Slum Village’s T3 takes a lot of heat from overzealous fans because he, RJ and Illa J continue to record under the name of Slum Village despite the fact that two of the original group members are deceased. In the past, addressing who is and who is not in the group has been a sensitive topic to say the least. But, if you take into account T3’s aspirations for SV to be more of a brand than a group with finite members, things make a lot more sense.
“It’s not the same exact group or the same people, but the same brand,” T3 explained to HipHopDX. “A lot of people came through Slum just like a lot of people came through The Roots: Jill Scott, Scott Storch, etc. For us it’s like that with Black Milk, Dwele and others. All that came through the Slum channel of sorts. So you gotta keep the Slum legacy going just for that.”
And so the legacy continues. Sort of. As with most artists, T3 doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into making one specific sound. That’s how Dirty Slums—a loose collective of familial artists—was born. It’s a delicate balance. How does one honor a legacy that includes acclaimed work with J Dilla, Baatin and Elzhi while still pushing forward? Don’t those two goals seem to be in direct opposition to each other? The recently released Dirty Slums 2 mixtape, an upcoming album and a tribute to Baatin should clear all of that up. But, just in case, the byproduct of a candid phone call with T3 should go a long way toward bringing some understanding to all things SV.
T3 Explains The Difference Between Slum Village And Dirty Slums
HipHopDX: You’re coming off the release of Dirty Slums 2, which seemed to be more of a free for all in terms of the features. There seems to be more of a communal vibe as opposed to the insular sound on earlier Slum Village projects.
T3: Dirty Slums is like a family project for us anyway. We reached out to the people we already had relationships with and a couple people you haven’t heard from in a while. It’s very important for us to keep that Dirty Slums vibe, because we’re loosely forming a crew. That’s kind of what we’re doing with the resurfacing of the Dirty Slums brand. And after that, we’re moving on to an official Dirty Slums album—which will be our next release in April. So it will be Slum Village Presents: Dirty Slums, and we’re just gonna keep that communal vibe.
I think I like that for now. It gives people the chance to hear new artists like The Action Figures and some other groups. We’ve also got family and friends like Rapper Big Pooh and Focus… We’re also scheduling a Dirty Slums tour for Europe that should be starting at the end of March. We’re working.
DX: For the rest of us that may be confused, what’s the difference between Slum Village and Dirty Slums? It seems the names have been used interchanegably...
T3: It’s Slum Village but technically not. I don’t know how to explain it, because you have more members, supporting cast and whatnot. I say, everybody’s coming together to do this, and it’s more so a Dirty Slums record than a Slum Village record. When you say it’s a Slum Village record, then people think, “Okay I’m gonna get a ‘Selfish’ and a ‘Tainted.’” Uhhh, no you’re not. Even though we got a couple girl records, it’s mostly a Dirty Slums record.
DX: How did you guys end up with Mick Boogie on these Dirty Slums projects? For those of us outside the loop, it seems like that kind of came out of nowhere.
T3: I’ve known Mick Boogie for a while through a friend of a friend. We’ve always been cool, and I knew is wife. They’re friends we’ve known for a while. So when we thought about doing a mixtape—which we hadn’t done in years—he was the first guy that came to mind. Mick Boogie’s dope, and he does things and he’s always grinding. I’m a big fan of his work as a deejay, so we reached out and he was down. He was a big fan of what we do. And that’s how we pick who we work with. We want people that want to be there. It’s not just a check, and it’s people who want to work. We don’t get caught up in any politics, so we just try to make a great project.
How T3 Maintains The Consistency Of The Slum Village Sound
DX: You’re very proud of the Slum Village brand. And you guys have maintained a consistency while the sound has still evolved. How do you balance that when people are out there with whole Dilla drum kits and they can mimic your whole sound?
T3: [Laughs] You know what? We don’t try to recreate anything like that, and we don’t touch that at all. When we go to do these Slum records, we don’t rehash anything. If Dilla messed with it, don’t mess with it. That’s pretty much the way it is unless we’re using an official Dilla track. We try not to touch it.
But the squad I’ve been messing with—me and Young RJ have been producing for Slum since Trinity. So we do a lot of quality control. I produced on Trinity, then you had Black Milk, Wajeed and Karriem [Riggins]. But me and J have produced since Trinity. We recorded most of that stuff in RJ’s studio; he would just give us the key. So it’s all just there, and it’s been an easy fit for us. It’s always been family, and it’s not just a bunch of new folks trying to recreate something. I think it’s a natural evolution of the sound and where we’re going.
After a while, we’re gonna have to take a break on the Slum stuff. We’ve got a lot of stuff geared up for our solo projects. So we’ve got that going on too. Right now, Illa J is getting ready to do Yancey Boys 2. The plan is just to keep the brand going and still do other things.
DX: You guys had an interesting interview with the Detroit Free Press about the perception of Slum Village’s “girl records.” That and certain lyrics give the impression that you have a love/hate relationship with songs like “Tainted” and “Climax (Girl Shit).”
T3: Yes we do. They’re great songs. I love those songs. But that’s the reason we’re doing Dirty Slums, because it’s not girl records. It’s a harder, more aggressive side of Slum. When you’re doing certain records, people start seeing you in a certain light, and you get put in that category. That’s fine, and it comes with the territory. However you come out is how people are going to perceive you. But that’s why we came out with a whole different brand with Dirty Slums, so we don’t have to go into that. When we dropped a record like “Decadence,” I know it surprised a lot of people, and people were like, “What?” And I said, “This ain’t a Slum record; it’s a Dirty Slums record.” And I don’t think people got that concept. I think people are just now starting to catch on to that. Dirty Slums is Slum Village affiliated, but you’ve got this guy, this guy and you know…
It’s gonna take some time to keep doing records and building that brand up and keeping the Slum Village legacy going. We can’t remake Slum’s legacy. It is what it is, and the history is already written. Whether you’re talking about the Elzhi period, or Baatin and me, that’s already written. But we’re just keeping the legacy going. We’re torch holders for keeping that brand going, because we were the first Rap act from Detroit to get signed to a major label. I feel like we’re the start of that, and we’re the pioneers. So I feel like we have to keep it going in a sense. It’s not the same exact group or the same people, but the same brand. A lot of people came through Slum just like a lot of people came through The Roots: Jill Scott, Scott Storch, etc. For us it’s like that with Black Milk, Dwele and others. All that came through the Slum channel of sorts. So you gotta keep the Slum legacy going just for that, because it started so much—even Dirty District when people was hearing Guilty Simpson for the first time on a national level.
We always try to look out for our fam, and they look out for us. We did a lot of things with Dwele. And after he blew up, he looked out for us on certain records. It just goes around, and we try to keep that community going.
T3 Explains Slum Village's Enduring Legacy As A Brand
DX: So is that the enduring legacy of Slum Village? What’s been the pinnacle during this 20 year run?
T3: I think the pinnacle is the brand. We should just be able to be a brand where we pick and choose people to endorse. It’s like, “We’re endorsing this or that.” It ain’t necessarily continuing to rap or always doing the production. But we’re endorsing this product, and you know from the years that nine times out of 10, when we endorse something it’s gonna be good. That’s really where I wanted to go. We just endorse situations that we love and feel represent the legacy of what Slum Village started. There’s a vibe and feeling you get when you hear the sound. That’s where it’s ultimately going.
It’s not for me to be on stage at 35 still trying to rap. But I think Rap is getting old, and I think you will see that. I don’t think Jay-Z is going to ever stop. I don’t think a lot of people are ever gonna stop as far as that. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Rap grow up, and it’s okay. You can be old and young at the same time for a change, and maybe 10 years ago, it wasn’t so cool to be old. Most rappers I know are at least 30. If you look at Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem and 2 Chainz, all of them are at least 30. You’ve still got your young cats, but they’re few and far in between. The old guys are kind of running the game.
DX: True. You kind of lead me into the next question. Has Slum Village purposely made a point of working with pioneers like Breed and The Dramatics?
T3: That’s just who we click with. We have relationships with all of those people. I’m not saying I wouldn’t work with any young cats, because that’s not true. I’m branching out more to do that this time. For us, when we was doing those type of records, we were just trying to prove a point. We were bringing in people that we respected. Even on [Fan-Tas-Tic] Vol. 2, it was people we respected. I was always a fan of Busta [Rhymes], D’Angelo and the rest of the people that looked out for us on that album. It’s all about respect.
There’s some young cats that I do respect. I do respect what Kendrick Lamar is doing. I feel what he’s doing and the lane that he’s carved out for himself.
DX: It was great to see Denmark Vessy pop up on this Dirty Slums project…
T3: Oh yeah, Denmark is the homie man. He’s been grinding for a while, and I’ve been a fan of Denmark for years. Denmark’s a pretty talented dude on the beats and the rhymes. We’re gearing up to do some more stuff together. I talk to him a lot; that’s my Detroit brother.
DX: You mention the Slum Village legacy a lot. As someone who has taken a lot of heat for guiding the direction of that legacy, why deal with all of that? You’ve publicly talked about the physical and mental strain that’s created…
T3: I did go through my state of depression for a second, and I got through that through family and friends. And this is all I do. I do music. And while I was still going through all that, people were still wanting me to do stuff. People were still writing me checks. So even though I got a lot of negatives from that, I got a lot of positives as well. I figured, “It must be meant for me to still do this.” And I just kept it moving. Once you get through that type of stuff—really any type of self doubt—you pray about it and you talk to some people who have been through a similar situation, you can move on easier.
You can move on and know what’s right for you. And I’m happy I did keep it going, because I love this Dirty Slums movement we’ve got going on. It’s all good, and I always try to stay positive. I always try not to put out anything negative, because that’s just the type of person I am.
DX: Baatin’s birthday just passed. What’s the status of the music he was working on?
T3: I still try to get his legacy going, and next year I want to try and do a benefit for him and his family. Next year, I want to release a record from Baatin, because we still got records on him. I definitely want to get his family straight, so hopefully next year we can put a little benefit together. It’s tough. I’ll probably try to do it for his birthday, which is March 8.
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