Slum Village is a new entity in 2013. Long gone are the days of dusty drums and earworm hooks as heard on “Fall N Love” and “Get Dis Money” as are the memorable bars from Elzhi when he joined the group on Trinity. After one impressive mixtape hosted by Mick Boogie and follow-up that lacked the prowess of its predecessor, the Conant Gardens-born crew bears a new front with their latest LP. While the album stays consistent, there’s an almost forced energy that comes off as lackadaisical inspiration plastered on top of ill-fated instrumentals, causing Evolution to be the most haphazard Slum Village record to date.
If you preview a few tracks, the album sounds as if it has some potential. A full body listening session, on the contrary, will reveal a dull attempt to offer classic Slum Village sounds melded with the misdirected, post-Elzhi version of Slum Village. After Villa Manifesto dropped, fans came to the realization that this was probably it for the revered, underground Detroit crew. Yet, upon some relative acclaim, Slum Village decided to give it another run and drop another one (that being Evolution). It is heart wrenching to think, but it makes more sense now more than ever that SV should have stuck to their retirement from music instead of making an album that sounds more forced than A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement.
As the aforementioned comparison infers, the sound so to speak is not too bad, but the substance is what bears the brunt of the disappointment. Young RJ engages in a very dynamic, Black Milk-esque style as he handles the album’s production (save for two tracks). Raunchy synths seem to be the go-to method for crafting melodies in RJ’s mind as almost every track features both the harmony and melody quantizing alongside the less than impressive drum hits.
Nearly every beat features drums not delivering a punch anywhere close to where the lyricists’ energy is, or even close to the accompanying musical backdrops. Judging by the beats overall, it sounds as if Young RJ is lustfully attempting to copy J Dilla by matching his patterns; perhaps his sounds are untouchable, but one might be able to pull off similar schemes, patterns and methods for beat-crafting. The only problem is that, if this is true, rather than thoughtfully give the fans what he thinks they want, Young RJ only adds to the forced nature of this album.
Never before has Slum Village drawn up such disposable lyrics. Far below potent, the bars serve up nothing more than an average metaphor here and a run-of-the-mill pun there. Verses on Evolution fail to incite as much entertainment value, bravado or even catchiness as past Slum Village verses have done. Everybody can recite famous hooks off of Fantastic, Vol. 2 and recall jaw-dropping lines from Elzhi on Trinity. But on Evolution, it is the featured guests who muster up the most enthusiasm when it comes to crafting memorable bars.
As a group, Young RJ, Illa J and T3, the last-remaining member of the original Slum Village trio, fail to be cohesive in their musical ventures. While trying to give fans what they wanted, Slum Village conjured up a record full of mishaps, mistakes and failed directions. Perhaps fans expect too much out of the fallen crew; perhaps the crew expected too much out of themselves. By now, Slum Village is more of a name than it is a physical entity and it is unfortunate that this might be the way the legendary group goes out. Even with stellar performances by Rapper Big Pooh, Focus… and Blu, this album could not be saved from its lackluster substance and undermined effort. While there is credit due for the attempt, it is saddening yet necessary to give Evolution a thumbs-down.