It Takes A Village To Raise A Roof
by Dove
~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~

Email Dove


When Slum Village seemingly burst onto the scene in 2000 with Fantastic Volume II, people gawked in amazement at their seasoned stage presence and their boundless energy. Their rapport with crowds on an international scale was phenomenal, yet the critics would only expound upon the prolific production of Jay Dee, while emcees Baatin and T3 were picked apart for their offbeat presentation of the songs.

Music critics have adored the stage show and the energy of the music, while simultaneously downplaying the lyrical value of the album. Fans grappled to get a copy of the basement treasure Fantastic Volume I, yet they continued to question Slum’s interpretation of Volume II. The relentless journalistic stroking of Jay Dee’s masterful beat creation has left listeners in the dark as to the more complex relationships, talents and visions of the entire group.

Fetch your backpacks for a melodic trek – destination: Slum Village.

The foundation of a legacy

Jay Dee, Baatin Rasool Wasi, and T3 met while still in high school and after a lyrical battle or two they ended up getting together in basement ciphers. Their chemistry was undeniable. "When we come together we unconsciously form this triangle," says Baatin of their symmetry.

SV met DJ Dez in 1992 when he was working with another group in Detroit and spinning at club nights throughout the area. Several groups in the city formed a coalition called Ghost Town, named for the feeling that Motown left Detroit’s music scene with at that time. "We’ve been in the studio together plenty of times – kinda like a family circle – we weren’t super close but we all had a bond. I would hook up with Baatin and go to the studio. Me and Jay Dee would hook up all the time – we were very alike as far as being musicians – rap, dj and make music – there weren’t too many people who could do everything well. We was always cool and numerous times people would try to start stuff between us but we never fed into it."

From the time the Slum Village trio made the first song to the time they were able to secure a record deal, eight years of their lives had passed. In those eight years they were dropped in and out of four record deals – more than most people would put up with regardless of professional aspirations. Their tenacity landed them on their feet with the independent Barak and Good Vibe labels. The Fantastic Volume II project had been completed and shelved for 2 years before they were able to release it in 2000. They collectively have mixed feelings about the role that Motown and the city of Detroit played into their difficulties. Baatin explains "I would say that as far as the network…it’s very difficult to be discovered – for a long time no one really took us serious here. Motown was just funny. The whole Midwest was not taken seriously. I’d say 40% because of Detroit – 30% because of the industry. – You had to go to NY or something".

Regardless of the rejection from the city, they still love their hometown. Motown’s recent induction of Hip Hop to its repertoire says a lot for Detroit artists putting the city on the map. Baatin and T3 are fastidious with their representation of Detroit. "We are among the many groups who like to represent our city. No one has really come up and represented except Eminem – a lot of people have made it – I’m not sayin any names – but won’t rep for Detroit", a fervent Baatin remarks. T3 adds, "Detroit is comin’ up, it still has a long way to go."

Hometown Harmony

The group’s decision to shoot their latest music videos in Los Angeles sound stages as opposed to utilizing their own cityscape had some natives up in arms. Baatin expresses regret over not being able to film either of the features in Conant Gardens, their first choice for the production. He is adamant that the location in no way reflects their feelings toward their home. "The reason the videos were shot in LA was because the sun was shining a little bit more there and we needed the light – because of the budget and time frame we needed to get it done." He elaborates further on his love for the local scene, "I represent Detroit to the fullest – the whole culture, the techno – the sound that has inspired people for decades. I represent. It’s like a culture here that’s so underground, not many people know about it, there’s a dance here that goes with the techno scene. The communities of music are separate so it makes it easy for us to make our own sound – to sound different than Eminem or Kid Rock. You have artists who use the same producers in their city and there is repetition. We are in our own zone. It’s a beautiful thing."

Delving further into the current state of Detroit artists and Slum’s future plans to work with them, admiration is warmly expressed by all for newcomers Elzhi, D’wele, Phat Cat, and Baatin’s sister Marie. Dez also names D-12, Royce the 5’9 and Obie Trice as personal favorites. Jay Dee will be working with D’wele on his solo LP, and D’wele is reciprocating with production on Jay Dee’s work. T3 has taken on the formidable task of management with Elzhi as his first client. Elzhi already has his project in the works along with collaboration on Jay Dee’s upcoming solo LP. Baatin also cites Juan Slate and Dorothy Ashby as two of his all-time admirable artists from the D. Of course they are often asked about their feelings and relationship with Detroit’s resident bad-boy Eminem. Baatin says with a smile "We definitely like him – that’s fam. Back in the day we had demos from him – we would exchange demos – he was innovative even back then."

In December 2000, angry headz in Detroit issued a press release nationwide to boycott radio station WJLB, due to the station's lack of support for Hip Hop music. Demonstrators staged a peaceful protest outside the station on January 19, 2001 with the guidance of music pioneer Chuck D. Although Slum Village had minimal knowledge of the boycott at the time of this conversation, they do acknowledge that a lot of radio stations have issues with supporting the art form. "I don't know if I support it or not, but I don't fault people for standing up for what they believe in" T3 states thoughtfully.

The over-commercialism in Hip Hop has been a major topic of discussion over the past couple of years. Headz have looked on in disappointment as some of their favorite emcees have appeared in and done voice-overs for commercials hocking anything from clothing to cereal. It is controversial in that while we want to see our rap icons come up, we don’t want them to sell out. Fans seem to have taken well to SV’s recent decision to do three spots for Lugz footwear. Baatin has mixed feelings about the ins and outs of doing commercials, and when asked if he thought it was good for a group’s career to appear in one he remarked "Yes and no. Yes, because it’s a way for you to get out and be heard, to get exposure. No because a lot of people tend to go to far with it – to go outside of their boundaries of what they would usually make just for the money or the exposure." T3 adds, "It can’t hurt. It’d be different if we were doing liquor commercials. People have made positive comments – we’re still Slum regardless."

Fantastic Voyage

Considering the ambiguous reviews of Fantastic Volume II’s lyrical content, SV has had their moment to reflect on critique, and concur that there is no need to let it get to them. Baatin sedately explains, "I don’t deal with it. I just let it go. People are gonna judge, critique, criticize anyway. Everyone in the world can’t love you. There has to be a balance in nature – you have to have cold with hot and winter with summer. I just stand back and watch and let people judge what they may. I guess they are free to. When we get mad and we wanna get our point across we don’t want to be held back. I accept it." Dez has also had his share of being under the microscope, having been the group’s DJ while on tour. "I try to be fair and reasonable" he says, "I feel like most people are really just on the outside looking into the situation so they don’t have anything to go by but what they’ve seen. You can’t take anything too much to heart. I felt like I came into this situation and did what I had to do and made it work."

Furthermore, Baatin feels that a lot of people didn’t understand the vibe on Volume II. "80% of the music we made on the Volume II album was right on the spot, spontaneous – 15 minutes we got a song – it was more of a feeling album. A lot of people judge or critique the lyrics, but we wanted people to feel again instead of just concentrating on metaphors. We went into sound octaves and different rhythms. We did a lot of those songs before we even got a deal. It was more or less flow."

Their individual talents are innumerable, creating a constant cornucopia of flavor. Jay Dee and Baatin tickle the electronic ivories, and Jay Dee plays a bit of bass as well. Baatin has been practicing his percussion skills, while Dez is polished in most Latin percussion instruments. T3 is more of an SP1200 man, but doesn’t limit himself in experimentation. Baatin professes that they all remain open-minded about the possibilities of learning more about music. "If I pick up an instrument and I don’t know anything about it I’m probably going to be more creative with it since it’s the first time I’ve ever picked up this instrument – I think a lot more cats are doing that these days. I can play what I hear in my head, I can hear a chord and play a sequence. We pretty much mess around with a lot of instruments."

The vocal stylings of Slum Village are deep rooted in the church. Baatin and his sister grew up singing in the choir, as did Jay Dee - who will be improvising some soulful strains on his new solo LP. Baatin’s gravelly-satin voice goes into detail about the crossover of emceeing and singing, "Old Dirty Bastard can sing, ironically. Pharaoh Monch sang on Organized Konfusion’s first album. {Emcees} have this phobia about what people will think of us – I want to sing to show people the versatile side of emcees. Mos Def wasn’t afraid to step out and show his singing abilities - D’Angelo was an emcee back in the day as well." Baatin’s solo album will include singing mixed with his poetic vocals as well.

Future Fantasm

The studio has been a second home to SV over the years. They’ve spent quality time with various producers, and are hard pressed to choose a favorite behind the glass. "There’s only ONE producer," T3 says with an emphatic snicker. Secondary choices are not forthcoming from his lips, however he does name Hi Tek and Dr. Dre as producers he currently admires. As far as artists they have recorded with, Common and D’Angelo appear to be the standouts. "I enjoyed all of ‘em. I enjoyed vibin’ with D’angelo. I don’t really have a favorite because they were all different," Baatin relates. "It was an honor to be down there with Pete Rock in our basement making beats….same with Tip. The were all beautiful."

The road to Slum Village’s success has been paved with extensive tour dates throughout the United States and Europe. Their stage show won accolades from even the most close-minded critics and had audiences mesmerized. In the year 2000 alone they repped hard for the Good Vibe and Lyricist Lounge tours, grooved a while with Lucy Pearl, then switched gears in the fall to intensify the aptitude of the Okayplayer Tour.

"The whole Okayplayer Tour was a wonderful experience – uplifting, inspiring – for us to get a band! There‘s nothing like it! The Roots, Talib Kweli – in cohesiveness working with them was a wonderful experience" Baatin reflects excitedly. The artist they’ve most enjoyed sharing the stage with is Common. They deem their performance at the Atlanta show with Com to be the best ever. "We had a domino effect dance routine goin’ on and we didn’t even rehearse it. We {were} in sync – in harmony with each other." Baatin’s tone is intense and joyful, as were the glowing reviews given by fans and critics who attended the Atlanta show.

DJ Dez has been an integral part of the group on the road. He has many good memories of the past year and says that people did walk up and call him Jay Dee on several occasions. Dez took most of the traveling in stride, but felt a lot of love for his own talents once the Okayplayer Tour took hold. "I think that throughout all the other tours I felt like my purpose was to come into the situation and help out, and to help tighten what needed to be tightened. They were used to Jay Dee being there – they would have to do his verses so I would just help out with background. It wasn’t hard at all – I already knew their vibe – I had DJed for shows for them at the crib before. It’s like a family situation. I think the OKP tour was the best experience for me ‘cause prior to that I didn’t feel a part of the group, and since I’m not on the albums or anything I can only take credit for the live shows. Guru and Scratch worked with me on stage – I got to do my thing aside from Slum." ?uestlove of the Roots recently invited Dez to play percussion with him for Common’s appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Along with the upcoming release of the remix and video for "Fall In Love", Slum Village is once again planning a tour. This time around they are keeping a hometown vibe to the show while including the people they know will accentuate their own energy. "It’ll be the Slum Village tour – it’ll be a family tree. Bahamadia, Phat Cat, Elzhi, D’wele – we’re setting up now … a lot of spot dates and college dates", reports Baatin.

In addition to his musical musings, Baatin is also penning three movie scripts. The plots are varied in dramatic range and promise to be inclusive of the "meditative visions" that have come to Baatin in his lifetime. The first work is called "The Last Supper – Revelations" and is his perspective on what happened in the biblical times. He describes, "{There are) so many images of Christ being Caucasian. {The script} will be accepted because it’s really different. It’s about a celebration. It’s not about twelve apostles sitting at a table. It’s about how people can transcend a particular life into a new life. It’s got a Quantam Leap type feel, magical, with soul." The second storyline is a graphic monolith telling of slave masters, slaves, and what happened on an "unseen level". The third is dedicated solely to women and the oppression of their sexual power.

Slum is currently in the studio completing their third album that should drop this summer. There are some pending guest appearances too, including StereoLab and Sergio Mendes, which have yet to be confirmed. T3 aspires to include Common and Prince in future projects as well. Says Baatin of third album, "Don’t expect anything. Be ready for something different. I’m not going to explain the album – but this time we’re gonna be a little bit more lyrical – a lot of people didn’t feel the last one for what it was. We’re not trying to prove a point – just something different."

We won’t be seeing a trilogy of Fantastic-like albums from Slum Village, however anything they do create will promise to be phenomenal. The Village has a strong foundation, but a little restructuring will only make their contribution to the Hip Hop market that much more valuable.

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