SLUM VILLAGE, BAHAMADIA, SPONTANEOUS, CALI AGENTS
Fantastic, Vol. 2, the new debut album from Detroit's Slum Village, was supposed to come out in 1998, when its lean, imaginative, beam-rattling production would've instantly established the trio as a major new voice in hip-hop. But thanks to the Universal-Polygram merger, the release was repeatedly delayed, and the group was tossed like a hot potato from A&M to Interscope before being let out of its contract to sign with the Internet-savvy indie Goodvibe. In the meantime the group's talented producer, James "Jay Dee" Yancey--who's also half the production team called the Ummah, with A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad--began turning up in the credits for loads of killer records. In the last year alone his touch has graced recordings by Q-Tip, D'Angelo, and Common, all of whom make cameos on Fantastic, Vol. 2. His style is marked by tight, dry, heavy beats, minimal electric-piano patterns, clipped and claustrophobically funky bass lines, and the occasional well-deployed sample--on "I Don't Know," from the new album, he even manages to make "Funky President" sound fresh. I can't speak as highly of his rapping: he and his cohorts T3 and Baatin sound an awful lot like Tribe, and this lack of originality is compounded by the nonchalant misogyny that most of Jay Dee's clients take care to avoid. Slum Village headlines a Goodvibe tour that also features Philadelphia rapper Bahamadia, whose new seven-track EP BB Queen is the long-awaited follow-up to her 1996 instant classic, Kollage, and it feels a little anticlimactic. Her rhythmically complex, off-the-beat delivery and subtle variations of intonation are still peerless, and her choice subject matter continues to raise the bar for hip-hop lyrics--in "Commonwealth (Cheap Chicks)" she gives props to thrifty shoppers and disses label watchers--but I just wish there were more. Spontaneous, an LA-based Chicago native, is a squirmy, squeaky, wigged-out rapper; on his recent Goodvibe debut, Spur of the Moment Musik, he spouts the usual keepin'-it-real shtick, occasionally coming up with an excellent line like "Your album's so soft it got distributed by Nerf." The Cali Agents, who aren't on Goodvibe but appear on Bahamadia's EP, are a new project featuring the superb Bay Area MCs Rasco and Planet Asia. Lyrically they spend most of their debut, How the West Was One (Ground Control), trying to find a happy medium between roots and loot; three of the album's scrappy, funky tracks were produced by His-Panik of the Chicago turntablist crew the Molemen. Sunday, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Wajid/Michael Branscom.