One of my favorite hip hop groups that deserve much shine is the one and only Slum Village. This dope group hailing from Detroit combined expert lyricism with innovative and avant-garde production. Slum Village's original lineup included T3, Baatin, and Jay Dee, also known to most as J Dilla. I remember seeing and hearing them for the first time live at a Tribe show at Towson State University in 1998. Even then you could see the post-Native Tongues influence in the group. Lyrically, braggadocious rhymes were interspersed with sometimes misogynistic musings. What brought everything full circle, however, was the production from Jay Dee. The album that illuminated their talents initially was Fantastic, Vol. 2, released in 2000 to critical acclaim. Fantastic, Vol. 2, in essence, was a streamlined version of their original album release entitled Fan-tas-tic, Volume 1. Fan-tas-tic, Volume 1 was a compilation of demo songs recorded in 1996-1997, and leaked to the Detroit underground and beyond.
The song that sonically encompasses the production talents of Jay Dee (or J Dilla) during this time period was "Players", an atmospheric hip hop cut that, according to emcee T3, was a battle response to fellow Detroit emcee Proof and his group. Listening to "Players", you're brought into the mental space of the voices on the microphone. What stood out, in my opinion, was the vocal sample heard throughout the song. More on that vocal sample in a few moments. For a trip down the Slum Village pathway, here is the song in question, "Players":
Now as for the vocal sample in question, Dilla went into the dusty archives for a gem. The sampled vocal was "Clair", by The Singers Unlimited. It's a very small snippet (appearing at the 2:18 mark of the song) that makes up the haunting sample, but what makes the sample stand out is that it is not even saying "Players", but "Clair". Dilla was able to manipulate and filter the vocal sample in such a manner that, subliminally, the listener was drawn into the notion of "Players". That was the genius of J Dilla when it came to his ear and precision sampling techniques. "Clair" was a featured song on the 1974 album A Capella II.
During the early and mid 1970's The Singers Unlimited released a multitude of vocal-based albums showcasing their unique a capella stylings and harmonies. For trivia buffs The Singers Unlimited included the voice of the Jolly Green Giant (Len Dresslar), who used his deep voice to great effect for the 70's icon. Other members of The Singers Unlimited were Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton, and Gene Puerling.
Rest in peace to J Dilla, who passed away in 2006 due to complications from TTP and lupus, as well as Baatin, who departed this planet in 2009 from a still-unknown cause. Carrying on the Slum Village tradition were T3, down with the group from the beginning, and Elzhi, a top-notch Detroit lyricist respected by many inside the hip hop community. Their most recent album, entitled Villa Manifesto, has been regarded as the last under the Slum Village moniker. Much like their similar-minded creative brethren from North Carolina Little Brother, who knows what the future has in store for the collective. If Villa Manifesto indeed is the last true Slum Village album, the ride has definitely been "FANTASTIC". For further information regarding Slum Village, visit their website: http://www.slumvillage.com/.
The Singers Unlimited continued to release their unique and unmatched vocals throughout the 1970's and early 1980's. Overall, fifteen albums were released by The Singers Unlimited, culminating with the 1981 collection Easy To Love. For further information regarding The Singers Unlimited, peruse the following website: http://www.singers.com/jazz/singersunlimited.html.
Hip hop has a way of paying homage to the past, while still maintaining originality and creativity, when done properly. I don't want to get on my purist soapbox on this beautiful Sunday here in the state of Maryland, but hip hop culture, be it rocking the microphone, manipulating the wheels of steel, b-boying, beatboxing, graffiti, or even activism, can be an uplifting and positive outlet. I'm glad that I'm able to use my experiences and passion to enlighten those that may or may not be a part of the culture. From The Singers Unlimited to Slum Village, the love for hip hop lives on!