“What you know about Slum Village?” asked a voice in the crowd at the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Most everyone in the house had a ready answer to that question.
It’s the 788.
What do you get when you blend one of hip-hop’s standard-bearing groups (Slum Village) with one of the genre’s best producers (Pete Rock) at one of the world’s best (and first, 1993, to be exact) craft breweries (Bell’s)? The answer there—a bloody good time (minus the blood).
For older hip-hop heads (and younger ones, too), when Pete Rock is on the bill, there’s no need to worry. Golden hip-hop moments are guaranteed when the Chocolate Boy Wonder is handling the decks.
Slum Village has been touched by tragedy twice, having lost original members J Dilla and Baatin to premature crossroads. Their most talented MC, Elzhi, went solo. T3 is the last original member, currently flanked by Young RJ. Slum Village’s semi-debut, Fantastic, Vol. 2, is a certified classic.
Their second album, Trinity (Past, Present and Future), found tepid reception from some critics, but it is underappreciated even though J Dilla’s involvement was minimal (just three beats—he was on his solo/Stones Throw grind at that time).
SV’s other four albums (as well as their demo album, Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1) have some memorable joints (namely “Selfish” produced by Kanye West off Detroit Deli), but fans tend to gravitate more to J Dilla’s masterpieces from Vol. 2.
It would be disrespectful to think SV wouldn’t be able to pull off a stage show considering everything they’ve been through. It would be easy for them to focus on newer material (that doesn’t feature Dilla, Baatin or Elzhi) especially since some new recordings are surfacing:
But SV is playing to their fans on this tour. Quite simply, they’re giving the people what they want. Entering with a call-and-response tribute to Dilla and Baatin set the tone perfectly.
The set was inspired throughout, leading with the slightly lesser known, “The Look of Love” (off Vol. 1), running through classics like “Players,” “Get Dis Money,” “Selfish,” “Fall in Love” (accompanied by the remix), while sprinkling in Jaylib cuts and other Dilla gems.
As their set was winding down, T3 put the music on pause. It seemed like he might do a final monologue, but as he was mouthing a few farewells it occurred to me that one song had been missing from the setlist.
In the momentary quiet I exclaimed out loud, “Raise It Up.” No sooner had the words left my mouth when J Dilla’s rumbling space odyssey of a composition came rattling through the room.
For anyone with a hip-hop sensibility, this set was simply an exquisite delight—especially considering three members of SV’s former line-up are not part of the act. It was palpable. It was the old shit. Real School. True School. Whatever you want to brand it.
While the hip-hop community will always mourn the losses of J Dilla and Baatin, SV remain more than relevant (overused music critic term, probably coined by those Pitchfork hipsters), they are a powerful testament to the camaraderie, creativity and spirit that authentic hip-hop inspires.
A jaded asshole’s take would be to label SV a relic trying to scrape the leftovers of J Dilla’s legacy.
Fuck that asshole.
To think that Pete Rock’s set was an afterthought seems uncivilized. Having missed his entrance, PR was already knee-deep in classic hip-hop joints by the time I re-entered the building.
Fab 5’s “Lefleur Leflah,” B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya,” RUN-DMC’s “Run’s House” come to mind but after he seemed poised to tear the roof off the mothersucker, he switched gears, exclaiming: “I’m gonna play my shit for a minute…a few joints.” INI’s “Fakin’ Jax” and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “I Got A Love,” to name a couple.
Our party was neck-deep in Bell’s Two Hearted Ales (7 percent alcohol content, for the uninitiated) by 1AM and, well, some folks have spouses and kids. Surely PR was going to close strong but sadly that chapter would remain unread.
Live hip-hop at a microbrewery space is something of an experiment (at least in Kalamazoo, MI.). This show was a prime example of distinct elements (craft beer, medium-sized market, underground hip-hop) coming together for the greater good.
You know what love is.
-Robert Richardson (aka Big Homie, aka SV’s road manager) for being a pro.
-Matt Conaway of MAC Media for also being a pro (every damn time).
-My cameramen Dominic Walbridge and Andy Walbridge and party participator Julia Kelly.
Featured image courtesy of the J Dilla Foundation.