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The word from Detroit

Eminem isn't the only voice. Have you heard from Slum Village?

November 21, 2002|Scott T. Sterling | Special to The Times

In the not so distant past, the phrase "Detroit hip-hop" was an oxymoron. Music fans were most likely to call it Detroit Rock City or Motown, or the home of P-Funk and the birthplace of techno. But, until Eminem exploded, the Motor City's hip-hop heart beat only in underground circles.

The epicenter of that scene was a nondescript storefront called the Hip-Hop Shop. Detroit's finest MCs honed their skills at a weekly open mike there, including a young Eminem -- and members of Slum Village. The trio, which then consisted of rappers T-3 and Baatin and innovative DJ-producer Jay Dee, was the act industry execs and insiders felt was poised to break onto the national stage. Their odds only increased when Jay Dee became a top producer for hip-hop elite like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

Label snafus, however, left their debut album in limbo until 1999, when "Fantastic, Vol. 2" was released to critical praise. But by then, bootleg copies had been making the rounds for a year and Eminem had become a star, defining the sound and the color of Detroit hip-hop. According to Slum Village's T-3, little has changed since those days at the Hip-Hop Shop.

"The Detroit scene is not blowing up at all," he explains. "The labels aren't checking for other Detroit acts. And if they were, they'd be looking for white boys anyway."

Slum Village has managed to rise above the marketing on its latest album, "Trinity (Past, Present and Future)," which boasts its first bona fide radio hit, "Tainted."

"Our sound comes from a whole other spectrum," T-3 explains of Slum Village's panoramic approach. "We're more aligned with neo-soul acts like D'Angelo, Common and the Roots."

The group even turned rampant bootlegging to its advantage.

"That ended up helping us. We went out on the Lyricist Lounge tour, with the Roots and with A Tribe Called Quest on their farewell tour. We made a lot of fans that way," he recalls. "That all happened from the buzz on the bootlegs, so it was a blessing in disguise."

Slum Village took "Trinity" deep into new hip-hop turf, with nods to such far-reaching sounds as Radiohead.

"We go out and find new inspirations and bring them back to hip-hop to keep things fresh," T-3 says.

Also keeping things fresh is the addition of third MC Elzhi, who brings a battle-ready edge to T-3's no-nonsense flow and Baatin's oft-spiritual and more esoteric approach to rhyming.

"With 'Trinity,' we combined the soulful sound of the old Slum Village with our current style and what we see as our future sound," T-3 says. "So people get the full spectrum of what we're about."


Slum Village with india.arie and Floetry

Where: Universal Amphitheatre,

100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City

When: Friday, 8:15 p.m.

Cost: $27.50 to $59.50

Info: (818) 622-4440

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