RH Interview: Slum Village Speak On Detroit Sound, Chicago Memories, and More

Slum Village is one of the biggest rap groups to ever come out of Detroit. Their 1997 release Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) charted at #2 on the R&B charts and their legacy continues into 2018. These days the T3 is the only original member of the group left after the two other founders, J Dilla and Baatin, passed away in 2006 and 2009 respectively. Slum Village continues to go around the world playing old school Hip Hop with the addition of Grammy nominated producer Young RJ. They’re currently on tour in America.  I had the chance to sit down with them after their most recent show in Chicago to talk about their legacy, where they’re at now and where they are going. I wanted to get their take on the modern rap scene and see if they had any advice to give to the next generation. Read the full interview below.

rubyhornet: How’s the tour going?

T3: Everything’s good, we’re having fun. We’re in the middle of it right now and everything’s going good so we can’t complain.

Young RJ: The West Coast was pretty dope, crowds came out, they always show love, and of course Chicago.

rubyhornet: Do you have a best Chicago memory.

T3: I think every time we come out to Chicago we get love. We did an upscale joint last time that was really dope. The fans came out, but it was different because people were sitting down, eating dinner, they were still kind of into it, but also kind of not. It was a different type of crowd.

rubyhornet: Do you like doing things like that?

T3: It’s different. I like it but it’s different. We do a couple spots like that, there’s a place in California like that called Yoshi’s, it’s kind of upscale.

Young RJ: It’s a sit down. People eat their dinner and listen to some tunes, snap their fingers and all of that shit.

rubyhornet: So RJ, you recently put out a new album called The Detroit Project and I’m wondering how do you define the Detroit sound?

Young RJ: It’s all about feeling. I think it’s just the city, we don’t have a lot of opportunities so I think you can hear the frustration in the music. At the same time it’s laid back, it’s not a super turnt up city. So that’s where you get that aggression but it’s still laid back and melodic. And we got a lot of strip clubs, so it’s all of that infused with the techno and that pot of music, that gumbo, is the Detroit sound.

rubyhornet: Do you agree with that?

T3: Yeah pretty much. It’s a different type of vibe. A lot of Detroit rappers have a different vibe because we be in our own cliques, so there’s a couple of different sounds.

rubyhornet: I did an interview with Black Milk and I want to ask you the same question I asked him. When you look at the top rappers from other cities, most of the time they rap about a lot of materialistic things and how successful they are, but that isn’t the case with Detroit. Why do you think that is?

T3:  That’s because we’re the underdogs. We talk about stuff, but we always got a chip on our shoulder so we’re always trying to get our point across. We got the struggle, we got the everyday… We grew up with a factory job, you know most people got a factory job that was the core. Even the people from Motown had factory jobs, so we got that blue collar. I mean we got some lyricism, like I said we grew up hard, trying to prove ourselves. The Hip Hop Shop is one of the places we did it you know a lot of us came through there, even Slum.

rubyhornet: Do you listen to the kids on Soundcloud?

T3: Yeah, all day. You always gotta listen to the next generation.

Young RJ: Or you’ll be a dinosaur, you gon’ be extinct, you know what I’m saying? Time moves on, the music changes. That’s what keeps you young. You can tell the difference between someone who still works and is still current and vibrant that’s making music that’s older verses someone who went on hiatus and don’t listen to nothing new, they’re stuck and you’re like, damn, this ain’t it. We’re not like that, especially T, he listens to all type of shit, everything that you can think of.

T3: I mean I listen, I may not like everything but I listen and it keeps me current. I may not listen to everything but I listen to a lot of stuff. Just to give it a listen, why not? It’s music. Just like I dig for old music, I’m digging for new music and sometimes you find some jewels just like you would with old music.

rubyhornet: Is there anyone in particular that you’re rocking with?

T3: It would probably be the people that you think I’m rocking with, the Kendrick’s and the Cole’s and a couple of other B side guys too, but those are probably the main two.

rubyhornet: It’s interesting that you say J. Cole. Do you think that there’s a role that the old school heads can play to mentor the younger generation. Like when J. Cole sat down with Lil Pump you could see wheels were turning in his head and it changed his perspective on a lot of things, and he even came out and said that later. Do you think that you are in a role where you should mentor the next generation?


T3: If they’re willing to listen, and 90% of them are not. You can’t mentor somebody if they’re not willing to hear you.

Young RJ: I feel like it’s a tough spot because the younger guys feel like the older guys don’t really want to help them, and they feel like they shun them because they aren’t super lyrical. And sometimes old guys come off bitter. I think some of them will listen if you take the approach like what J. Cole did with Lil Pump and sit them down to just try to understand what’s going on instead of just saying, “This shit wack”. At least get some history behind it.

rubyhornet: Do you think you still have that same spark or drive that you had at the beginning when you first started rapping?

T3: I think I do. The key is to always have fun. That’s the key. Once you take the fun out of it you’re done, when it becomes strictly a job, you’re cooked as we say. So when I do music now, I’m not doing it to sell records. I’m doing it because this is how I feel right now and I’m having fun with it. You can always keep yourself going. Music is this thing, I mean people play jazz ‘til they pass away, you know what I’m saying?

rubyhornet: It’s interesting watching Hip Hop age, and the change in the culture as it happens is fascinating. Being able to see an artist your size at an intimate place like this is a really cool thing because it feels more personal.

T3: I mean, we did slow up tonight, usually we pick a bigger spot, but it was dope man, it’s back to the roots. I ain’t mad at it.

Young RJ: Me either. Sometimes it’s better to do a more intimate joint than a big venue where it can just feel steril. There’s no personality in a venue like that. It’s dope to actually be in a spot that’s authentic.

rubyhornet: It’s an interesting time to be in Detroit, it seems like the worst has already passed and the city is starting to rebuild, but with that comes gentrification. How do you keep the soul of the city in the face of that.

T3: There’s always gonna be pockets. That’s how you have to think of it. There’s still pockets where if you want the real, you’ll find the real. If you want to find the real it’s out there.

rubyhornet: Do you have a good Dilla story?

T3: (Laughs) I try not to tell too many Dilla stories, so if you want to tell a Dilla story you can.

Young RJ: We actually have some documentaries and stuff that we’re working on so we can’t give away too many stories.

rubyhornet: What’s coming up?

Young RJ: We’re working on it. Some documentaries and different things like that. Stuff outside of music. Our focus now is not just about trying to go in the booth and recording a full album or something like that, it’s more about keeping the legacy built and intact and expanding it outside of just music. We’re going to movies and other stuff like that.

T3: Yeah we are expanding. I got a mixtape coming, J’s working on some music, and together we’re thinking about doing a cooking show. We were just talking about this the other day. I know it sounds funny but me and J cook a little bit, a little bit, we can get down.

Young RJ: I mean, I got my little specialty dishes you know what I’m saying? I’m a plain eater so for me the food has to be seasoned right. It ain’t slapping all that sauce on it and all that. I think that’s going to be my approach. Dry rubs and stuff like that.

T3: I’m gonna cook a little bit of this and that, maybe a couple vegetarian dishes. Nobody’s heard of this before.

rubyhornet: That sounds good, get your Action Bronson on.

T3: I’ve seen Action Bronson’s show, and I do like his show. But ours is a little different. It’s gonna be food and then we’ll interview some people so we’ll eat and have a good time.

rubyhornet: Before we go, do you have any advice for rappers that are just starting out now?

Young RJ: Start your process by not trying to imitate anyone. Be original and solely focus on developing your originality so you can stand out verses trying to blend in with a bunch of people. That would be my advice.

T3: Be consistent. And I don’t mean by just dropping a song everyday. I mean consistent like consistently doing your best work. Don’t give me something just to give me something, give me something knowing that you really put some time into it and you really know it’s good. If you do that you’ll get a greater return. You do have to be somewhat quick in today’s game, but that’s what my advice would be to make you get that longevity. Like Jay-Z, he always gives quality 90% of the time and that’s why he’s still here, the quality is great. If you gave me quality every time then maybe I’ll check out your music, and even if I miss something I’ll go back and I’ll be like, “man that was fire.” That’s how you build your audience.

rubyhornet: One of the things that I think happens a lot these days is that kids don’t cut their teeth in real life. It’s all about building a presence online and dropping dope visuals. Do you think that’s part of what made you?

T3: Yes. Yeah we had bullies and that was okay. We had people saying that was wack. I told J a lot of his stuff was wack when he was coming up.

Young RJ: You won’t get better if people sugarcoat everything. This is like a pacified generation where they don’t want to offend anyone, and it’s making them bitches. They can’t take any opinion, you tell them you need to do this and they want to jump off a building. Everyone’s so damn sensitive, but it’s okay for someone to critique you.

T3: And it’s okay for somebody to just not like your shit. It’s okay. Not everybody likes Slum Village, that’s okay with me, that doesn’t hurt my feelings. I move on and I live my life. But some of these young kids today, man they’re soft and they need to just come on man. Because if they don’t learn the harsh realities of life they will later in life anyway, but that’s a whole different story, that’s a book right there.

Stephen Kaplan