I interviewed SV for a Montreal Mirror cover story back in 2001. J Dilla was no where to be found, but I was still happy to connect with the T3 and Baatin, who’d had me open from the get go.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE – Detroit’s Slum Village test the confines of the hip hop world
by SCOTT C
Is the Love Movement really over? Fans of Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed the world over shed a silent tear when the news of A Tribe Called Quest breaking up hit the wire. Followers of their instinctive paths of rhythm felt that there would definitely be a void in the wonderful world of hip hop without them, and wondered who would take their place. Enter Slum Village, Detroit’s ruff-assed diamond and the most likely to succeed to Tribe’s low-end throne. One quick listen to the boys from Detroit can unearth the obvious similarities between Slum Village and A Tribe Called Quest. While deep chords and underwater grooves ride sick drums, the MCs drop bugged-out, free-spirited rhymes that aren’t afraid to have fun with your ear. It’s that simple. Held together by the prominent production talents of Jay Dee (who rhymes on occasion), MCs T3 and Baatin often take a backseat to the beats but still contribute to the unequivocal, liquefied vibe. This is the sound that Jay Dee was able to hone while he was working with ATCQ on Beats Rhymes and Life and The Love Movement, two of the records he’s contributed to as part of the Ummah production crew that he formed with D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed and Raphael Saadiq. After a rocky start, getting dropped by Interscope in 1998, Slum Village has come a long way. The very same record that ended up in Interscope’s delete bin, Fantastic Vol. 1, was bootlegged very strategically by the group, a move that fostered an insane worldwide buzz that eventually led to the release of Fantastic Vol. 2 in late 1999. Hundreds of shows later, the Roots Okay Player Tour under their belt, U.K. love, European love and the all-important Japanese love there too, Slum Village is finally gonna make it to Montreal as part of the Swirl weekend festivities on May 18. The Mirror spoke to T3 over the phone from the Motor City.
Mirror: What’s this I hear about Jay Dee not liking to tour?
T3: I ain’t gonna say he don’t like to tour, but he’s the most likely to stay home if we got to travel anywhere.
M: So it’s safe to say that he’s not coming through–
T3: Yeah, I’d say it was safe (laughs).
M: I got my hands on a copy of Detroit’s Metro Times from March this year, the one with you guys on the cover in the studio. Is the name of your new record really called The Anger ?
T3: (laughs) No! The new record is not called The Anger, and who started that, anyways? It was probably one of us who said it as a joke. The record is called Trinity.
M: I gotcha.
T3: On this album Jay Dee isn’t doing any rappin’ at all. He may do one, but for this time out we’ve added a new mystery member to the Slum.
M: Yo, a mystery member? A real one, or is it just Baatin doing one of his impressions?
T3: Well, Baatin’s still doin’ his thing, but this is a new member altogether. This album is gonna be a little bit different from Fantastic Vol. 2. We got the alternative soul thing going on, as well as some futuristic shit that Jay Dee cooked up. It’s not the same shit.
M: I know when you guys made Fantastic, you made it with what you guys thought was missing in mind. You made music that you wanted to hear yourselves in the hopes that others would take to it.
T3: I think a lot of people are gonna take to this as well. Times change, man, you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over. Even when Jay Dee did his solo joint Welcome 2 Detroit, it wasn’t what people are used to hearing from him, and this is different from that. So it’s a whole new sound. We’re trying to create something new and bring a whole new sound to the table.
M: How does it make you feel to know that Fantastic Vol. 2 was supposed to have been released two years prior, but still managed to draw worldwide acclaim?
T3: It’s definitely very satisfying to know that the songs stood up even then, but at the same time, I wonder what would’ve happened to us if they’d been released when they were supposed to.
M: Since I first got turned on to you guys, there’s always been the odd person I get into the argument with about your mic skills. What do you say to people who don’t think Slum Village can rap?
T3: I’ve heard that before, and what I try to explain is that on Vol. 2, we are not trying to be lyricists. We’re trying to be as much a part of the songs and the overall vibe as possible. We wanted to be part of the musical aspect of a feel-good record, and I think we did that. You’ve got lyricists doin’ their thing everywhere else. On the new album, it’s totally different. Lyrics get flipped just to show people that we have many sides to us. We all go through phases. I remember when I was just doing sex raps like 2 Live Crew, and then I went through my L.O.N.S. phase. Too many MCs are afraid to change it up once in a while, but we like to mix it up.
M: Tell me about some of the cats you’ve got comin up in the Slum Village camp. I know Frank ‘n’ Dank are working now, and PhatKat’s record with Jay Dee is about to come out, but who else?
T3: There’s Elzhi, the dude who appears on Jay Dee’s solo joint.
M: Is he the same 16-year-old kid that I saw you guys perform with in Toronto last year?
T3: That’s probably El. He looks 16 but he’s really 22 (laughs)! He’s pretty short on top of that. You also got Dwele, who did that EP with Bahamadia. He’s comin’ with that sound we all love.
M: Does hip hop inspire you?
T3: It’s funny, but it’s not really rap anymore that inspires us to do anything. It used to be, but we’re trying to take it somewhere else. I think in a lot of hip hop these days people are kind of scared to venture out and do different things. I’m listening to a lot of Stereolab, and I’m not afraid to do things differently.
Slum pickins – A guide to Slum Village’s available releases
Slum Village Fantastic Vol. 1 (bootleg)
If you already have a copy of this, count yourself lucky. This CD boot has all the joints that had heads bobbing before the buzz had even started gaining momentum. Raw versions of “I Don’t Know” and “Hold Tight” as well as studio outtakes and the sweetest of Jay Dee’s superb interludes.
Slum Village Fantastic Vol. 2 (Goodvibe/Koch)
All good things come to those who wait. Vol. 2 is the perfect mix of all the dopest songs from Vol. 1 plus a hell of a lot more. Crowd faves “Fall In Love,” “Get Dis Money,” and “Players” make way for “Tell Me” featuring D’Angelo, “2U4U” and the ra-ra “Raise It Up.” Instant classic.
J-88 Best Kept Secret (GrooveAttack)
German based GrooveAttack had been up on Slum Village (aka J-88) for a while, having released the 12-inch single “The Look of Love” for their Superappin’ series. This J-88 EP houses four more songs plus Madlib and I.G. Culture remixes. “The Look of Love Pt. 1” is the clincher here.
Jay Dee Welcome 2 Detroit (BBE/Fusion III)
J-Dilla busts it wide open when he’s given free reign by U.K. label Barely Breaking Even on this, his first solo album. T3 and Baatin are absent from this project, but Jay Dee’s signature sound is felt throughout, as well as lyrics from Frank ‘n’ Dank, Elzhi, Phat Kat and Beej. Both instrumental and lyrical Jay Dee at his best.