The Detroit rap troupe Slum Village “really dug deep” while writing the songs on its forthcoming new album, “Villa Manifesto,” according to the group leader T3.
It wasn’t hard.
Slum Village has been through an emotional ringer during the four years since its self-titled last album. The group lost longtime cohort Jay Dee (James Yancey, aka J Dilla), who passed away in February 2006 after battling TTP and Lupus. And it suffered with the rest of the Detroit hiphop community when Eminem’s hype man and D12 co-founder Proof (real name Deshaun Holton) was fatally shot two months later.
“It was tough for us to get past that and get back to writing music again,” explains T3, 32, who was born R.L. Altman III on Detroit’s east side and now resides in Troy. He formed Slum Village in 1996 with Jay Dee and fellow rapper Baatin and has been the sole constant on the group’s five albums.
“I was just depressed. I didn’t want to do (any) music, we weren’t focusing on a record ... It happens every so often; an artist gets depressed, even if things were going good. But this time I totally shut down. Everything was negative, and it just wasn’t how I wanted to make my music, in that negative kind of space.”
T3 has no real explanation for what brought him and the rest of Slum Village out of that funk, though.
“It just hit me one day — ‘I need to bring the band back together,’ ” he recalls. “I just started calling up everybody — ‘Hey, whatcha doin’? Drop that. Let’s work on this record.’
“We had to put the pieces back together and get the band back together and get motivated to do this record.”
T3 and production partner “Young” RJ Rice began working on “Villa Manifesto,” ti due out July 7, in Rice’s basement studio — “No big, elaborate, cushy studio,” T3 notes — in Farmington. At the same time, T3 and Elzhi (Jason Powers), who’s been in Slum Village since 2001, reached out to Baatin (Titus Glover), who had left the group in 2004 due to drugs and disease.
“We had to go find the guy — that was a process,” T3 notes. “But we found him and he was cool. He was trying to get his life back together. He was happy to see us. He was like, ‘Damn! You all came at the right time — whoo!’
“I think we made a (song) the day we found him, so that was good. I didn’t want to do another record without him, anyway. I felt like our fans wanted him to come back, too.”
With Baatin back on board and Jay Dee’s younger brother Illa J (John Yancey) brought into the fold, Slum Village again feels complete — or, T3 says, “as much as it can be minus Dilla not being there. But it brings some energy, having Illa there and Baatin back. (Baatin)’s just a very creative guy on a lot of levels and brings a lot to the table.” The reunion lends a somewhat triumphant feel to “Villa
Manifesto,” which features
production by Rice, Mad Lib and Hi-Tek, as well as guest appearances by Macy Gray on “Love and Misery,” Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius on the single “Cloud 9” and Detroit
R&B singer Dwele, a longtime cohort. But T3 says the group
didn’t try to hide from the pain,
“People were struggling,” he says. “They were going through things. This album’s kind of serious because it’s about ... situations that were going on with us in our lives. We wanted to bring that passion of whatever we were going through on this record. We wanted to keep it grimy, keep it real and ... honest.”
Slum Village performs as part of Rock the Bells 2009 at 1 p.m. Sunday (June 28) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Nas and Damian Marley, the Roots, Busta Rhymes, Big Boi, Tech N9ne, Refl ection Etertan (Talib Kweil and Hi-Tek), Slaughterhouse (with Royce Da 5’9”), K’Naan, the Knux and Chali 2na also perform, while KRS-One, Supernatural and Pete Rock host. Tickets are $46 and $66 pavilion, $32.50 lawn with a $99 lawn four-pack. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com. An official after-party with Nas, the Roots' ?uestlove, Supernatural and Phat Kat begins at 9 p.m. Sunday at Capital Square, 205 W. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $15. Call (248) 543-3000 or visit www.groovetickets.com.
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