Interview: Slum Village

Slum Village

By Alex Floro

To raise a child on hip hop, it takes more than a couple of artists. It takes a Slum Village. For most hip hop aficionados, there is no denying that this group, with their incorporation of feel Motown beats and tastings of booty techno, is must in any iTunes library. Originally formed in 1996 by childhood friends Baatin, T3 and J Dilla in Detroit, the group has managed to stay together through difficulties surrounding band members, record labels and the ever changing landscape of hip hop. If you don’t recognize them, you might be familiar with some of the beats J Dilla has made for other artists such as Common, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, just to name a few.

Slum proves to be one of the most resilient and persistent acts in music, with T3 continuing the legacy of the group with Dilla’s younger brother Illa J (you can start calling him John Regal from now on). We had the privilege to sit down with them at The New Parish in Oakland, CA to talk about their history, thoughts on the current climate of music, and even a little preview of things to come from the members, both collectively and individually. We got to say, they are some of the most humble and easy to get along with guys we’ve met and it was a pleasure getting to know them.

Check out our interview below, with the accompanying video:

USD: So for those who don’t know, who is Slum Village?
T3: Uhh, that’s a long question, but let’s just say that we represent Slum today. But I’m T3 and that’s Illa, or John Regal now…

USD: You changed your name, transitioning?
IllaJ: The John Regal character was already there, but IllaJ was what started it off. I’m kinda just morphing into John Regal, but I’ll always be IllaJ.

USD: So how did you get started? We know that you worked with Tribe and sort of the Native Tounges?
T3: Ehh, really it was QTip that started Slum Village’s career, you can say that. You can say he had a big part. The story is we gave our first demo to QTip, who put it on J Dilla, with The Ummah. That was J Dilla’s first foot in the door as far as production. Also, Tribe put us on tour on a college run. That was a big thing for us because nobody gave us that opportunity cause we were just guys from Detroit. Not only that, but once we did Vol. 1, QTip is the one that circulated it to everybody. That’s how we got all of those features on Vol. 2,  D’Angelo, Busta Rhymes, etc.
USD: So being from Detroit, how has the city shaped your career and what does it mean to you?
T3: Detroit is everything. We grew up in the East side of Detroit. You know it was urban, but as most urban places, Detroit has soul. Then there’s Motown, all of that. I think that it’s the reason why we gravitate to the type of hip hop we do.
USD: Yea and I read in an interview that techno is a big part in your sound too?
T3/IllaJ: Definitely, techno is a huge part of our sound.
USD: Over here in the Bay we love techno as well!
T3: Yea, our’s is more booty though. Does Oakland does Booty?
USD: You can say that, a little different but definitely there’s booty going on.
(T3 and IllaJ laugh)
So Villa Manifesto came out last year. What was the process like? And we heard that it might be your last album together, no!
T3: It was a tough process, I tried to incorporate all the members of Slum. Even the member who aren’t here. It was a task making that album. A lot of drama and controversy.
USD: So it was a labor of love? Or love and hate?
(A few more laughs)
T3: There was a lot of love and hate going on. But now we’re doing mostly solo stuff. I have my digital EP out and Illa had his EP that came out, as well as Yancey Boys a couple years back.
USD: Planning any new projects coming up?
IllaJ: Ya, got my John Regal project, finishing it up. Working with 3, on a little secret project…
USD: Oh, can you give us a little info?
T3/IllaJ: Ahh, cant tell you that, stay tuned.
USD: Haha, ok ok. So Any advice or tips for upcoming musicians or people trying to get in the game?
T3: The key for me loving an artist is that each of them must do a song that I wouldn’t have done or I wouldn’t have thought of. That makes me respect the artists. That’s in all genres in music.  Now music is so… ehh… My other advice is if you wanna be an MC, ok, it’s really simple nowadays. It’s about how much you put out, more so than the quality. If you can build yourself a fanbase than anybody can kinda be an artist. You won’t be the biggest artist, but you will be somewhat of an artist.
USD: So it’s more about networking yourself? You think talent is second to that?
T3: Talent is way second now. You have so much software now, it’s easier to make beats and sing now if you couldn’t sing.
IllaJ: It’s always changing. You’re gotta learn to take ideas from the past, yet stay futuristic, but at the same time be current. It’s like a balancing act.
USD: For sure. So anything else for our listeners?
T3: You know what, go to school. Get your knowledge up. Haha, but yeah, just please support the projects. T3, Illa J. We love ya’ll.
Peep the video below:

USD Radio Presents: Slum Village from USD Student Radio on Vimeo.