Rapper T3 has witnessed just about all the music business has to offer. Since forming the acclaimed hip-hop group Slum Village with Detroit Pershing high school friends Titus (Baatin) Glover and Jay Dee (Dilla) Yancey in the mid-'90s, T3 has endured a number of lineup changes, shady record-business dealings and, most recently, devastating losses.
Hip-hop heads across the world mourned Dilla when he passed away in February 2006 at age 32 due to complications from lupus. On Aug. 1, the tight-knit Detroit hip-hop community cried out after losing spiritual soldier Baatin, who died suddenly at age 35; a cause of death has not been announced. The three original members hadn't recorded a full album together since 2000's underground masterpiece "Fantastic Vol. 2." But T3 and Elzhi -- who joined Slum on 2002's "Trinity (Past, Present and Future)," -- reconnected this year with Baatin, who had left after "Trinity," to record the group's first album in four years, "Villa Manifesto."
With a new Slum album done and his "Night Gallery" solo joint dropping on Halloween, the year has has presented T3 a range of challenges and emotional highs and lows. T3 talked about the new "Manifesto," being the last surviving original member of SV, his plans for an unreleased collection of Dilla beats and more.
A lot has happened since your last album, the self-titled "Slum Village," dropped in 2005. Was it hard to get motivated to make music again? When did you start back up?
Basically, after the passing of Dilla I was just chilling for a while, I didn't want to do too much. Eventually I got inspired. I knew I didn't want to do my next record without putting Baatin on it.
First thing we set out to do was go find Baatin and see what he was doing. It was kind of like the "Blues Brothers" actually. Elzhi was off doing shows in Europe and doing his mixtape and stuff. I didn't know where Baatin was -- I just basically set out to go find everybody and get them back on track and make a new Slum record. This was about a year ago. I went to the old neighborhood, asked Baatin's mom where he was, called Elzhi and started to put the pieces back together.
Who are some of the artists you collaborated with on "Manifesto"?
"Manifesto," I think, sounds like a mixture of all our albums. I am definitely very picky about who we use. This time out, we used a lot of outside producers, but people that we've already had relationships with. And we still have the immediate crew involved, too, like Young RJ, who I work with a lot; Black Milk; Hi-Tek, he did a record for us on "Trinity."
We've been affiliated with Pete Rock for years; he DJ'd for us while we were on Rock the Bells this summer. Madlib, Jay West, and Marsha (Ambrosius from Floetry); hooking up with her is old school. Of course Dwele, we always work with him. And we have a couple records on the album with Illa J (Dilla's younger brother).
Coming from an emotional place after Dilla died, did that affect your lyrical and conceptual content in constructing the new album?
I'd say that there is a lot of truth in the record but there is also a lot of playfulness -- it's seriousness and then not so serious. Baatin brings that spontaneity that you can't really contain, a lil' off the wall, a lil' zany, a lil' fun, and that's the feel that we were meant to have.
Even though I love the last album, it wasn't as fun without Baatin. The lyrical content was there, but the fun part wasn't. I needed Baatin to really bring that whole essence back.
We all play our part. Elzhi brings a lot to the table with his writing; a lot of concepts and a lot of in-depth stuff. I think he is one of the best lyricists there is. Me, I'm the organizer. I'm the guy who kind of comes with hooks and puts the pieces together. Baatin brings the spontaneous flavor I feel we were missing on "Slum Village."
I understand there might be a new Slum Village record over unreleased Dilla beats?
That's a whole separate project we want to do, and that is probably one of the next projects we will do. But yes, that is in the works.
You obviously had a long history with Baatin. You haven't put out a record with him since 2002's "Trinity." Did he struggle in the studio?
It was great -- he didn't struggle; it was easy. He had all this creative stuff building up for so long but didn't have an outlet for it. He had this book, like a super group of verses; he was just stacking rhymes for a long time.
I would tell him a concept that I wanted to do for this record and he'd just flip through his book and find a rhyme that would fit and then he'd ask how I liked it. It was crazy. Every time we would go in the studio he would cut two or three songs. I have a lot of Baatin lyrics.
On one hand you have the shock and emotion of Baatin's passing and on the other you have this positive experience last year of working together and this new record dropping.
It is sad. There are a lot of feelings, emotions. I wanted Baatin to get back into the swing of things. It was hard for me to keep it going after his passing, but at the same time I am happy I took the time out to record with him, you know?
Reflecting on this, I feel like I missed an opportunity. Dilla and I talked about doing a reunion album with Baatin and Elzhi but we just didn't get a chance to do it. So I didn't want to miss the opportunity to record with Baatin again like I did with Dilla -- not that I thought anything was going to happen to Baatin.
You've been in the game a long time; Slum's first major deal was with A&M back in 1999. Now, you're the last remaining original member of what is arguably the most important hip-hop group to come out of Detroit. What motivates you now when you look back?
When all is said and done I'm happy we did what we did. Slum Village laid down a foundation as far as the soulful hip-hop sound goes and that's something we can always have, but I don't feel that that's the end of Slum Village either.
The music business is not the most successful industry there is right now, and we, like everybody else, have to grind it out. But there's still a lot of things we've got to prove.
I have two guys in my group that have passed away. The very least I could do is try and keep the legacy going for those guys -- and for this whole Detroit movement we helped pioneer.
Slum Village's "Villa Manifesto" (Barak Records) will be released Today digitally through the Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA) on Amazon, eMusic, MySpace and Verizon. It will be available in stores Oct. 20.
T3's solo album "Night Gallery" (Barak Records) is scheduled for release Oct. 31.
A benefit concert for Detroit hip-hop icon Hexmurda, whose real name is Eugene Howell, is scheduled for Oct. 17 at St. Andrew's Hall. Performers include Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, Paradime, Phat Kat, Trick Trick, Royce da 5'9", and Slum Village. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will go to Hex's medical costs for a stroke he suffered Sept. 13.