Slum Village: Critical Beatdown

Like the Geto Boys, Slum Village has had a revolving door of personnel, label drama, and a sound that wouldn't budge in spite of it. Now down the original leader T3 and the refined lyrical entry, Elzhi, the group maintains its premium blend of soulful Hip-Hop going into their recently released self-titled album. Now fully independent, the Villa could be perceived to be on the downward slide. Instead, they're doing work for Chevy, getting dap from Kweli and Craig G, and have an album nobody expected to win - like the Bengals.

Elzhi and T3 chatted up with on the new chapter of the group, the response to the record, and some of the other miscommunications of the group to the fans. Fresh off of securing beats for the new Dogg Pound project, Young RJ checks in too, to touch on his role in the new production behind Detroit's veteran rap click. How's the reaction been to the self-titled album after two months on shelves?

T3: It's good. Its a slow grind 'cause we're independent now. It takes a minute. But the good thing about being independent is, there's no deadline. It doesn't have to get done within a certain amount of time. We gettin' there.

Elzhi: We just came off a promo tour. We just did a few shows with Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharaohe Monch, and Jean Grae. Actually, we wasn't doin' a full set. We were just doing "1,2" during Talib's set. Man, everytime we performed it - people went nuts. After we was done, cats at B.B. Kings tried to get us booked [for an upcoming show]. Craig G told me it's a banger of an album. The streets got us on this one. In Connecticut, they made a homemade clean version of it for the radios. It's great. In one capacity or another, Slum Village has put out a slew of projects in the last three years. This year, you had Fantastic Volume One made available, the Prequel to a Classic, and now this project. Do you ever feel that you're hurting yourself when you do some commendable work like this self-titled album?

Elzhi: I think that Prequel really confused people. It's a mixtape - not a record. Yeah, to a certain extent, that mixtape kinda clouded peoples' vision. It was supposed to be a hold-me-over, but it wasn't done in a strategic way.

T3: I guess it can, but I think it's a good thing. With this Hip-Hop situation, we gotta do major strategies sometimes. It used to take us two years to come out with an album. We try to flood the market [now]. Most of that stuff is old. Slum Village is the only new album. But many critics would say, why dwell on the past? You're constantly being labeled as the 'group without Jay Dee anymore.' That said, I can't really understand why the old days matter when it's just you two now?

T3: As far as Slum Village, it's in the past. It's cool. This is the last time that we're gonna open that chapter. This whole album is the beginning of the new Slum Village and the end of the old Slum Village. So, that's why we self-titled it Slum Village. We gotta re-establish ourselves. Me and [Elzhi] finally gelled together as a group, and got our chemistry together - and it took four years to do it. Everything's good. This is also why, on this album, we talk about our situation so much. It's so we won't have to speak on it no more. So get your questions in - after this, it don't exist no more. [laughs]

Elzhi: At first, I was gettin' upset. If it was up to me, we would all come together and do an album. Dilla left 'cause Dilla wanted to do a solo thing. Baatin left 'cause he was sick, and he felt like we was playin' against him - so he left. People need to look at the music. This is our chance to reconnect with the fans with the done lost along the way. Well, I do have a few questions on those things. Have the absences haunted you in reviews and in interviews? I mean, this album is really, really strong and critics can't let go of the old days?

T3: More-so three years ago than the last year. It took a lot to establish ourselves. I didn't kick anyone out. I didn't tell anyone to leave. These guys, they wanna do they own thing! Dilla came back on Detroit Deli to a limited role. After it's said and done, was that a mistake?

T3: I think it's a good thing. I didn't do that for me, I did it for the fans. It was on some love stuff, man. I'm not beefin' with Dilla. I'm hoping that one day, we will get together and do another album. We will - with Baatin. I won't take one without the other. It has to be both of them. Till then, it's me and Elzhi. At the same, I'm not gonna let this group perish. I've watched it happen to A Tribe Called Quest and Pharcyde. On this album, you address label problems a lot. When was it clear that you were leaving Capitol?

T3: Our contract was up. We only had a two album deal with Capitol. We didn't wanna renew it because we felt that the last album could've done a lot more. The reason why it didn't is we didn't get a chance to do a second single to really punch it open. They had a cap they wanted to spend on us, anyway. They didn't want to go the extra mile. Ironically, from the independent - Barak, you're doing Chevy commercials - a huge look.

T3: Exactly! People from Detroit helped put that situation together as a Motor City kinda thing. It was an easy situation. We just got some cars they givin' us and money. It's a great situation. We've been with Barak our whole career, they signed us young. Whether it was Capitol, A&M, or Interscope, it was always Barak. We got two more albums with Barak, then who knows what happens after that. Was your family affiliated much with the car industry?

T3: Oh yeah. My Granddad, I live with my grandparents, and he retired with a gold watch. That's all we do - it's the Motor City. Young RJ, your father runs Barak. What do you feel when you think about that contract's end coming up?

Young RJ: The skies is the limit as far as what's to come. Slum, that's family. Whether it be after the two albums is up, and they decide to go somewhere else, that's what it'll be - it's not personal. I would be able to go in and still make good music. You took in B.R. Gunna as the sort of in-house producers. Young RJ is just that, 22 years old. How tough was it to take them in?

T3: Well, I'm a producer too. I already had the history of what the Slum Village sound was. I worked with Dilla. It's not hard to create the sound. That's the easy part. Young RJ did help a lot on this record. We worked it out. RJ, you had some large shoes to fill the last few years. How'd you deal with it?

Young RJ: It's not really pressuring me. It'd be different if it was a sour relationship between me and Jay Dee. But me and Jay Dee kinda close. If I ever need him for advice and opinion, he'll tell me what he thinks. It's just making good music. How do you treat the negative reviews some folks have laid on - A lot of people say y'all dwell on the same subjects - the group and women.

T3: It is a criticism. On this album, the criticism we got was, "Oh yeah, this is a good album. But I'mma rate it like it's okay." I read a review in Vibe the other day - they ain't have nothin' bad to say about the album, but they still gave us three [out of five] records. When they was not liking the record, it was so-so, we got a three and a half. I don't know what reviews are today. I don't really trust 'em.

Elzhi: One critic said talkin' 'bout the past is one of our downfalls. But when reviewing the Lil' Kim album, it got five mics, the majority of that joint was about her goin' to jail and dealin' with snitches and 50. She called 50 a snitch on three cuts! But she got five mics. We do it, now we talkin' 'bout our situation too much.

T3: I do know I think this is the second best Slum album after Fantastic Volume Two. I think people wanna be mad at us because when Dilla left, we were more popular. That gave Dilla fans hatred. We just brush it off.

Elzhi: I'm not mad at it. The cats in the streets got us. When I think about critics, I think of somebody just poppin' the CD in, skippin' through songs, and just makin' comments. The comments on this album aren't really scratching the surface. That leads me to believe that they ain't really listen to the album. Well I'm not gonna chump on you like that. We spoke on, "1,2", so let me ask you what prompted "Call Me"?

Elzhi: [laughs] Life. Reality. That was a verse written out of frustration by something I was goin' through at the time with a significant other. Actually, it wasn't even wrote for that cut. That was gonna be a solo cut. But, the vibe was right in the studio and I threw the verse to it. You mentioned the fact that we're criticized for so many love cuts - Slum doin' whatever the tracks tell us to do. Artists translate music for the people. That's what Slum Village is best at.