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Elzhi: Slum Village’s Lost One Breaks His Silence

Slum Village is a group synonymous with controversy. Hailing from the Conant Gardens section of Detroit, the trio of T3, Baatin and J. Dilla were heralded as a breath of fresh air when they burst on the scene in the late 90s. When their 2000 disc, Fantastic, Vol. 2, dropped it was dubbed an instant classic. Things were looking up for the high school friends, but then Dilla left for greener pastures, racking up production credits for the likes of Pharcyde, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson.

While Dilla was finding solo success, T3 and Baatin kept the SV brand going by adding local lyricist Elzhi to the fold. Slum’s new lineup found success of their own with 2002’s Trinity (Past, Present and Future), which included the hit single “Tainted.” All seemed well in the D, but then news broke that Baatin had suffered a mental breakdown and left the group, leaving T3 and Elzhi to hold down 2004’s Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit) on their own. Still, Dilla made appearance on the aptly-titled “Reunion,” where he, T3 and Elzhi spoke on their hope for all four members to one day get back together.

As fate would have it, though, that would not be possible. On February 10, 2006, Dilla passed from complications brought on by lupus. In the wake of his death, Baatin rejoin SV and began working on a new project. Then disaster struck once again. On August 1, 2009, Baatin passed suddenly from health conditions, in Detroit while the remaining members of Slum Village were on tour.

Despite the loss, T3 and Elzhi continued to carry on the SV legacy and looked to complete the group’s sixth album, Villa Manifesto, which includes beats and rhymes from all four members. Diehard fans eagerly anticipated the disc, which dropped this pass Tuesday, but in the weeks leading up to the release, news broke that Elzhi was no longer a part of the group. Some reports said Dilla’s younger brother Illa J had stepped in as a replacement, while T3 maintained that the young beatsmith/rapper was more of a featured guest. However, murmurs of tension continue to swirl when the video for “Reunion 2” dropped and Elzhi was noticeably absent from the record. In a recent radio interview, T3 was confronted by fellow Detroit MC Phat Kat and reiterated that he still has an amicable relationship with Elzhi.

With everyone talking except Elzhi, caught up with the Detroit MC to get his take on what’s really going on. While there’s no love lost for Slum Village as a whole, the same doesn’t apply to the group’s longtime label, Barack Records, and its founder RJ Rice. This is Elzhi’s manifesto.

Let’s cut right to the chase; are you in Slum Village now or not?

Elzhi: Am I in Slum Village or am I not? As far as what’s going on… As far as, like, me not having any say so to any treatments to videos being shot, or me not going to do the interviews to promote this new Slum Village album, or [Barack Records and T3] not contacting me or my management, and… as you can see in the “Reunion 2” video, I would say I wasn’t in the group. And at the same time, them taking me off records, so now I’m on a minimal amount a records for the [Villa Manifesto] album, I would say I wasn’t in the group.

So you recorded way more material than what the final track listing wound up being? How did things fall apart?

Basically, I got new management and what happened was it was a shock to the label, even Slum’s manager [Tim Maynor]. They just couldn’t take the fact that I had new management, and just from that as far as I could tell, they overreacted and it got to the point where we was all on a conference call and my new management asked to see the paper work and the contract from E1 and RJ Rice ain’t wanna show us. I’m thinkin’ like, “Why you ain’t wanna show us; that’s how we do business.” But we asked to see that paperwork; he didn’t show us, then he threatened to take me off the whole album at one point when I recorded 13 cuts for the album. So it went from them threatening to take me off the whole album to them keeping me on five-seven records and something musta got lost in translation with the label… It was just funny to know that they took me off the record [we did with Phonte of Little Brother], but they didn’t give me the say so on which records I wanted to be on. So they just did everything theyself.

Just to clarify, is the issue more so with RJ Rice and Barack, or is T3 involved in that tension as well?

Well, my thing is this, T3 is the leader of Slum; I’ve always looked at him as the leader of Slum. I’ve always respected the direction to where he wanted to take Slum because he’s part of the co-founders of Slum Village, but you know, when you got T3 tellin’ me this isn’t the direction he wanna go into, but I’m lookin’ at behind the scenes footage of the “Reunion 2” [video] and him talkin’ about basically this is the Slum Village crew and then when I’m thinking about the “Reunion 2” as far as the way that it popped off… Because I didn’t even know that that video got shot. They shot that video behind my back and didn’t tell me.

Word, so what did you think when you finally saw the video?

When I see the video I’m like, “Wow. It’s crazy ’cause they got all these new faces in there and no disrespect to the new people that’s tryin’ to get in where they fit in, I just thought it was real disrespectful and I think the fans did too ’cause I went on this website where they was commentin’ on the video, I think it had probably like 64 comments, and the fans saw right through the bullshit… They even broke down T3’s verse and saw that he was tryin’ to diss a lil’ bit.

Where do you think he tried to diss you on the record?

It’s like the things he was sayin’ as far as like, you know, basically Dilla spoke to him from the heavens and said keep this goin’ because Elzhi’s doin’ solo shows and he don’t know where ’Tin is at so, yeah, I’m about to create my own runway with [Young] RJ and Scrap Dirty and all this and that and it’s like, “Damn, you really puttin’ it out there thinkin’ that our fans is stupid,” but our fans know what’s up, we got some smart listeners… I mean [T3’s] tellin’ me that’s not his direction, that that’s RJ’s direction, but I mean from this point I can’t tell.

At this point, is there any hope for a real reunion between you and T3?

As much as I was tripping off the fact that T3 allowed the label to take me off half of the album, he wasn’t sticking up for me and did a video behind my back; [the way] I was looking at it at that time was as long as they know my worth what I brought to the table, my legacy, they cooperate and they willing to negotiate with me about certain things… ’Cause honestly I haven’t even got paid in full on the [new] album yet. But I was just looking at it like as long as they get their act together, Slum Village can still keep on making music.

What would it take to make that happen?

A lot of things gotta to be reconciled, I gotta really know where that brother stands and like I said the label gotta get their act together because they still haven’t got their act together all they ever done, me and my management, is be humble about the situation and come in peace but I mean as the days go on we starting to see their little plan to phase me out of the Slum Village legacy and move on without me. We not gonna stand for that like I said I put as much work as much as anyone else and I still, don’t get me wrong, I love the Slum Village music, and I love the movement for what it was but now it’s on some whole other shit.

You think things would have panned out different if Baatin and Dilla were still here?

Hell, yeah, it’d be different. I think T3 was put in the position to lead Slum Village, [because] T3 was like the guy in the middle, he was the guy that brought Dilla and Baatin together and when Dilla left he was the glue and he was put in that leadership role in Slum Village. If Dilla was still around, if Baatin was still around, and I was brought into the fold I feel like the direction of Slum Village would not be going in the way it’s going [now]. I feel like [Dilla and Baatin] would really have a problem with this because it’s disrespectful. I feel like it’s not only disrespectful to those guys but to the fans… I’m just sad I’ma always keep reppin’ the Slum Village movement… but there’s a lot of shit going on that needs to be answered… Ii hope it come back together for the sake of the music for the sake of the fans, but right now I can’t tell. —Anslem Samuel

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