In the mid-1990s the hip hop world was introduced to the Detroit trio of Baatin, Jay Dee (aka J. Dilla), and T3 known as Slum Village with the underground rumblings from their initial underground DIY project Fantastic (Volume 1) onto their first official album, Fantastic Vol. 2. When Slum Village appeared, they marked an important transition taking the vibe of 1990s hip-hop pioneers like Pete Rock, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest into the new millenium, while almost staking claim of the burgeoning sound coming from Detroit. Through the years, members would come and go, some would stay for longer than others, and others would leave us forever. It would be through the one constant of the group, T3, that the legacy would live on into a new generation of fans who would take Slum Village as-is, without the criticism from early enthusiasts that weren’t always comfortable with the ever-changing aspects of the group they were passionate about.
After more than 20 years of keeping the Slum Village story alive, through all of its ups and downs, T3 feels like the name of Slum Village is in a good place to close that chapter on a positive note. Now, it’s time for T3 to step out on his own and deliver his solo project Mr. Fantastic, produced entirely by Teeko and Ruckazoid, due out on January 23 through Delicious Vinyl.
One of the aspects of the original Slum Village lineup that was overlooked at the time, but people started to understand long after, is that each member of the group contributed to the overall aesthetic of the group. With Mr. Fantastic, T3 aims to show how he specifically contributed to the sound of Slum Village while experimenting with styles we never seen from him before.
In anticipation for Mr. Fantastic, T3 has released the first single “Relax” featuring Illa J and Frank Nitt. He spoke to VIBE about taking a break from music, managing the personalities of his groupmates, and finally going solo.
Let’s talk about this new solo project Mr. Fantastic.
This is an EP with Delicious Vinyl. I put it out through them because they have history and credibility for putting out quality products. This is my first solo EP. I did stuff, but this is the first official solo EP. I wanted to make sure it came out through the right situation. I think it’s long overdue. I dedicated 20 years to just Slum Village in all forms and fashion. I just don’t want anything that is on my bucket list before I walk away from music that I saw I didn’t do.
What was the first thing that crossed your mind when you first decided to do Mr. Fantastic?
About two years ago, I had the idea in my head that it was time for me to start doing music. I had stopped doing music and shows for a while. I was online searching for new producers. I was just searching for a new feel. I came across these guys Ruckazoid and Teeko. They inspired me to want to make music. Then I found out that Ruckazoid did one of Baatin’s albums that never came out, which was incredible. I didn’t even know that when I saw him on the Internet. That connection made my connection even greater. It was like a perfect fit. It was like they knew what I wanted to hear without me even knowing these guys at all.
From a personal standpoint, how was it working with Teeko and Ruckazoid?
Those guys are creative geniuses. We had fun. We did these records over a course of a year, but when we work, it was really fast. Working with them is like working with people that know you, but we are still newly friends. It’s just a dope connection. It’s almost like how is this possible?
The first single from Mr. Fantastic is “Relax” featuring Illa J and Frank Nitt. Talk about that record.
That’s a fun record. It’s like a warm up. The concept is as Detroiters, we always feel like we have a chip on our shoulder because they are always counting us out for some strange reason. At this point, we don’t even get offended by it anymore. That makes us extra cocky sometimes because of that. It’s one of those records of us having fun and just telling people that regardless of the doubt, that we’re coming through.
There’s also a song called “Mr. Fantastic” featuring a verse from Baatin. Talk about that song.
That is my favorite record on the album. Basically, it’s a dedication to Baatin and J. Dilla. I don’t think Baatin gets enough credit. I know Dilla gets credit, but I still like to put it all together. Everybody that was in Slum Village contributed to the sound, especially in the beginning days. Doing my solo thing, I have to reintroduce people to my legacy in a different way. That’s the reason why I did this song. I just had an epiphany that I should be doing music and it was time.
What was going on in your life when you weren’t doing music or shows?
I was at the crib very domesticated. I was newly married. You have to find your inner-mojo, which is tough to do sometimes. I tell this to a lot of artists. You can lose your craft and not be able to find it for a while. You have to continue to write and produce and be creative, or you will lose it. I literally had to cut myself off of that and go into my office and just work. Inspire myself. I was used to bouncing stuff off other people. I had to dig into myself and find myself to make these records. I’m happy I’m able to do this now because I don’t need to depend on having a bunch of people to be inspired from. I can go into myself and be inspired.
What inspired you during that time and did you learn anything about yourself?
What I learned about myself is how people may perceive me. I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of, but all my people know is what I show them. When I tell people I’m doing a record and then it never comes out, then people build up this perception about you. I took that time to reflect and I didn’t want to be that type of person anymore. I want to do the things I said I was going to do. That really sparked the inspiration to become a better me.
With all the members that have come and gone through Slum Village and everybody having their own personalities, how did you try to keep all that together throughout the years?
By being very diplomatic. I would try to be the guy that would always see your side, but let’s see if we can come to a compromise. It was different personalities. With Dilla, musically, you just have to wait for him to call upon you and give you that opportunity to provide feedback. Everybody was different. I always had a vision for Slum Village musically anyways because I was always producing and writing the hooks, contributing a lot to Slum Village. So even when other people were coming into the group, people were always wondering why the sound hasn’t changed that much.
What’s the meaning behind the title of the project Mr. Fantastic?
It’s a double meaning. Fantastic is the name of the lead album for Slum Village, period. That’s what got us in the game. I’m saying I’ve been there for the whole legacy and the whole situation, so I’m saying that without saying that. I’m reintroducing myself to people just in case you didn’t know who Slum Village was, who Dilla and Baatin was. I’m doing it in a fun way but still letting people know.