As icons in hip-hop, Slum Village have had a lasting impact on the genre. Today, this legacy continues on despite the number of changes that the group has weathered. Starting off their careers in the 1990s, the Detroit based group was originally founded by rappers T3, Baatin, and producer J Dilla.
Since their inception, the line up has changed a number of times. Now the group is powered by founding member T3, and Young RJ who rose through the ranks of Slum Village after being taken under the wing of the late J Dilla when he was just a teenager. Slum Village live on to be highly respected for their pivotal tracks which include, “Selfish”, and “Fall in Love”.
Their legacy spans nine studio albums, and remarkably their talent means there’s still more music on its way and we recently caught up with Young RJ to discuss ‘Fantastic Vol.2’, solo projects, and production in hip-hop.
You recently marked the anniversary of the release of ‘Fantastic Vol.2’. At the time of its release The Phoenix New Times said, “Slum Village is going to single-handedly save rap music”. Do you think the record did that?
I think over a period of time yes, I wouldn’t say “save”, I would say we definitely helped pushed the culture forward as far as how people were approaching the music, simplifying it and just sonically how the sound palette was amongst Vol 2. The first bootleg version came out in 1998 and that changed the course of the neo-soul movement. So I would definitely say it put a stamp down and helped to push it forward.
Do you think it’s had a long-term effect on hip-hop as well?
Yeah that’s the reason we’re still able to go out there and perform these songs, and people request them. People went back after the release and re-rated the album, and a lot of those magazines that reviewed it the first time went back and retracted and considered it a classic record.
Rightly so! Which track on the album personally means the most to you?
To me it would be “Climax” because me and Dilla produced that record together. With me being a 15-year-old guy, he was a mentor that I looked up to who called me to work on the single. To me that was special and that kind of ticked it off for me. So that’s the record that I hold dearest.
As you mention, you were taken under the wing of J Dilla from a very young age, what would you say is the one best life lessons that he taught you that you still carr`y with you today?
I would say the best advice he gave me was to go completely opposite of what everyone else was doing, but still stay true to what you’ve learnt. It’s okay to be influenced but not to copy. That’s the reason why I think we’ve been ahead of the curve. But with music times have changed. Even if people didn’t understand it when we put it out, it caught onto it down the line. They said, ‘Wow they’re ahead of the curve’.
I know you’ve had a solo project that you released not too long ago, ‘Blaq Royalty’. How challenging can it be to release solo projects alongside your identity of being in Slum Village?
It can be difficult because sometimes when you’re in a group that’s loved, they feel like you putting a solo record out means that the group is disbanding or you won’t be able to see what you like to see together, unified. It was challenging just to get people to accept it and to give the music a chance without thinking that the group was breaking up.
But it was very successful. Everyone, once it came out, they supported it fully so I was definitely happy to see that, and all of the peers and people who wanted to join the record from Pete Rock to BJ the Chicago Kid, Joyner Lucas, it made me feel good to have the support of my peers. Now we back focused on Slum. So even though it’s still separated doing solo stuff, T did some solo things, I did some solo things, but we’re still unified and still pushing the legacy of Slum Village forward because it all helps at the end of the day.
Last year you collaborated on some music with Boldy James on “Wait”, is working with the newer Detroit artists something that you are looking to do?
I definitely am as that’s how you keep an edge. That’s when you keep your ear to the pavement and kind of hear what people are doing. That’s how you can stay current. It’s always good to help somebody out, like I was helped out with Dilla taking me under his wing. You know working with Boldy, these new artists that are coming up out of the city, it’s a beautiful thing to me.
Is there anyone specific you have your eye on to work with?
I’m working with this new artist named Supa Kaine, who is also featured on ‘Blaq Royalty’. I’m really just preparing some things with him and then getting this next album done because I’m dropping a new album in 2019. Me and T got projects that we’re coming out with while we’re working on other things. Yeah we got a lot going on for 2019.
The ‘Lost Scrolls 2’ was quite the treat for your fans. Is there a lot more music locked away that you’re keeping under wraps?
Yeah we have more music, that is written and done. It’s just a matter of the right time. That’s our main thing, that it’s not just something that we throw out just to have something in the market place, but to put something out that means something to us that will help the legacy move forward.
Production has always been of great importance to Slum Village’s music. Do you think it’s treated with the same respect and weighting now in today’s hip-hop scene?
No. I would say no because people are scared to take risks, production-wise. You have a lot of different styles of production. You have the Swiss Beatz, you have the Jermaine Dupris, the Timbalands, the Dillas, the Pete Rocks and you could tell that it was a different producer. Now everybody is following a trend of whatever that production style that’s hot at the time. I feel like people don’t necessarily take the time to come up with an identifiable sound and kind of move the culture and shift it and change it and to keep it interesting.
What’s coming up for you in 2018?
I just put out ‘The Detroit Project’ with Guilty Simpson and Fat Cat EP that we released a month and a half ago. T3 also has a project that’s coming, a mixtape and a solo album. That should be coming out in 2018. Then I’m working on an instrumental album to close out for 2018. We’ll be in the studio recording new music maybe it might be a Slum album, we’ll see. But yes we are recording.