Slum Village: Forever Slum
Rapper T3 and producer Young RJ discuss Slum Village's legacy, having Drake as a fan, and the state of the group in the wake of Baatin and J Dilla.
On 2000's "Hold Tight," the legendary Q-Tip passed the torch of the Native Tongues movement over to Detroit trio Slum Village, saying, "Hold tight, this is the last time you’ll hear me/I’m out now, this is the last time to cheer me/...I’ma leave it in the hands of the Slum now/Take it away from where it comes from now." Now, a full ten years later, fans may be witnessing the rap game come full circle as Slum Village prepares the release of their supposed final album Villa Manifesto, out July 27 through E1 Records/Ne'Astra Music Group.
Yet much like the Native Tongues collective, Slum Village's legacy is one that fans will cherish and up-and-coming artists will revere.Through all of their ups and downs, line-up changes and personal tragedies, Slum Village has persevered as a sonic force in the independent hip-hop scene. Their impending sixth album may find them saying farewell to the late members J Dilla, Baatin and the even very group itself, but their influence is something that hip-hop will have no reason to miss. Last week, DX caught up with rapper and surviving founding member T3 and longtime producer Young RJ about rumors of the group parting ways, the significance of Villa Manifesto and the possibility of life after Slum.
HipHopDX: My first question today – and I do hate to ask this, but it is in the news – there’s been questions about Slum Village continuing as a group and whether Villa Manifesto is the last album, so I was wondering what can you say about these reports?
T3: Well, number one, I did put out a statement that [Villa Manifesto] will be Slum Village’s last album. I did that personally and the only reason why I put out that statement is because I am unsure if there is going to be another Slum Village album or not. It’s not because of any beefs or anything, it’s just the fact that the way this album is put together with me, [J] Dilla, Baatin and eLZhi and featuring Illa J on there, I really don’t know where to take it from there…it’s kind of up in the air right now whether we’ll do another album or not because half of the group is not here anymore. They’re only here in the spiritual form. I don’t know what to do from there. Mostly, that’s the biggest drawback.
DX: Exactly, and I can’t imagine what you guys are going through not just as a group with Baatin and J Dilla passing. But from what I’ve heard in reviews of Villa Manifesto, if Slum Village were to end, this would be the perfect note to end on. So with that said, what do you think Villa Manifesto says about Slum Village’s legacy overall?
T3: This album is like a spectrum of all aspects of Slum Village, which is great. You’ve got a song on there with just me, Baatin and J Dilla, and then you’ve got the other Slum Village, which is me, Baatin and eLZhi, and then you’ve got the other Slum Village which is just me and eLZhi, and then you’ve got the possible future Slum Village [with] Illa J…you’re getting a full spectrum of Slum Village, and that’s why if this [album] is the last album, I’ll be happy with that because the chapter is ending on a whole broad spectrum. If you like Slum Village in any form of Slum Village, then you’re going to be happy with this album. It kind of gives you the [group] from beginning until now, and I don’t think we’ve ever done that on an album. That’s what makes the album so great.
DX: So even with the news of Slum Village possibly dissolving after the album, do you think this is going to be kind of the perfect end to the group?
T3: Me and Young RJ made sure that we kept the Slum Village brand in tact. A lot of guys do stuff and say stuff with J Dilla’s name and they don’t really know him like that. They may have worked on a couple records [with him], but I mean, me and Young RJ worked with Dilla for 10-something years, so we’re going to make sure we uphold Dilla’s legacy as well as Baatin’s legacy as well as the Slum Village brand. I’ve been with Slum Village from day one. I’m the surviving founding member of Slum Village, and Young RJ…he was there at the beginning but he started producing during [2002's] Trinity (Past, Present and Future), and that’s like seven years. So what I’m saying is we’re real particular about how we put Slum Village out there and we’re not going to do just anything. We’re always going to keep it in a right light, because this [group] is my baby. That’s the reason why I haven’t done more solo stuff: because I’m more focused on the Slum Village brand and making sure that the legacy continues.
DX: Speaking of Slum’s legacy, Drake recently did a cover of “Climax (Girl Shit)” from 2000’s Fantastic Vol. 2 at a concert. Have you seen that performance and if so, what were your thoughts on it?
T3: I did see the performance and I was shocked. I knew that Drake was a fan, him and eLZhi did some work together a while back before he became "Drake the Lil Wayne artist," but it’s just nice to know that [he supports the group in that way]. I know that Slum Village has touched a lot of guys in the industry, but the fact that he goes out there and tells the world [his love for Slum Village], it just shows that we’ve been doing our job and that we really touched these artists. I definitely appreciate all the love that Drake has brought to Slum Village. It’s very unexpected because when I came up, I made I acknowledged guys who I was inspired by [like] Big Daddy Kane, LL [Cool J] and Kool G Rap. Today’s rappers don’t usually acknowledge how they got here…but I do appreciate that Drake acknowledged us because he doesn’t have to. It ain’t like I talked to Drake personally or anything, but I do appreciate that [love], man…and he put it out there for the world to know.
DX: Turning back to the album, Villa Manifesto is the first album that featured Baatin since Trinity, and I’ve heard from reviews how great he sounds, and I remember how great he was at the D.C. performance of Rock The Bells last year, even though he fell off the stage…
T3: [Laughs] Yeah, Baatin was a wild card. What happened was this: the way this whole album got started was a conversation that me and J Dilla had back in the 2000s, and me and Dilla were talking about doing a reunion album with me, him, Baatin and eLZhi. Well, after Dilla passed, I took like two years off because I was grieving. I didn’t do music at all. What I did was I got in touch with Young RJ and Scrap [Dirty] and was like "Yo, if we do another Slum Village album, we’ve got to bring Baatin in the fold. I don’t want to do no other album without Baatin." After that, we started putting the pieces together. We went and grabbed Baatin, we went and grabbed eLZhi, who was doing his own solo thing at the time, and we started putting this album together…Baatin was prepared [for this]. He had like a big book of verses. He was ready. I’m talking about a hundred-something verses in a book, and this guy was prepared. So we went in the studio and recorded a good 17 songs with Baatin.
We had verses galore and what happened was [Baatin] was doing Rock The Bells with us, and he couldn’t go to Canada [for the Toronto performance] because he had some issues with his paperwork. Me and [eLZhi] did Canada, and [during that], he passed away. Now, this album turns into a memorial album as well as a reunion album. That changes the whole aspect, so me and Young RJ go in the studio and try to put the pieces together. Luckily, they fit. Baatin gave us a lot to work with; that’s why he’s on almost every song on the album because he had so many verses and he was on-point with it, too. I’m sad that it has to come to this, but I got to make sure his legacy is in there as well as Dilla, as well as the Slum Village brand. That’s really my goal…I talked to Ms. [Maureen] Yancey, and that’s kind of why we brought Illa J in the fold. I talked to Baatin’s family as well…I’ve got to give back to [their families], too, and that’s really the overview of how we did this whole album.
DX: On the album, you’ve got the single “Faster” with Colin Munroe that Young RJ produced, and the thing I like about it is that it takes the whole Slum Village style and twists it with these new elements. What was the production and recording process of that song like?
Young RJ: Well, the production process started with the general idea of trying to come up with a record for Slum, and this was actually the first record we recorded for the Villa Manifesto album. I came with the beat, and I called T3 and said ‘Man, I’ve got your single.’ And he said ‘Oh really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not sure what you’re going to think, but I love it’…so I played it for him, and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got something for that.’ He ran in the booth, and 20 minutes later, he had his verse done and we went and got Baatin, he put his verse down, then El, he put his verse down. T3 called me and said ‘I know who we should put on this record. We should get Colin [Munroe].’ So we reached out to Colin and he sent it back in two days. In industry time, that’s like crazy fast. You have that string you along for two or three months, and [Colin Munroe] actually knocked it out, so once we had it done, we knew that was the single.
DX: With respect to this song specifically, was there anything that you did in terms of your style of production that was different or was it kind of more just getting into a certain frame of mind?
Young RJ: It was actually a style that I had been working on. We actually did two albums to do the Villa Manifesto album, so we got some stuff that’s extreme left, stuff that’s extreme right and we had some stuff that was more in the direction of “Faster.” After Baatin passed, T3 and I sat down and really went back over the album and fine- tuned the hell out of it, just making sure that the fans would be happy and the fans had all the pieces that they wanted and that they would need, and how would Dilla want to sound this…that’s why “Faster” is a little more [different] than people are used to hearing Slum.
At the same time, we wanted to make sure we could have something blend in with radio, but not trying to do what the average person on the radio was doing. It still has a soul element to it that is Slum Village, but it’s still new and that the younger generation can get and I think that’s what’s important about the record. Slum didn’t go too far left to get on the radio. It was just a natural record that T3 generally liked, that Baatin liked, that El liked and it just so happened to turn out to be the single.
DX: Definitely. Taking it back a bit, Dilla kind of set the sonic tone for Slum Village. When you and Black Milk took over the reins back in the early ‘00s, were you at all intimidated?
Young RJ: It definitely wasn’t challenge because even before we even went in to work on Trinity, I was in the studio with Dilla and T3 working Dilla’s solo project [Pay Jay] that was supposed to come out through MCA, so I already knew that Dilla put his stamp of approval that I was dope as a producer and T3 put his stamp of approval because me and T3 have worked together a while before we started working on Trinity. It was just actually putting all the pieces together without having Dilla in the fold of him producing all the tracks. [It was mainly about] making sure that we came up with the right stuff and to make sure that without Dilla being there, people hearing Slum wouldn’t miss him as being a member of Slum Village. I think that T3 was instrumental helping bring me along to update [my style] and get stuff all the way up to par so that when we presented everything that everything would be right.
DX: Definitely, and in looking at the tracklist for 2005’s Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit), I see that young and T3 collaborated on the songs “Closer” and “Count the Ways.” How did you collaborate on producing those tracks and then as a follow-up to that, are you two going to be looking to collaborate on producing more in the future?
Young RJ: Yeah, T3 has always been a producer, and even though it might not say T3’s name on the track, T3 is the guy that says ‘Well, I’m not sure about that, let’s do this to it,’ so T3’s always been a producer. If you look back to Slum Village’s Dirty District Volume 1, me and T3 produced most of that ourselves and most of Trinity. Me and T3 were in the studio working on fixing up other peoples’ stuff and just putting stuff together. [We’re] definitely going to be working on a lot of stuff in the future. I’ve been knowing him since I was like six, so we’re definitely going to be doing a lot of stuff.
T3: We’ve got a lot more music to make and we’re ready to work…we’re constantly keeping it creative. It’s just creative stuff that we’re working with in the future. All I want to do is thank the people who’ve supported Slum Village, through the ups, downs, and changes and the good and the bad. Without our supporters, we still wouldn’t be here today. I don’t see them as [just] fans, I see them as supporters…we’ve had some issues and a lot of people have still been there for us. I always like to end our interviews with thanking the people who support Slum Village.