In an industry that is constantly changing, Slum Village has remained one step ahead of the game. From their innovative sounds and lyrics to their everchanging lineup, Slum Village has thrived on personal and musical evolution. In spite of its many changes, the group has never departed from its initial mission. "We've always stuck to our guns," T3 said on the group's website. "We've never tried to change to get commercial success. We always just did what we did and when you do what you do, eventually somebody's going to have to give you your respect for having the courage to do what you do." It is this artistic consistency amidst drastic changes that has enabled the group to sustain its position as one of hip-hop's most respected groups.
Slum Village was formed in the mid 1990s when original members Baatin, T3, and Jay Dee began to make music together in the Conant Gardens section of Detroit, Michigan, where they attended Pershing High School. While in school, the three would perform their songs to anyone who would listen. The group eventually took their early work, which featured Baatin and T3's lyrics backed by Jay Dee's cutting edge production, and shopped it to independent record labels in the Detroit area. While they waited for a record deal, the group performed on Detroit's famous underground scene. While Baatin and T3 rhymed in area clubs, Jay Dee was making hits for progressive rap groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
Although each member of the group has been important, Slum Village's early success can largely be attributed to Jay Dee's status as an elite producer. On their unreleased demo album, Fantastic Volume 1, Jay Dee's minimalist sounds and soulful pedigree helped build the group's underground buzz. In 1998 the group's growing reputation created the opportunity for them to tour with A Tribe Called Quest on their farewell tour. Soon after, the group released their debut album, Fantastic Volume 2, which was met with critical acclaim. Chris Griffin told the America's Intelligence Wire, "Jay Dee's astounding production, accompanied to perfection by T3 and Baatin's simple but effective rhymes, amounted to a timeless masterpiece." The album, which featured Pete Rock, Busta Rhymes, and Q-Tip, received much of its praise for its mix of serious and lighthearted music and its lack of repetitive "gangsta rap" braggadocio.
In 2002 Slum Village released its sophomore album, Trinity: Past, Present, and Future, on Capitol/Priority records. For the second album, they were without the services of Jay Dee, who decided to leave the group in order to spend more time in the studio producing beats for other artists. In addition to losing Jay Dee and changing their record label, the group also added rapper Elzhi to the fold. "We did Fantastic, Volume 2 back in 1998, and from there we've been touring," T3 told Billboard. "We just kept on the road for most of that time until late 2000. That's when we stepped back and decided we'd work on the album. At that time, it was Jay Dee, Baatin, and me. Jay Dee decided he wanted to concentrate on his solo career, so Baatin and I started working for a minute. Then we brought in Elzhi, and once we did that it changed the whole direction of where we were going musically. Trinity is a mixture of our past, our present, and our future." The album, which featured fewer guest appearances and limited work from Jay Dee, provided Slum Village with its biggest hit to date, "Tainted," produced by Karriem Riggins.
After the release of Trinity the group went through yet another change. Charter member Baatin became ill and slipped into a temporary coma after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He later recovered and began a solo career, but his departure from the group left Elzhi and T3 to keep Slum Village going.
The two responded in 2004 with Detroit Deli, a 15-song collection of songs devoted to depicting day-to-day life in Detroit. Moving more closely to the mainstream, the group recruited Kanye West to produce and rap on the group's first single, "Selfish," a radio-friendly song in which the three rap about their romantic desires. The rest of the album was considered by most critics to be enjoyable, though clearly inferior to earlier projects. Ray Fiore of Entertainment Weekly was mainly impressed by the album's "production prowess."
For the Record …
Members include Baatin (left group, 2003), rapper; Elzhi (joined group, 2002), rapper; Jay Dee (born James Yancey, a.k.a. J. Dilla; left group, 2002), producer; T3 , rapper.
Group formed in Detroit, MI, mid-1990s; released Fantastic Vol. 2 on Goodvibe/Barak, 2000; signed to Capitol Records, 2001; released Trinity: Past, Present, andFuture on Capitol, 2002; released Detroit Deli, which included the single "Selfish," 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Capitol Records, 150 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011, phone: (212) 253-3000, website: http://www.hollywoodandvine.com. Website—Slum Village Official Website: http://www.slumvillage.com.
Fantastic Vol. 2, Goodvibe/Barak, 2000.
Trinity: Past, Present, and Future, Capitol, 2002.
Detroit Deli, Capitol, 2004.
America's Intelligence Wire, April 7, 2004.
Billboard, August 17, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 2004.
"Slum Village," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/slum_village/bio.jhtml (September 21, 2004).
Slum Village Official Website, http://www.slumvillage.com (September 21, 2004).
—Marc L. Hill
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