Back in 2010, things were looking grim for Detroit trio Slum Village. Only two years after reuniting with his partners T3 and Elzhi, founding member Baatin suddenly passed away in the middle of recording the group's sixth commercial release, Villa Manifesto. Then, just weeks before Villa Manifesto's release, T3 announced that the LP would be the Slum's final release. And things only got worse looking for the Conant Gardens crew from there; Elzhi went on the offensive at his Slum Village brethren even calling them out in his version of "Verbal Intercourse, Pt. 2" from his acclaimed Elmattic.
HipHopDX: After Villa Manifesto dropped in 2010, it looked like there wasn't going to be any projects coming from Slum Village. What brought about the return of the group?
T3: To be honest, for me, I really didn't want to do it. Thing that made me want to do this Slum Village thing again was probably [J Dilla's mother] Ms. Yancey and Illa J the legacy that [the group] is, and I kinda know this and I was really hesitant to do any Slum thing, but as of recently, I've kinda been soul-searching and I still…you know, Slum Village has been around a long time and we've had a lot of member changes, we had a lot of things going, and I kinda feel like it was just time for us to get together to do music. As of now, I've wrapped my brain around it and I'm ready to tackle that, and probably about the end of this year we'll probably drop a record. At first, you know, Young [RJ] - he's always been on the production side of Slum Village since Trinity, so we're talking a lot of albums, and Illa has grown up with Slum Village from when he was a young lad, and even now in being in Slum Village, so I mean, it's natural. There's nothing about it that's not natural, I feel like it's just time for us to kinda do it.
DX: Like you mentioned, Slum Village has gone through a few line-up changes due to riffs in the group or deaths of members. You guys have obviously been deeply involved Slum Village since the beginning, but how do you make sure to uphold the intact group's initial spirit despite these changes?
Illa J: It's just like T3 said: it's natural. [Young] RJ's been around since the beginning, I've been around since things began, 'cause I know some people think I popped out of nowhere…nah, I've been [working] T3, he taught me the moves. It's fam. I was watching a documentary on the Foo Fighters and…they asked [Dave Grohl, front man], "Why are you making music like you was making with Nirvana?" He was like, "''Cause, that's the type of music I make. [Laughs] This is what we do," so it's like natural like that; we just go in the studio and do it. The chemistry is there, we've been rocking these shows and it's just natural.
DX: Absolutely, and to kind of speak on J Dilla and Baatin's legacies, with it being Dilla Day this Friday, how important is it to uphold both their legacies and remind of Slum Village's importance in Hip Hop?
T3: Number one, Dilla, it's like…the thing about Detroit Hip Hop the other day: I was like, if [J] Dilla was from New York, he would probably be [DJ Premier]. Now, Premo has worked with everybody from New York, right? Detroit is a little different because we've had to fight for ours, and I think the hardest part was [listeners] giving us our respect; the love the music and the artists - we've gotten more respect from [other] artists than we did the fans…what I'm saying is, coming from Detroit made it harder for us. The reason why I'm saying that is because we still have to rep Dilla because Dilla is so much [a part] of Hip Hop that I feel like you can give him his just due. [He's] made over 300 songs for a bunch of different artists - you would think his name would be everywhere. I feel like we still have to rep that. We still have to rep Detroit, I still have to uphold Baatin, I've still got to uphold Dilla and I've still gotta get Slum Village to where we need to be.
With the Dilla thing, it's just because that's my bro and I love, it's a respect thing and I think that's something that we will always do and we've always got to represent. We're still fighting to get our just due, or at least we feel like we are, and that's something that we're going to have to do for life. Any time there's something like [Dilla Day,] it's really big for us to host a Dilla event and doing it. It's going to be great for Hip Hop. A lot of people talk about Dilla, but we actually lived [with] Dilla, and that's apart of our blood so we will always rep that.
DX: Exactly, and kind of speaking on reaping the D, you have a new Dirty District project in the works -
T3: We've got a Dirty District [project] in the works, but this Dirty District is not just Detroit though [with] this one. This one we're kinda doing just with a variety of folks. We hit Atlanta, we've got [Rapper Big] Pooh, and then it's, and we've got Chicago. It's not just Dirty District, like, locally. This Dirty District is a little bigger than that.
Young RJ: The whole concept with this Dirty District is that it's family-based. These are all people that we have a chemistry with, that we've been working with and feel like are dope musically. We've got Focus..., who came out the Aftermath [Entertainment] camp…he dropped his record and it was a dope, solid record. You have Pooh, who dropped Dirty Pretty Things…you know he's coming with solid stuff…you've got other artists that we've got incorporated on there, so it's not like just let's through a bunch of people on here and do a random Dirty District; this project was kinda thought out, something that me, T3 and Illa kinda thought out on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, and the project is crazy.
Illa J: This project is crazy, and how it came together, it's crazy. Like he was saying, we didn't plan it like, "Okay, we need this kind of a single." No, we literally just did it. Everybody did they're thing, sent us the joint…everybody pushed each other [on the music] 'cus everybody wasn't there [while we were recording], so it's like have to be at the top of your game or your verse isn't going to make the song…if it ain't up to par, then it's deleted.
DX: Another project that you guys have in the work is the third volume of Fantastic. It's been 10 years since Fantastic, Volume 2 dropped, and both previous installments really had a specific sound. How did you guys get back into that mode or style of recording after a decade away from it?
T3: The big thing about Fantastic [Volume 3] is this: number one, I said I wasn't going to do another project unless the people asked me to do this project. I've been asked to do Volume 3 by three different random folks, people that I respect, from Mick Boogie to my [manager] Ty [Cannon], just all the folks that told me, "Yo, why don't you just do Fantastic Volume 3?" It ain't like I haven't never thought of it, but it's just the fact that at this day in time somebody asked me to do that - like, really? So I feel like it was destined for us to do it. I'm not reinventing the wheel; I'm at what feels natural and what works. For [these requests] to come up so randomly and at the same time, it makes me think that this is something that I should really do - [it's coming from] people that I really respect. It's just time; it's a natural thing.
Young RJ: Sonically, the record is gonna be what you would expect: groove-based, yes there will be some Dilla, yes there will be some Baatin. There will be involvement from both of them and my goal is to bring the cats back from Volume 2. That's my goal - to bring the all-star lineup. I want to bring back as many people [featured on Volume 2] as possible, from Q-Tip all the way down to Pete Rock. I would love to have their involvement in it. You know it's not going to come out if it's not dope. If it's not right, it's not coming out. As a person that loves Slum Village and a person that grew up on the movement - I'm talking about since '92…I know sonically what it's supposed to be, and I've got a couple of producers that I've got in mind that I'm reaching out for to make sure it's all the way right.
DX: I think for a lot of fans and for Hip Hop in general, a Fantastic Volume 3 is going to be really important. How is this album going to re-establish your legacy and place in the Hip Hop scheme of things?
T3: I think if you keep dropping music and getting it to the forefront, I'd like to see it re-establish itself. But what happens with Slum Village, sometimes we disconnect from a lot of people and we get into our own little world, but I think when we do this next album, we're gonna reach out and that's gonna give us that edge that we need to re-establish that. I think people respect Slum Village and the legacy, but sometimes it's better in the dark. It ain't done in the light, it ain't brought to the forefront, I can get on the phone and people tell me how much they love Slum Village's music, but it hasn't been brought to the forefront. Detroit has…to fight to get our respect and I think it'll come out. Locals have a respect for music that is intellectual and [is just] natural only. Also on the next level, I think we don't we have a problem. Eventually, it's going to come to the forefront and it just is what it is.
Illa J: Honestly…music is just like sports to me. You have a championship team one year, then another year, a couple of different players on the line-up, but you know…in my mind, we gotta do it…they've been sleeping…we're doing it right. It's already done, we've gotta do it. That's how I feel…musically, we're there, and it's natural. Ain't nobody forcing, it's in Focus's blood, it's in my blood, RJ's and T3's. Our whole squad is just natural, we just do it and that's what the edge is - we're not thinking, we're just doing it in the studio.