Editor’s Note: Initially we rated this album 2 out of 5. The author’s intended rating was 2.5 out of 5. Our bad.
Motown and Hip-Hop have a lot in common. Both are groundbreaking entities that have shifted the landscape of music and introduced us to brilliant artists that enriched our lives beyond their artistic offerings. And many artists from both the Motown label and in Hip-Hop have parallel stories, but none more analogous than Slum Village and The Temptations. Both have suffered tremendous setbacks, losses and frequent personnel changes, which in some ways prevented them from truly reaching their potential. And two founding members from both groups: T3 and Otis Williams remain determined to keep the two groups they helped create going despite apprehension from fans and critics.
T3 has been with SV since the beginning, but despite this, he is still viewed as the big bad wolf that shouldn’t be allowed to keep the group he helped create going. Fans and some critics will never accept his right to use the SV name, nor will they recognize any lineup that doesn’t include Baatin, Dilla, and sometimes Elzhi (depending on which era they are stuck in). They will constantly compare any future projects to the previous work the aforementioned lineup(s) have left behind, refusing to allow SV to evolve and continue to make music (which is what the original members would’ve wanted anyway), hence the title of their latest album Evolution.
The title Evolution is T3, Young RJ and Illa J’s declaration of independence, signaling that the new SV era has begun. It’s not intended to be disrespectful considering Jay Dee’s little brother is a part of this lineup, along with a founding member and Young RJ, who has been around SV since he was a child. The album is filled with subtle hints that they aren’t here to repeat history; they’d just like to add their own chapter to an already rich legacy. And while most turn their nose up at this declaration, they’d be shocked to realize that this album is quite similar to the typical SV structure while adding in a few new elements. No, it doesn’t have the eccentricity or spirituality that Baatin brought, those masterful Dilla beats or his ability to glide over a beat Debbie Thomas style or Elzhi’s penetrable lyrics, but it does cover most of SV’s favorite topics over laid back soulfully layered production.
Lyrically, the album is what you would expect from Slum Village in terms of content; it just isn’t as good this go ’round. They speak about women, sex, hustling, bravado and Hip-Hop, but often times use basic lyrics that won’t keep your attention very long. You aren’t going to experience any complex rhyme schemes or double entendres; it’s simplistic story telling and rhymes that aren’t meant to change the world or give you a headache as you try to dissect them. And most of the guest appearances lyrically outshine SV on their own album as Blu (“Let It Go”) and Big Pooh (“Rock Rock” and “RIOT!” take over the tracks they appear on. On the flipside, T3 and Illa J’s cadences are pleasing with T3 sounding sharper and a lot more comfortable with his flow while Illa J shows signs that he’s starting to come into his own.
Also, the production on the album is pretty good. Young RJ has the unfortunate task of filling Dilla’s shoes, which is impossible for even a veteran producer to do. He isn’t going to offer up what Jay Dee did but that doesn’t mean that what he brings forth is automatically shitty. There are quite a few tracks he crafted (“Forever”, “Bout Dat”, “Rock Rock”, “Let It Go”) that are dope, with Focus giving the album its two most laid back, airy cuts (“Summer Breeze, 1 Night”) that come close to the standard vibe you want from SV. But overall, Young RJ brought forth traditional Hip-Hop rudiments and SV styled production by giving the album multi-layered beats with heavy synths, cumbersome samples, dusty drums and a decorated soulfulness making it the best part of the album.
Ultimately, Evolution lacks any real cohesion and the elements that differentiate an album from a mixtape. Clocking in with 12 tracks with no skits or transitions, it’s a short project that jumps from one track to the next never truly connecting them to create the feel you would expect from an album. There are also songs on this project from their Dirty Slums 2 mixtape. “Greatness,” “RIOT!” and “Hustle” are recycled tracks that takeaway from the project, which should’ve been replaced with original offerings.
In the end, this album doesn’t have any leftover Dilla tracks or verses from Jay Dee, Baatin or Elzhi. There is mere mention of what once was proving that the new era of SV has begun and regardless to who may not like it, it will continue. Overall, the lyrics are lackluster and the project doesn’t flow well, but the production is good with relatable topics. And if the new SV sharpens their lyrical blades and continues to find their groove, they might get a warmer welcome from open-minded fans, Temptations style.
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