Take It Back’ so, a cool-sounding song is ultimately sacrificed for the overall listenability of the EP. The differing lengths are also notable because by using the ‘Intro’ which is 1/3 the length of the alternate intro, it is one step towards reducing the EP’s already-short length.

-‘Shouts’ vs. ’Shouts (Alt)’
Again, the alternate version is the more conventionally “good” track. ‘Shouts’ is a sort of sputtering, rickety, falling-apart-sounding “beat” with Dilla calling out his worthy peers, friends, and acquaintances. ‘Shouts (Alt)’ is a loud, excited beat that stands-out. Using the same sampled drums found on Dilla’s ‘Fuck the Police’ single, along with some weird space bloops, and punctuated by a vocal sample of some guy saying “Baby-”, Dilla lists an extensive list of once again, friends, acquaintances, peers, and influences. The alternate ‘Outro’ is perhaps “too good” in the sense of calling attention to itself in a way that an outro track really shouldn’t. Particularly when the outro is following up ‘Crushin’ which is similarly sloppy, it would be odd to return to a conventional beat, so the shambolic ‘Outro’ works better than the concise, quantified ‘Outro (Alt)’.

Part Three: Deleted Tracks

This song seems to be a favorite among many since the re-release and although there is nothing wrong with it, it’s a bit too funny and gimmicky to really fit the seriousness of the rest of ‘Ruff Draft’. The EP isn’t self-serious, but it does have a certain strident tone that begins with Dilla’s assertive intro. The track is weird but in a novelty way, with a British girl singing Slade (not Quiet Riot) as the instruments either try to keep up with her sloppy singing or they were forced to play to the sloppy singing; either way, it’s all just a little too fun and light compared to the rest of ‘Ruff Draft’.

-‘Take Notice’
The beat of this song is used on track 6 of ‘Ruff Draft’, the first ‘Interlude’. This is interesting because it gives the listener insight into the way an artist often recycles or reuses an idea with the smallest of alterations. Nothing is wrong with the track, although the gun-talk is a bit incongruous with the rest of the album, but it just wouldn’t add anything to the overall feeling of the EP. The track is also 4 minutes and 25 seconds, a lot longer than any other track on ‘Ruff Draft’ and features a guest, Guilty Simpson. The guest appearance seems particularly at odds with the EP’s concept of being the announcement of a new style for Dilla; using people other than Dilla on the EP just seems strange. Like all of the bonus tracks, other than ‘Wild’, length may be the primary issue. The EP functions as Dilla’s assertion of self but at the same time, it’s a modest, quick assertion and the relatively lengthy ‘Intro (Alt)’, ‘Outro (Alt)’, and ‘Take Notice’ just wouldn’t fit.

Part One: Detroit Deli, the album.

I’ve already discussed this album kinda in-depth here but basically, I find it to be a remarkably consistent and emotionally affecting album. Many of the songs focus on women and sex without a cloying or obnoxious tone. As I said before, unlike more conventional “conscious” rappers Slum Village define themselves by what they do rather than what they don’t do.

Part Two: Deleted Tracks

When you’re a group like Slum Village, that is to say, sorry- but one that isn’t particularly notable, length and repetition will ruin you. Rappers with bigger personalities can give you a few weak tracks and it may not stand-out as much. This intro is a bit of a mess, the first five seconds or so is a soul-sample which stops for a second or two before a horn loop plays as we get, like the Dilla ‘Intro (Alt), a bunch of “we back!” intro clichés and then some freestyle-sounding raps over the horn-loop. It’s just not really essential. The very end of the ‘Intro’ is the sound of a car door opening, closing, engine starting, and driving away. On the official version of ‘Detroit Deli’ this car part is tacked to the beginning of ‘Zoom’, the rest of the ‘Intro’ is gone and very little is lost as a result. The album becomes one track and 2 minutes shorter.

-Hood Hoes’
On the promo, this track is placed between ‘Dirty’ and ‘Late 80s Skit’. The beat on this song is notable, a sort of flanged-out acoustic guitar note looped over some drums that are cut particularly short. My speculation is the content of the song, a rather negative song about women (as the title would suggest) led to its exclusion from the final version of ‘Detroit Deli’. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit about the content in terms of it being offensive or not but in relation to the other songs, it does come off even more harsh. The second half of ‘Detroit Deli’, beginning with ‘Selfish’ moves in a rather sad, sympathetic direction with a series of songs about women. Placing ‘Hood Hoes’ before these songs but not following it up with ‘Selfish’ just puts it in a weird, tacked-on position in relation to the other tracks. Once again, nothing bad about the track it just isn’t essential. The only thing that may be lost is a really nice aural transition into ‘Late 80s Skit’: The song ends but then, the drums pick-up again with added strength and without the flanged-guitar, and play-out for 10 seconds or so, building up to ‘Late 80s Skit’.

Written by Brandon

May 1st, 2007 at 12:24 am

Posted in J-Dilla, Slum Village

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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