Slum Village on Deaths of J Dilla and Baatin: "It's Our Mission to Keep Their Names Alive"

Slum Village's T3 and Young RJ.
Slum Village's T3 and Young RJ.
Courtesy of Slum Village

Slum Village, of Conant Gardens, Detroit, carries the heavy shadow of original members J Dilla and Baatin, who have both passed away.

T3 is the sole survivor from the crew's founding lineup. And now the group also consists of J Dilla's younger brother Illa J, to add some of that Yancey family flavor, and longtime producer Young RJ.

Even after 20 years and the tragic loss of two members, Slum Village continues to steadily drop albums and mixtapes. And yes, the trio's got one planned for this year. But not merely a band, this outfit has also worked tirelessly to preserve the legacy of Dilla's musical stylings, as well as the vitality of Detroit hip-hop.

Over the weekend, on the occasion of J Dilla Day Weekend 2015, we at New Times were able to catch up with T3 and Young RJ to talk about the state of the Village, the legendary James Dewitt "J Dilla" Yancey, and losing Baatin.

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What do you think of the state of neo-soul or modern soul music?

T3: I don't consider us neo-soul. I think it was pretty much dead until D'Angelo dropped Black Messiah. I don't even like neo-soul no more. I thought it was trash. When it first came out, it was innovative and then it got worn down into this state of not being funky enough, in my personal taste. Everyone just started doing two-step records, which I could not get into. So we needed a breath of fresh air. I need different pockets and different rhythms in my music. That's what we try to do as Slum Village and that's why we're able to keep changing and evolving. I'm happy someone like D'Angelo was able to bring it to the forefront again. I was bored.

If Slum Village isn't soul, how would you describe your current sound?

Young RJ: It's new but old, because we went back to the basics. The music has switched around to the point that artists like Joey Bada$$ can come in and work with us. It's new to the younger fans that are comin' in. And it's classic to the fans that have been there since the beginning.

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Will you be using any of the newly found Dilla tracks from his storage bin?

Young RJ: The funny thing about that is before Dilla moved out to California, right when he first got out there and went to the hospital, he called me with his mom on the phone, and he wanted me to go get all of the stuff out of the storage bin. But once he passed away, people's minds weren't in that state to go and collect them. So we were lucky enough that they turned everything back over to Ms. Yancey. About 95 percent of the stuff we're using for the album is unheard stuff. We got a lot of features too. So you're gonna get to hear some of the stuff that was on those tapes. And we're using some of the stuff we put together on the boxset we released last year.

Do you have any releases in store for this year?

Young RJ: We got an album coming out called Yes. We got a lot of features on there. Dilla, Baatin, De La Soul, Jon Connor, BJ the Chicago Kid.

What's the theme of the new album?

Young RJ: It's not a dark album. It's more of an upbeat kind of album reminiscent of the old Slum Village. A tip of the hat to the old stuff.

Do you ever find it depressing to talk about past members and past friends?

Young RJ: It's preserving the legacy. That's what we're here to do. Dilla and Baatin wanted us to keep the legacy going. Before Baatin passed away, he said to keep the legacy going no matter what. Once he said that, it became our mission to keep their names alive and keep Slum Village alive because it means so much to Detroit hip-hop.

What's the craziest place Slum Village has ever performed?

T3: Probably Japan. We got on at 3 in the morning, which is early for them. People over there party 24 hours a day and there's always something to do and somewhere to shop. Just going over there and experiencing all that was one of the greatest performances we've done.

I heard from Ma Dukes that some of you guys may like to roller-skate. Is this true?

T3: I used to be able to roller-skate. I don't know how I would be now. The only thing about going to the skating rink is that you could get shot at, so it was dangerous. But the women would still show up.

What are some of your non-musical hobbies?

T3: I'm collecting old video game systems. Gaming is a big thing for me.

What's your most valuable system?

T3: They're all pretty inexpensive now. NeoGeo was a little harder to come by. Illa J's into collecting electronic equipment and geek stuff.

How does your group figure out what sonic direction it wants to head in?

Young RJ: It's really just about what we feel like making at the time. What we wanna hear. A lot of people make music based off what other artists are making and we don't do that. If it's electronic that day, you're gonna get electronic. If it's disco music, you're gonna get disco music. If it's soul, you're gonna get soul. It just depends on what we feel like making at the time.

What are some of your favorite albums from the last few years?

T3: Of course, D'Angelo's Black Messiah album. Roc Marciano's last one was pretty dope. I like that new CeeLo Green album. It was creative and unexpected.

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