Artist: Slum Village
Album: Trinity (Past, Present & Future)
Rating: 3 / 10
In the beginning, the Tribe Called Quest fruits (pun intended) were ripe for picking. In their productive career the trio produced countless grooves that should have sown the seeds for a vibrant new generation of Tribe-influenced hip hop artists – the ray of call-and-response sunshine that was ‘Can I Kick It’, ‘Description Of A Fool’ which tested whether your feet and your head could operate at the same time, Tip leaving his wallet in ‘El Segundo’, ‘Midnight €™s’ shadowy torch-lit storytelling session, and then there was ‘8 Million Stories’ with its title rivalling ‘Neverending Story’ in the fraudulent advertising stakes.
But alas, the sound that quickly ran the carefree block party vibes and the devotion to moving butts out of Tribe Town, and the sound that easily translated onto the late-90s nu-Native Tongues artists, was that of ‘Bonita Applebum’, the lethargic drudgery of dribbling bass and suffocatingly grey ambience used to full effect by producers like Jay Dee and Hi-Tek. And now, Jay Dee – the man whose resume (“Like Water For Chocolate”, “The Love Movement”, “Fantastic Volume 2” for starters) would surely provoke uncontrollable levels of heckling and object-throwing if he read it out to an audience – has strangely decided that the demands of his crew Slum Village are too great, and has retired from rapping and touring altogether, resigning himself to producing only a few tracks on this, the Village €™s second LP.
But all is not lost for the Jay Dee fan, because this entire album is seemingly encrusted in his pus-like sonic influence. Beats like ‘All-Ta-Ment’, ‘La La’, ‘Star’ and ‘Intro’, with the nervous bassline wandering alongside the comatose rhythm like a lost child and some occasional plasticky Vend-A-Vibe effects in the background, convey the sense of typical J-Dilla. A track here is titled ‘Slumber’, which is as bad title as the word “slumber” suggests a peaceful sleep, when in fact the Trinity sound is less of a soothing breeze than the indecorous gurgling of a faulty radiator. And when your production cuts such a meagre and undernourished figure, it €™s a really bad idea to name a cut Insane. Presumably the Village thought this severely neutered rendition of ‘Daytona 500’ – quickly looping guitar lick, stumbling drums an €™ all – was absolutely bonkers. Or maybe they thought the “hook”, featuring inaudible background ramblings reminiscent of ‘Revolution No. 9’ behind what sounds vaguely like someone singing in their sleep, was like the Charlie Manson of the hip hop world.
Amazingly, Trinity €™s miserably dreary production actually serves to lessen the wackness of the original Slum Village emcees T3 & Baatin rather than accentuate it, as the listener spends most of this album with the beats alone (most tracks have a much longer running time than the total mic time of the three emcees), and this serves to create a musical pig swill where there is so much unappealing mess in the mix already that adding some mildly irritating seasoning has little effect. T3 & Baatin still have their abysmal overenunciated overpercussive flows and high-pitched voices so they still sound scarily like Trina, and their lyrics have not come on leaps and bounds either – dubious claims that “niggas came in the game and stole our style”, disposable banality like “It’s love in the club and it’s constant, we drop shit and yell shit at the concerts”, cringetastic punchlines like “call me Dennis The Menace because I €™m such a menace” and hysterically inflated egotism like “I’m done with you little fucks in this little earth, I rule a planet of my own where you don’t exist” are just some of the highlights. Thankfully the third emcee in the Trinity, Jay Dee €™s mic replacement Elzhi, is impressive with a style reminiscent of Nas, unleashing a fluid flow, well-written lyrics and neat multisyllabic rhyme schemes whenever he has a verse. Unfortunately, on the album as a whole, he is drowned in the aforementioned pig swill despite giving the album its only real strong point.
And what of Jay Dee? Well, he provides the album with both its silliest beat and its most outrageously boring. The track One is a concept song very loosely based around the number one, complete with hook idea bitten from Ghostface Killah €™s track of the same name. Jay Dee actually dresses his beat up with some substance this time around as he tries to hold together a horror movie feel through urgent strings and loud deep-throated belches of bass. However he €™s no Havoc, and it €™s more Boris Becker than Boris Karloff in the horror stakes. His other contribution is Hoes, which proves that no matter how many people copy his style and how they choose to do it, nobody can fuck with J-Dilla when it comes to being bland, as he fiddles about a bit with a slowly staggering bassline and… uh… not much else, and eventually gets the fine achievement of creating the sonic equivalent of impotence.
That this album was intended to be a concept album based on each emcee and each track playing the part of the “Past, Present or Future” is almost unbelievable – to be properly deemed a concept album, Trinity would need to stand up to a large amount of scrutiny regarding this concept, which it fails at miserably, barely standing up to any scrutiny at all and having no trace of any kind of meaning or concept threaded throughout. Unfortunately SV €™s airheaded approach also extends to the length of the album itself, clocking in at an completely absurd 69 minutes. It €™d be almost pointless for me to dissect this limp creature with any more detail than I have so far, as just about all of it is regressive, repetitive, totally dispensable, and so lacking in both vitality and artistic precision that it €™s hard not to believe the tedium is a intentionally placed intrinsic cog in the risible “Past, Present, Future” joke.
And risible indeed the supposed album concept is, but unfortunately the laughable wackness of it is not present in too much of the music, most tracks being just dry, unelaborate awful rather than Vanilla Ice awful, despite the inflated sense of self-importance which hangs around T3 & Baatin like a fly around shit. That €™s not to say Trinity doesn €™t give us a laugh from time to time on its long, long trek into nothingness – the bassline on the title track sounds like a washing machine and is accompanied by the cheesiest synth effects since Giorgio Moroder €™s Scarface soundtrack. And the bomb Slum Village aim at the clubs, titled ‘Disco’, misses by a very long way. Ever pressed the “demo” button on your 5.99 Casio keyboard? Slum Village have, and by golly they love it so much they €™ve rapped all over it and recorded the results.
The music of A Tribe Called Quest and pals always sounded healthy, like it had enslaved a dietician and ran daily marathons. A decade on, and the descendants of that sound are the complete opposite end of the spectrum – Slum Village €™s music is so weak and lifeless that it sounds as if it €™s been on a diet of one pea a day since birth; you almost expect the album to come with a leaflet appealing to save SV €™s tunes from fatal malnutrition. More than anything else, they sound like a group who should be unsure of themselves, a group not knowing really what they €™re doing. But to be so grandiose as to make their sophomore effort a 69 minute long concept album, they surely are sure of themselves, they surely are confident that their product is strong enough to pull a 69 minute long concept album off. Which is annoying more than anything else really. Because they suck.