AMONG THE MANY reasons for hiphop's current decline, the most obvious is its spectacular rise to the mainstream. Now, I'm not one to foist all of hiphop's problems on entrepreneurs like Master P or Puff Daddy or Russell Simmons, and I especially dislike it when white critics censure them for making big money; because really, how else are they supposed to make that kind of cash? There are no blacks on the boards of Microsoft, Boeing, or Apple. Blacks are, effectively, excluded from these spaces, so what else can they do but take advantage of the rap industry, which offers them the opportunity to become something of a Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner? Ultimately, blame for the sad state of hiphop should not fall on Puff Daddy, but on a set of social and economic circumstances induced by a resistant strain of racism. Until the situation in corporate America improves, and ambitious guys like Master P can realistically become CEO of Wal-Mart or General Electric, we should not complain about what they have done to the substance of hiphop. And besides, once in a while--a long while, admittedly--a quality band such as Slum Village comes along, and, as Mic Geronimo said on his enchanting masterpiece "Masta I.C.," "produce[s] a real rap song."

Like Eminem, Slum Village are from Detroit, a city more noted for its soul and techno than its hiphop. Formed in the early '90s, they completed their first album, Fantastic, Vol. 2, two years ago, but it got shelved when Seagram bought Universal Music Group. Early this year, Slum Village signed with L.A. indie hiphop label Goodvibemusic and the "Internet-centric" music company Atomic Pop, which released Public Enemy's There's a Poison Goin On.... Slum Village revised Fantastic, Vol. 2, and the new version, which is better than the first, can be downloaded or purchased in stores. There is also a free track, "Players," which you can download on www. goodvibemusic.com or www. atomicpop.com.

The group consists of three members, one of whom is super-producer Jay Dee, who has worked with De La Soul, the Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, and Common. Musically speaking, his work on the Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia, A Tribe Called Quest's last two CDs, Q-Tip's Amplified, and Common's Like Water for Chocolate has been too clean, too smart, too restrained, too professional, with very little room for errors or surprises.

But on Fantastic Vol. 2, the monster in him comes through and knocks everything out of place. The CD is sloppy, slippery, vague; it drifts, meanders, floats through a thick "dub haze." Nothing sticks. There's no architecture to this CD, just shimmering shards, and faint flickers. Unlike Mos Def's Black on Both Sides or Common's Like Water for Chocolate, this CD lacks a clear agenda; I have listened to it repeatedly and still don't know what Slum Village are about. They are not mean, angry, happy, or high; nor are they "real niggas," Afrocentric, experimental, or spaced-out like Kool Keith.

The things they utter seem inspired by the moment, by the mood of the song. Slum Village do not take command of a beat in the manner of Dr. Dre, but swim lazily through its dreamy and gentle undulations. "Fellatio, interference, promiscuous, Homo sapiens"--what the hell does that mean? Like much of this CD, these are just allusions, hints, fragments that can only be understood or appreciated within the context of the song. The one bad track on the CD, "What's It All About," is spoiled by the barking and braying vocals of boring Busta Rhymes.

The jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy once said that "after [you hear music] it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." The same goes for Slum Village: They exist only in the liquid spaces of their songs. The moment you press "stop" or lift the needle, everything vanishes, and what is left is a weak aura, not unlike the kind you sense when exiting a blue swimming pool.

To get to the point, this is the best hiphop CD to come out since the Roots' Things Fall Apart, and you'd better buy or download it because "It's been a long time, maybe way too long/since your audio produced a real rap song."

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