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Slum Village keeps its legacy alive and inspires a new generation of hip-hop

The duo, performing Tuesday in Chicago at the City Winery, never stops paying tribute to the band members of the past.

T3 (left) and Young RJ of Slum Village.
Provided photo.

Longtime hip-hop fans know Slum Village for their lyricism and underground sound from songs like “Tainted” and “Fall in Love” from back in the ’90s. Today the musicians are all about keeping the legacy alive.

T3, the only remaining original member, cited three simple rules in a recent interview.

“No. 1 is you always tell people about the legacy, you give them the history course. No. 2 is you create a new history and No. 3 is you stay relevant,” T3 said. “It’s great when I hear a younger person say they’ve heard of Slum Village, and it just means our name is still out there and circulating.”

The group has consisted of an array of members throughout its 20 years. Before it was Slum Village, it was known as Ssenepod, dopeness spelled backward, and it consisted of Dilla, T3, Que D, Baatin and Wajeed. After Ssenepod broke up, then came Slum Village in 1996 formed by J Dilla, Baatin and T3.

The trio grew up together as childhood friends from the Conant Gardens neighborhood in Detroit, and in 1998 they landed their first record deal with Barak/AM records. From there, they released albums such as “Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1)” and “Fantastic (Vol. 2).”

When J Dilla left the group in 2001 to focus on his solo career, Elzhi stepped in and became a part of popular albums such as “Trinity (Past, Present and Future)” and “Detroit Dell (A Taste of Detroit),” which included the hit single “Selfish” and featured Kanye West and John Legend.

Today, T3 is joined by producer Young RJ., who joined the lineup in 2012 after producing for the group since 2001. J Dilla died in 2006 of cardiac arrest and Baatin, who left in 2003 and later rejoined in 2008, died in 2009.

For Young RJ, he said maintaining the legacy is all about “paying tribute to the founding members.”

“A lot of times when you’re the new man coming into the group, most people fear they’ll be in the shadow of legendary people, but that’s not the case, I actually embrace it,” Young RJ said. “I feel like me doing my part is making them proud and keeping their legacy alive.”

July 31 marked the 10-year anniversary of Baatin’s death. T3 said his bandmates’s passing still breaks his heart to this day and the group still “represents all of the members who aren’t here today.”

With two decades’ worth of music behind them, Slum Village considers its albums influential to the younger generation today.

“I think the fact that we focus on the sonics and production of the songs helps ensure that the music is timeless and helps us stay relevant,” Young RJ said.

One prime example is in Chance the Rapper’s 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap,” on which he sampled “Fall in Love” on “Everybody Something,” featuring BJ the Chicago Kid and SABA.

Since Slum Village’s arrival in the hip-hop scene in the ’90s, there’s more of a variety of music in Detroit’s music scene thanks to online streaming platforms like SoundCloud, T3 said.

“Artists from Tee Grizzley and Sada Baby to Black Milk and Slum Village are providing a variety of music today,” T3 said. “The scene today is better than ever, and the fact that there are other sounds from different artists gives you a full spectrum of what Detroit music is.”

What keeps the duo touring to cities from Chicago to Tokyo is the fans. T3 said when listeners hand down their music from generation to generation, it keeps their songs popular and keeps the fans coming to their shows.

As for the future, the artists said they’re currently working on new music and want to make sure it’s perfect for the fans. Their latest album, “The Lost Scrolls, Vol. 2,” was released in 2018 and featured music from the original trio.

“We just want to make sure [the next album] is right and we aren’t giving them something just because,” Young RJ said. “Whatever we give our fans we want to make sure it’s better than our last release.”