After contemplating Slum Village's complicated hip-hop history, sole surviving original member R.L. (T3) Altman has decided the best move he can make right now is to go forward with new music.
"This is our 20th year; we've been in the game for 20 years. That's a long time," T3 said last week during a telephone interview. Also speaking with the Free Press during the interview was R.J. Rice Jr., the Detroit producer known as Young RJ.
The two explained that there's no replacing T3's friends and Slum Village partners James Dewitt (J Dilla) Yancey and Titus (Baatin) Glover. The groundbreaking trio paved the way for the city's underground hip-hop movement and achieved magical musical alignment in 2000 with "Fantastic, Vol. 2." Dilla died in 2006, Baatin in 2009.
"We are a part of Detroit's history," T3 said. "There's a new dedication to preserving that legacy, that history."
T3, Rice and John (Illa J) Yancey, Dilla's younger brother, provide the nucleus of Dirty Slums, the next chapter in the Slum Village story. It begins Friday with a live event celebrating the release of their mixtape, which is due out Tuesday.
Detroit hip-hop heads received a surprise back in December when you announced "Dirty Slums 2" was due Jan. 29. Was there something that prompted the desire to make new music now?
T3: I've been sitting here thinking a lot about what we got in Detroit, what everybody in Detroit is going through, the love we have for the city, the love they have toward us. Situations happen, group members change, but the music is still the same. I feel like this is just what we do. I'm going to make music anyway, and people are still digging it. So why would I stop?
Would you say that Dirty Slums is a collective?
T3: Yeah, you know it's like a collective. We're working with a bunch of rappers that we've been affiliated with for a long time, like (former Little Brother rapper) Big Pooh. It's really an extension of Slum Village, but under Dirty Slums, there are no restrictions.
Young RJ: It's kind of like Slum Village's alter ego, featuring honorary members. This way, everyone can keep busy working on their solo material. Everyone can be their own individual self and come and go as they please.
Is there a definitive change of sound you wanted with Dirty Slums?
T3: I wanted Dirty Slums to be aggressive, harder, grimier -- have a real edge to it. Slum Village was known for having "girl records." And those were great, and we might have one on the full-length album that's coming April 15. But by throwing that out the door, it gave us a chance to go in another direction.
Young RJ: While making the beats, the mind-set I had was a protest to what I've been hearing on commercial radio. I was motivated to try and bring some balance back to what's going on in hip-hop: There are artists I love who are going in a different direction in order to survive in the music business. And that ends up hurting them. I felt like we could balance that out by bringing a harder edge back.
Really, we just wanted to do what we would generally want to hear. It's not like we're making records for radio. We do what we do purely because we enjoy it. This is the stuff we'd want to hear someone else do. We're just putting our own spin on it.
So in a lot of ways, this is a rebirth, a renewal of the Slum legacy and the group's place in Detroit's history?
T3: There were a lot of things we experienced, a lot of firsts being from Detroit. On March 8, Baatin's birthday, we're planning on doing a tribute at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. There's just a lot we want to do like helping young cats get their chance, too. And we have that opportunity to keep things going and going.
How'd this new material come together?
T3: When you get certain producers and artists together, there's sometimes this instant connection where things just fit right into place. It just works.
We don't have to think about making these records; it's just what we do. It's easy for Illa J to come up onstage and come into the group because it's what he does. He's been there from the beginning; it just fits.
Young RJ: We have different roles and we all respect each other not to cross certain lines. And, I'm not going to downgrade the music or the raps or the hooks or anything like that to try and get commercial radio. It's about me, us, being true to what we want to do, and I think that's the reason why this works.
More Details: Slum Village‘Dirty Slums 2’ mixtape release party
9 p.m. Fri.
4120 Woodward, Detroit
$8 advance, $10 at door. 18 and up