AMONG THE MANY REASONS for hiphop's current decline, the most obvious is its spectacular rise into 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 board of Microsoft, Boeing, or Intel. They are, effectively, excluded from these types of spaces, so what else can they do but take advantage of the rap industry, which offers them the opportunity of 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 CEOs of WalMart or General Electric, then we should not complain about what they have done to the substance of hiphop. And once in a while, 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 hiphop. 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. Formed in the early 90s, they completed Fantastic, Vol. 2 two years ago. It got shelved by A&M, their former record label, when Seagram bought its parent company, Universal Music Group. Early this year, Slum Village signed with LA indie hiphop label Goodvibemusic, and the "internet-centric" music company Atomic Pop, which released Public Enemy's 6th CD last year. Because bootlegs of the shelved CD have been floating around the internet for the past year, Slum Village revised the CD, and the new version can be downloaded from the Web or purchased in traditional stores.

Musically speaking, Jay Dee's 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 restrained, too professional, with very little room for errors or surprises. But on Slum Village's Fantastic Vol. 2, the monster emerges and knocks everything out of place. The CD is sloppy, slippery, vague; it drifts, meanders, floats through a thick "dub haze." There's no system, design or architecture, just beautiful ruins, broken pieces, shimmering shards, faint flickers. Unlike Mos Def's Black on Both Sides, or Common's Like Water For Chocolate this CD lacks a clear mission, agenda, or program; after listening to it 5 times, I still don't know what Slum Village is about. They're not mean, angry, happy, or high; nor are they "real niggas," afrocentric, experimental, or spaced out like Kool Keith. They're a little of bit of everything; and the things they utter or mumble seem inspired by the moment, by the mood of the song. Slum Village doesn't take command of a beat in the masterful manner of Dr. Dre, but instead swims and floats through its dreamy and gentle undulations.

Jazz Saxophonist Eric Dolphy once said "after [you hear music] it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." The same goes with Slum Village-- they exist only in the mix, in the warm, liquid spaces of the songs. The moment you press the stop button, everything vanishes, and all you're left with is air and a weak aura. (There is, however, one bad track on the CD, "What's it All About," which is spoiled by the barking and braying vocals of boring Busta Rhymes.)

This is the best hiphop CD to come out since the Root's Things Fall Apart, and you better buy it because "Its been a long time, maybe way too long/ since your audio produced a real rap song."