Slum Village has gone through a major change on every single album. “Fantastic Vol. 2” was their first major release. At the time, the group consisted of Jay Dee, T-3, and Baatin. Jay Dee produced every beat and gave them a signature sound. The hype for SV was intense. Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest had so much faith in the Detroit trio that he passed the torch to them on the classic track “Hold Tight”. On “Trinity”, Jay Dee (as an emcee) was replaced by Elzhi. While Elzhi was an excellent and underrated lyricist and emcee, the Jay Dee production was missed. Still, they had some hits like “Tainted” and “Disco”. After the “Trinity” LP, Baatin left the group (or some say he got kicked out). I interviewed him and the turban-wearing emcee was not happy with the situation. Slum Village returned without Baatin. In 2004, only Elzhi and T-3 are on the mic for the new “Detroit Deli” LP. Jay Dee raps on one song and produces a different track. Most of the production is handled by Young RJ and Black Milk (who did some wonderful work on the “Dirty District” compilation). With all of the changes and the trouble, Slum Village has proven that they can still can release a solid album. While “Trinity” did not have the thick beats that “Fantastic Vol. 2” had, there was a rough style to it. “Detroit Deli” is very polished in production, lyrics, themes, and emcee styles. While every track is not excellent, there are many addictive songs that fans and newcomers will learn to love. Most people think of Eminem when they hear about Detroit hip-hop but Slum Village are living proof that the Motor City has much more to offer.
“Detroit Deli” has some instant musical addictions. “Do You” (the only song produced by Jay Dee) uses a sample from Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce”. The production is what SV fans have grown to love. The energy and confidence in both the production and the emcees are incredible. “…Do you / N*gga, cause I’m a do me!…” is chanted with assurance. The hit single “Selfish”, (produced by and featuring Kanye West) is a new classic SV song. Like “Tainted”, the theme of women and romance is wrapped in a hip-hop energy and attitude without being corny or absurd. John Legend sings the hook: “…I'm calling (Yeah maybe I'm selfish) / Out to (I want you to myself I can't help it) / All my (Yeah maybe I'm selfish) / Y'all my, ladies and I can't (maybe I'm selfish)…” Kanye West does an excellent job in the middle verse, replacing Baatin but the true jewel of the song is Elzhi’s final verse: "...What up Pam how your little man doin in New Jersey / Last I heard he caught the flu and you was worried / Hope he feels better, and thanks Jonetta from Cleveland / For that good head in your Jetta better believe it / Shanice you're my piece from Compton / Before I mark the plane make sure you cop them trees to spark up / Danielle ATL got them pictures in the mail / You sealed with a kiss and you send it with Chanel / You looking good in that one showing off your body / Had a Beverly Hills mami that would buy me Carti's / Take me to after parties her name was Carrie / And it sucks that we didn't keep in touch I'm sorry / But, hey Kim how's Minneapolis? / You so pretty hate to show off your titties for silly classes / Cause I love you girls though you ain't mine /I wish my arms was long enough to hug you all of the same time..." The theme of the song is astutely executed by Elzhi, making him a truly underrated lyricist. Another interesting track is the final “Reunion” featuring Jay Dee aka J Dilla. Produced by Young RJ and Black Milk, “Reunion” is basically a track directed towards Baatin. While Jay Dee did leave the group, he did not actually return. He did not produce the track and only flips one verse. Again, the most interesting part of the song is Elzhi’s final verse. He talks about an interview Baatin did with yours truly… me! Other good songs include “Zoom”, “It’s On”, and the emotional “Keep Holding On”. Slum Village can create upbeat party tracks as well as poignant, emotional tracks, which are enlightened with depth due to Elzhi’s lyricism.
Slum Village always had album tracks that were above average and eventually had to grow on the listener. “Old Girl / Shining Star” is a poignant track about single mothers. Dwele sings the hook on two nice tracks. “Closer” is a romantic and elegant song. While at first “Count The Ways” may sound like a romantic track, listen to the lyrics and hear Dwele sing “…Count the ways I want to f*ck you…” Only a hip-hop song could pull that off.
Filler has always been a slight issue on Slum Village LPs. “Fantastic Vol. 2” has a couple of filler tracks and “Trinity” had even more. While “Detroit Deli” is Slum Village’s tightest LP to date, there are still a couple of filler tracks. “Dirty” features Dirt McGirt aka Ol Dirty Bastard. Produced by Young RJ and Black Milk, the thick, old-school snare hits feel out of place on this otherwise silky album. Dirt McGirt is always entertaining but this song just does not fit. Ol Dirty basically yells the inane hook: "...Girl, if you're flexible, intellectual / Bisexual, can I get next to you / If you're flexible than, we can keep it dirty and sexual / If your man front, than we gotta knock the n*gga out / Smack the n*gga up, stomp the n*gga out, clap clap the n*gga up..." While “Dirty” attempts to bring the same energy as previous SV cuts like “Raise It Up” or “Get Live”, it just ends up being an expensive filler cut.
Slum Village has changed on every single album. Like The Pharcyde, their line-up has gotten smaller and smaller. Without Baatin, the weird, spiritual aspect of the group is gone. This actually gave them a wider appeal to a mainstream audience. T-3 has the raw and dirty flow and delivery while Elzhi has the poignant, intelligent lyrics. Together, they make a very satisfying team and complement each other very well. “Detroit Deli” is their tightest album to date but the J Dilla production, which once was the jewel of SV, is sorely missed. RJ and Black Milk are very good producers. Their work on “Detroit Deli” and “Dirty District” (Vol.1 & Vol. 2) is unique and interesting but Slum Village music just feels like it should be produced by Jay Dee. Unfortunately, Baatin is nowhere to be found on this LP. They could have least given him a verse or two. Still, Slum Village’s “Detroit Deli” is a very polished and smooth sounding LP that successfully walks the line between upbeat anthems (“Do You” and “Zoon”) and poignant tracks (“Old Girl” and “Closer”). If “Detroit Deli” is a taste of Detroit, fans will be coming back for more. This is one deli where the food is prepared very well.