Death is nearly always tragic, even when it’s expected. I still remember learning my favorite hip-hop producer, James Yancey aka J Dilla, had died of complications from lupus, a disease he’d been battling all 32 years of his life. I knew he was gravely ill, that he’d been recording music literally from his hospital bed, but that was my Kurt Cobain moment: I felt an emptiness and a sadness I wasn’t aware I could feel for someone I technically didn’t know.
And when fellow Detroit rapper/Slum Village associate Baatin committed suicide last year, it was just as tragic, though unexpected. I knew he’d struggled with depression and other forms of mental illness, but I wasn’t aware it was that deep in his case, that he’d take his own life because of it.
And here, now, we have Slum Village circa 2010, literally half dead, but still thriving. T3 and Elzhi join with the sonic remnants of Dilla and Baatin and still-living rap luminaries such as Posdnuos of De La Soul, Phife of Tribe Called Quest, Dwele and Little Brother to create this surprisingly cohesive and joyful album. They call it a reunion and a memorial. I don’t know if Slum Village will release another album going forward but even if they don’t, this is a fitting note to go out on.