Slum Village fans were still reeling from J Dilla’s 2006 death when fellow Slum Village founder Baatin died last year, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Villa Manifesto, the group’s first album in five years, feels at times like an elegiac trip through J Dilla’s past. The buttery soul and neck-snapping drums of “Scheming,” featuring Posdnuos, J Dilla, and Phife, recall the elegant soundscapes of Dilla’s production on Common’s Be, while the kazoos on “Earl Flinn” hearken back to the freeform experimentation of Dilla’s Ruff Draft. After Dilla died, relative newcomer Elzhi emerged as Slum Village's MVP, but the intricate, razor-smart rapper feels unnecessarily restrained here and Elzhi, who has apparently had a falling out with T3, is absent on too many tracks. Slum Village has always been a producer-driven group, but it’s a shame to relegate such a virtuoso wordsmith to the background. Accordingly, producer Young RJ channels Dilla on seven standout tracks, and is ably assisted by Khrysis, Dave West, Hi-Tek, and Mr. Porter. (Dilla himself produced two songs and raps on three.) In spite of the setbacks Slum Village has suffered, a spirit of playfulness pervades the album. Considering Dilla and Baatin’s legacy of joy, it’s fitting that surviving members Elzhi and T3 pay tribute to their fallen comrades primarily by having fun. Manifesto feels less like a funeral than a celebration.
More from The A.V. Club