A Golden Thread in the Garden of Creativity: A Conversation about Baatin

 

 

Titus Glover aka Baatin 1974-2009

Titus Glover aka Baatin 1974-2009

 

 

As soon as I arrived in Detroit I went to a party, but, unfortunately, it was a memorial for a famous rapper who had passed away just that weekend.  Baatin was one of the leaders of Detroit hip hop, his group Slum Village was acclaimed all over the country and the world, and, as it happened, he and my roommate, Michelle Elias, aka Dove and One of 7, were very close.  

Baatin had gone just one day before, and Michelle had so much to do that the only way to deal with me, who was supposed to begin staying at her place that weekend, was for me to meet her at his memorial.

After the taxi dropped me off I stood around on Michigan Avenue for a while.  There was a large, stylish crowd milling in front of 5 Elements Gallery, a steel-drum barbecue on the sidewalk next to the door.  I looked across the street–the fronts of buildings on this block, Michigan Ave. between 14th St. and Wabash Ave., had been painted in a series of vivid colors, purple, green, blue.  The front of one building featured an elegant mural of a Soviet-ish star, on a bright red backdrop, with a young woman leaping out of it.  It reminded me of the government-mandated bright colors, painted on the enormous DDR housing projects that loom over center-city Berlin, designed to liven up the depressing postcommunist cityscape. The colors on Michigan Avenue felt more spontaneous, though, more like the product of individual people’s imaginations and less that of an urban-beautification scheme conceived on a massive scale by technocrats.

 

From the collection at 5 Elements Gallery

From the collection at 5 Elements Gallery

 

 

The people in front of the gallery were talking, joking, and hugging with so much energy that I felt inspired to participate in the scene in some way.  I figured I could at least buy a hot dog from the barbecue next to the entrance.  As I ate my hot dog, I stood on the sidewalk with my enormous black traveling bag next to me.  As people tried to get by the bag, I kept moving it around and saying, “Excuse me,” with my mouth full of food.  Hours later, I noticed a mustard stain on my shirt.

Finally I realized that Michelle was probably inside, and, after I found her and we locked up my bags in her car, she told the man at the door that I was with her, and that I could go inside. 

I asked Michelle if she’d be willing to share a few thoughts about Baatin for this blog, and she was kind enough to say that she would.

Michelle knew Baatin for over ten years.  They met when she was “out dancing at the Shelter and Rhythm Kitchen, basically in the creative scene that I was traveling in.”  

 “For all the people who got to know and hear Baatin, it was complete creative and emotional devastation,” she said.

For those not familiar, Baatin was a member of a Detroit-based rap group called Slum Village.  At the time, the other members were T3 and Jay Dee.  Jay Dee would soon find extraordinary success under his better-known moniker, J Dilla, as a DJ and producer for the Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest and Q-Tip, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, and numerous others.  J Dilla passed away in 2006, from a cardiac arrest after enduring bouts with Lupus and a rare blood disease known as TTP.

Slum Village formed in 1996.  That same year, they independently released their first album, Fantastic, Vol. 1, and in 1998 they went on tour opening for A Tribe Called Quest.  Baatin performed on two more Slum Villagealbums, Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000) and Trinity (Past, Present, and Future) (2002), but left the group after becoming ill during a tour in France.  In 2008, Baatin rejoined Slum Village.

Here are a couple of YouTube links to Baatin and Slum Village’s work:

Tainted from Slum Village’s Trinity (Past, Present, and Future).

Players from Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2.

Baatin’s single Marvelous Magic.

Asked about Baatin by Allhiphop.com, Talib Kweli recently said, “He was more influential than you could imagine.”  When I asked Michelle to describe his legacy, she struck much the same note.

Michelle emphasized the positive, encouraging role that Baatin had always played in the Detroit scene.  “If other artists in Detroit were like clouds, then Baatin was like the wind,” Michelle said. “He always made everyone feel very warm, he never wanted to make someone feel bad even if they were still on the come-up, still learning their craft.  He just kinda ebbed and flowed and nudged people a little bit and brushed up against them.  I mean, what is life without the wind?  It’s the air we breathe.

“As successful as he got, he was always real accessible and kind.  We’ll never see anyone like him again.”

Baatin2

When we were talking, I said it was interesting that Slum Village become prominent in the late 90’s, at around the same time when other Detroit artists, like Eminem and Kid Rock, who I referred to as “sort of poppy,” were becoming the first Detroit hip hop artists to go platinum.

“In the scene, we’ve never thought of Eminem as poppy,” Michelle said.  “Eminem was like one spoke on a wheel that was turning around and moving in the underground, and Slum Village was like another spoke on that wheel that was perpendicular to Eminem.  We had a real diverse, thriving, super super lush hip hop scene back then.  And Baatin was in an unspoken lead role.”

One of the qualities that made Baatin so important was his openness to different styles and points of view.  “He would have been real happy to kick back and talk to will.i.am, and, Andre 3000, and Marvin Gaye.”

In addition to different styles of hip hop and funk, Baatin also immersed himself in different cultures, non-Western cultures in particular, which contributed to the styles of his performances.  Baatin was a “martial artist and a yoga master,” and had been studying Sanskrit and Hebrew since before Michelle met him.

As far as Baatin’s interest in foreign languages is concerned, Michelle described a game that they would play on occasion.  “He would ask me over and we would play this game.  He would tell me words from those languages [Hebrew and Sanskrit] that I didn’t know and ask me how they felt to me.  He never just says a word, there is always so much breath and inflection and interpenetration in the way he says them, so when I said how the words felt, I came pretty close to what those words actually meant.  That tripped us out.”

To the untrained eye, Baatin’s memorial looked more like a party than a memorial.  In a big, low-lit room adjacent to the gallery space in front, a series of DJ’s standing on a tall dais kept a steady stream of galvanizing beats flowing between their laptops and a pair of speakers the size of industrial-strength refrigerators.  MC’s took turns at the mic, and when they did, arcs of motivated listeners gathered around them, cheering, teasing, and generally bouncing along with the rhythm.  I stood to the side watching, enjoying myself, and sipping a local lager called Motor City Ghetto Blaster that I found extremely tasty.

I told Michelle that the memorial had a joyous, even celebratory feeling about it, and I asked her if that was because people felt so glad just to have known Baatin.

It was, but it wasn’t, she told me.  In some ways, I had misread the entire event.

“We are part of a very small underground scene,” she said.  “Behind the smiles there were a lot of tears.  People were going in the bathroom and falling apart.

“We don’t get to see each other that much,” Michelle added. “It was kind of like a reunion because Baatin was like a golden thread that connected all of us.  You have to have been a family member or a member of that close circle to be in that room.

“Believe me there have been a lot of people calling me up, crying.  We are all completely devastated.  But he left us with a well of love water to draw from.”

I asked Michelle if there was an anecdote that could sum everything up about Baatin and her relationship with him.

“I remember one time when Baatin gave me a re-birthing,” Michelle said.  “He taught me about yoga, and how to do many breathing exercises like ‘cobra breath,’ which really rebuilds your chi.  He also mastered Reflexology, the study of pressure points in your hands and feet.  The ‘re-birthing’ was all about crushing and dispersing these ‘crystal formations’ that settle in your body mostly your hands and feet. The ‘crystal formations’ accumulate due to the emotions, stress & loss you deal with in life.

“I never knew about these kinds of thing before I met Baatin, and, once he put his hands on me I could feel these little crystals.  Through manual manipulation, I could hear him breaking up these crystals in my feet.  He worked on my feet for like two hours, my feet and hands.

“He used to call me angel. I’m a person who a lot of people in the scene confide in, tell me about their problems, and I guess those people’s stresses settled in the crystals in my feet.  And I had stresses there, too.  And do you know how sometimes you have an ache that you get so used to that you don’t notice it?  And as he worked on my feet, I felt completely rejuvenated and new, like this pain that I’ve had is just completely unnecessary.

“I would like people to pray for him in his full name, Titus Glover aka baatin.  Pray for him, light a white candle, go through the formality of sending him a little of their own energy.”

Michelle thought it would be a good idea to conclude with a word about three other Detroit hip hop artists, who also recently passed away.  “RIP J Dilla, RIP Big Proof, RIP Blade Icewood—these were really impactual artists, and the common denominator was that they stayed really accessible, which helped feed the garden of creativity in Detroit.”

J Dilla

James Dewitt Yancey aka J Dilla aka Jay Dee 1974-2006

 

DeShaun Dupree Holton aka Proof 1973-2006

DeShaun Dupree Holton aka Proof 1973-2006

 

 

 

Darnell Lyndsey aka Blade Icewood 1977-2005

Darnell Lyndsey aka Blade Icewood 1977-2005

~ by electrorefutedrobo on August 8, 2009.

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