2013-06-20 - 3:23 PM - Lukas
Three years after releasing Villa Manifesto which was supposed to be the last chapter for Detroit’s legendary group, Slum Village, the band, originally started by Jay Dee, T3 and Baatin, is back with a new LP, fittingly titled Evolution.
Slum Village has gone through changes. Elzhi left in 2010 after nearly a decade, and the group now counts Young RJ, a longtime producer for Slum Village whose father founded Barak Records, and Illa J, Jay Dilla’s younger brother, as its new official members.
“Slum Village is always evolving, and this trend is going to continue,” T3 says, regarding the current state.
With the release of Slum Village’s previous album, Villa Manifesto, you stated that it was going to be the group’s last record. What made you to change your mind?
T3: At that time I felt that Villa Manifesto was going to be the last album. The group was going through changes with the members. I felt that was it.
But then things started happening naturally. Me, [Young] RJ and Illa [J] went on tour. After that we said ‘Let’s do a mixtape.’ We did two mixtapes, experimenting with the new formula, and took it from there. After the mixtapes, we agreed ‘Alright, let’s do a full-length record now.’ We started coming with the master plan. That’s why we call this album Evolution because we have evolved into this. It’s about evolving—as a group and individually. It’s a really serious record.
Just to make it clear—Young RJ and Illa J are now official members of the group?
T3: Yeah, that’s true and let me say this: I don’t just go and grab somebody off the street. These are people that have been a part of Slum forever—Young RJ since he was five when we came to his house to record and Illa J saw the original members of Slum recording while he was sitting on the stairs, listening to us. This is a family. It’s like passing it down to the younger generation because I’m much older than they are.
As you said, the title of the LP refers to the group entering a new phase. How would you define the direction that you are trying to take?
Young RJ: The direction with the music was to keep everything on the level of Slum. Most of the time people associate the group with the classic records, like [Fantastic] Vol. 2. With Evolution, I was just thinking ‘What would Dilla do?’ I was trying to stay in the lane of what he would want if he was producing. That was the main thing that I was trying to accomplish.
Sonically, I was trying to take it to a different level to where it’s not boring and people wouldn’t feel they have heard that from Slum before. That’s why you got records like “Riot” and “Braveheart”. It’s a new form that we can attach to the sound now.
You have quite a history with Slum Village. Was there anything particular in producing Evolution that you did different?
Young RJ: Yeah, this time we brought back SP-1200, MPC-3000 and more samples. The album is definitely sample-heavy. I wanted to give it the essence of what people love which is sonically the 90’s hip hop, the golden era. That’s what I grew up on. I wanted to keep it in that realm—classic feel, classic sound and heavy drums. We put live drums on some stuff and also used live guitars. We got a lot of background singing on this one. [This is interesting because] instead of using records, because it was hard to find the right ones, what I did was I took the records that I liked and had the singers come in the studio and recapture the feel of the record.
There are records, like the already mentioned “Braveheart”, that Slum have never done before.
T3, what’s your lyrical approach on the album?
T3: The goal with the lyrics is to keep it as real and true as possible. We’re coming from an emotional time and we’re going to tell you what’s on our minds. Evolution is about keeping people aware of what’s going on with us. When you’re re-introducing yourself to people, I think the best way to start off is to tell them your background, your stories and what you’re going through at this particular time. When you hear records like “Let It Go” where I talk about the past group members and how things were or when you hear “Bout That” where we talk about the real issues we deal with on a daily basis [you will understand the essence of Slum Village more]. I recall my early beginnings and how I started rapping and all this stuff. We just kinda give you a lot of info to re-introduce this whole situation. We just kept it real as possible.
Listening to the LP sampler, Evolution picks up right where the mixtapes with Mick Boogie left off. How hard was it to create a cohesive album instead of another mixtape?
T3: We totally freed ourselves when we were making those mixtapes. We didn’t really care, like, we sampled just raw stuff. Dirty Slums were not supposed to be Slum Village. We didn’t want to make a bunch of girl records. We aimed to make it hard and dark. That was the whole thing. But the response [these mixtapes] got [was very positive]. We figured ‘OK, we can blend old Slum with this new Dirty Slum and evolve into this new sound’. That’s basically what happened. We started off just doing it and then it became something that people were gravitating to so we incorporated that into the Slum sound.
Evolution is the second Slum Village album that doesn’t have any J Dilla beats or verses on it. Why?
T3: A lot of people ask this question. We could have Dilla beats and verses on Evolution but we’re holding onto it. We didn’t want to go that direction. Because right now, you got Illa J preparing the release of Yancey Boys so you will get your dose of Dilla. What we’re doing is trying to establish this [new era of Slum Village]. I know Dilla would’ve wanted us to do it like that. We still got stuff with him in the vaults that’s pretty dope and nobody has heard. We’re not rushing it because we’re not done yet. We got more records to make and we’re going to pull these songs out when the time’s right.
What’s your opinion on so much of Dilla’s music being released after his death?
T3: I don’t think [that it could tarnish his legacy]. And the main reason why I’m saying that is because the new Yancey Boys album is better than people expect it to be. It’s a step off of the last record. I think fans will be highly impressed with this album and with Evolution.
I think it helps the movement of Detroit. The thing that people got to understand is that Slum Village is like pioneers of the underground Detroit movement. We were the first act to get signed to major label. Not only that, it’s a family tree of people who came up under the Slum Village umbrella from R’n’B to rap and Dilla is a big part of that. We got the Dilla movement—with the Slum and without Slum.
And Dilla is still slept-on in some parts of the world, and so is Slum. I think it’s needed for his music to get released. Most of the music is great.
Do you have a say in what parts of his catalog are going to be released?
T3: I don’t. We’re not into that. That’s a Yancey Group thing. Whatever his mom and Yancey Group are going to do I’m not involved in that.
Do we have records with Dilla? Yes, but I don’t have anything to do with the other stuff.
You’re probably not going to like this question, but I still have to ask, though. Have you talked to Elzhi since he departed the group?
T3: (laughs) You’re right. I don’t like this question but I will answer it.
No, I haven’t talked to Elzhi for two and a half years. I’m assuming he’s doing whatever he’s doing and that’s pretty much it. I don’t focus on that, man. Whatever he’s doing is fine. He’s doing his thing, I’m doing my thing. Much love, whatever he tries to do.
What I would like to tell people is that Slum Village have always changed members. Some fans like to get stuck on a particular era, like some people only like the original members, some people like when it was me, El[zhi] and [Baa]tin, some people like it when it was just me and El. But people should get used to us changing because we’re always going to do it.
Besides Evolution, what else are you working on?
T3: We’re already talking about a new record. We have solo joints that we’re working on. RJ is working on his, I’m working on my mine, and Illa got the Yancey Boys coming out.