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Photo by Frankie Fultz.
Photo by Frankie Fultz.

Slum Village Return With More Classic Material

T3 and Young RJ recruit Larry June, Cordae, Karriem Riggins, Robert Glasper and more for a funky, disco-tinged, F.U.N.-filled album.

Boasting a nearly 30-year legacy, Slum Village, the Detroit-bred rap group that is equal parts smooth and sharp lyricism, had taken a step back from dropping albums. Their last offering was 2015’s Yes!, which featured the group’s current line-up (T3 and producer/rapper Young RJ), along with stellar posthumous production by beat legend, J Dilla.

F.U.N , the impressive new album from Slum Village represents somewhat of a departure from the slower-paced jazz and soul-tinged sound of yesteryear. Inspired by disco and a desire to try something new, F.U.N is more upbeat, has new collaborators in the mix like Cordae, and is a quick, lean listen. Connecting over a video chat during their European tour, T3 and Young RJ spoke to Okayplayer about how they create together, remaining true to themselves and Slum Village’s essence, and the alternate meaning of the album’s title. Catch Slum Village on the road this year.

The interview below has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Okayplayer: Slum Village has existed through multiple eras of rap now at this point. In modern rap, what do you feel the group represents?

T3: Number one, it's a legacy thing. Pioneers, being the first of our kind to do what we do, from Detroit. Number two, it's the second wave that we are getting to. We've been blessed to get new fans. I don't know how to say this, but sometimes the older generation, like my generation, they love hip-hop, but they don't support it in a sense of going out and seeing the group. They still love it in their heart, but they don't go out and support it.

What I've learned is if Slum Village was depending on that, then we would not be doing as well as we are now. So when we go out and do our shows, it's a younger fan base that's picking up (Fantastic) Vol. 2 for the first time. So that's a whole ‘nother wave that we created for ourselves that we don't even know how that happened, besides people going back and researching the music. So that's definitely giving us brand new life, and finally dropping this new album, that's definitely giving us new legs.

Through the years and the lineup changes of Slum Village, how do you retain the spirit of the group and still continue to make music that reflects who the both of you are, now?

Young RJ: I would say because you got the two people that Dilla worked with hands-on, with how to put the sound together — and me and T just staying creative. It's also been the same people in the studio since Dilla's departure, just me and T working on every album. So the sound is going to be cohesive every time and in line with what Slum Village is.

T3: So you got me coordinating for the most part the writing, the hooks and my verse. And then whoever else is in the group, they do their verse. And J [has] a hand in most of the production.

And also just being there, Dilla mentoring both of us to add on to that. He definitely showed me production tricks and wanted me to do a lot of beats even though I didn't. And then he showed J a lot of stuff in the studio.

\u200bAlbum cover, 'F.U.N.' by Slum Village (2024).

Album cover, 'F.U.N.' by Slum Village (2024).

F.U.N is the first Slum Village album since Yes! in 2015. What led to putting an album out now?

RJ: We just felt like we got to. We've been talking about it for a while, doing the Slum Village album. The thing is the direction and us not wanting to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. So what can we bring new to music? And we were having a conversation. T felt like, 'Man, we need to just make a record that feels fun. That's kind of what's missing out there.' And that's what we went after, just making uptempo, feel-good music, music that we can perform, and that would connect with the audience. Just something different.

T3: It started out with us saying, 'You know what? The vibe I'm going to go for, I want to be inspired by disco music, really funky disco music.' So those were the first batch of records that we went after when we started and was thinking about what we going do with this sound.

RJ, you've been a part of the Slum Village ecosystem for a long time. How did you become a direct member of the group?

RJ: I think it's just based off the relationship that me and T have and a genuine understanding. A lot of people don't understand. Being in a group is like damn near being married. First, y'all got to really like each other and get along with each other. So we've been past all of that, and then it just got to a point where we was like, this is what has been consistent. It ain't like we move people out the group. It was just that people wanted to go and pursue other things. And we was like, “You know what? This is going to be the last formation of what we’re doing. Ain't going to be no more changes.” We make dope music together, so why not?

RJ, pulling double duty, producing 11 of 12 songs and also rapping on them, How do you balance that?

RJ: I'm used to it at this point. It's always easier because T, for the most part, he knows what he wants to do. My job is to fill in the blanks and help him pull the vision together. And then from there, I kick in. So for me, it's not really a task, I think it's just delegating time. You might have a wave where you’re just making great beats; you have to stay there until you burn that out. And then you'll go to writing. So I think for the most part, it is pretty easy, especially working with T, because he can put it together, so he make this easy.

Larry June was an excellent fit on “Just Like You.” How did he end up on the album?

T3: One of my homies hooked me up with Larry June. He’s a producer on the West Coast; he was talking to Larry June's manager, and he said, "Oh yeah, I know Slum Village." And Larry June was already a fan of Slum Village. And Larry June was working on The Alchemist, that joint they did, the collab album. And he was like, "I want to get y'all on this." And I was like, "Okay, well, we're going to try to get you on the record too." It was like that.

And Larry, June is a cool dude, man. He's a super cool dude, man. It was really easy. It was easier than it can be with artists. He invited us out. We performed at his show too, doing that song “Orange Village.” And yeah, we got him on the record and when he heard it, he said, 'Oh man, this is incredible.' When he heard it, he instantly wrote the verse to it and killed it. So yeah, shout out to Larry June. That's the homie for sure, for life.

The focus of the album was to enjoy making music and also not feel like entrapped by one sound. How did the both of you stay in that creative space of keeping everything loose and free-flowing?

RJ: We’re making music to please ourselves first. And even I get tired of hearing the same stuff. So the first thing we’re trying to do is please ourselves. And we wanted to go in without thinking about the fan base per se, but what do we want to make today? And we just went in there and did exactly that. And that's been the first time in a minute, to be honest with you, that we were able to go in there and just do what we want to do. So it felt good.

T3: Here's the thing. With the music biz being the way it is, there's no reason for you to just make what you're going to make and then just build a fan base for that, because you don't have to adapt. We used to really have to adapt, but I guess you got the TikTok adapting too. But we’re talking about people giving you literally thousands, almost a million dollars to do something and saying, 'Hey, I need a hit.' And you just kind of like, 'Yeah, I guess I better figure out what a hit is going to be. And let me get the hottest producer, the hottest, whoever, and just kind of make something.'

But today, I feel like it's more like the wild wild West because you don't really know what's going to really work. So you might as well just do something new and bring something new and just hope for the best. That's what I would tell new artists, and that's what we do, shit. And we old-school, so yeah you do what you do, is what I say..

Robert Glasper is on the last song “Since 92.” How did he become a part of F.U.N?

T3: Yes, yes. He's on “Since 92.” Him and his son are on that. So his son is doing some production. And what happened was I reached out to Robert and I was like, 'I'm going to send you some songs. This on some disco shit.' He was like, 'Oh, I can do disco.' I waited for a month and then RJ was like, 'Man, did you hit Robert up?' Because I can get inconsistent sometimes when it comes to reaching out.

So I sent him some joints, and then we talked and Robert said, 'Well, I'm going to send you something. I did a bunch of tracks with my son.' And he sent a bunch of joints over and that's the joint we picked.

Cordae was impressive on “So Superb.” He's a completely different generation of rap from Slum Village, but he fits in that world pretty easily.

RJ: I've been listening to Cordae since he started dropping music. So normally what we do is brainstorm and kind of figure out a wish list of people, And it'll be certain people T will reach out to and then certain people I reach out to. And we reached out to him and I was, 'Yo, we are working on a new album. We want you on the album.' And he was like, 'Hell yeah.' I'm not one of the people that's going to send you one song. I'm going to pick about two or three songs that I could hear you on. And he was like, 'Shit, all of these fire.' He was like, 'Give me a day to see what I feel I can perform the best on.' And then he hit me back, 'Yeah, I'm getting on "So Superb."' I was like, 'All right, bet. It's a go.' And then he's a super cool dude. He knocked it out super fast.

So now that F.U.N is out on all platforms, how do you feel about it now that everything is done? And also what do you want listeners to take from it?

T3: I just want people to put it on and be able to, like you said, ride to the whole record because it is a short record. It's not even a long album. Just have fun with the record. We’re definitely happy with the turn-out. I'm happy about this album. It was one other song I wanted to put on there, but we ain't going to talk about that. But other than that, I think it's a solid piece of work and I'm very excited for it. And I think fans are going to enjoy it, so I just want them to take it in, just play it. I think it's a classic album though in its own right. That's all I got to say.

Also, yeah, it's an acronym for fuck you niggas. And the reason why we said that is just because people be in their heads so much. I think, like I said, you need to just do what you are going to do. It ain't really trying to diss nobody, even though we don't really care, but it ain't that. It is really saying just do what you do and have fun with it. So it's both. It means both. It means fuck you niggas and have fun with it. That's what the record is about.