Detroit producer and rapper, Young RJ is the official custodian of that great 90s hip-hop outfit Slum Village.
Deeply involved with the group from his tender years, he was privy to the inner workings of the group and evidently vicariously and directly absorbed the ideas, thoughts and culture of Slum Village.
It was a privileged position. While Slum Village was more than an individual, the presence of one the greatest hip-hop producers, J Dilla was huge. Dilla’s sound has gone on to become a recognised sound within its own right.
Following the deaths of Dilla 2006 and tragically Baatin 2009, Young RJ and T3 were faced with a challenge. They had to keep the legacy of Slum Village alive-it was a promise they made to Baatin, states Young RJ. Perhaps in some ways Young RJ as the producer who had learnt from the best was under more pressure.
In 2010 he produced their sixth album Villa Manifesto. It was an important album in terms of Slum Village and Young RJ. It enabled Young RJ to keep his ‘promise’ to Baatin but also kept the Slum Village legacy alive after an enforced hiatus as it were between (2005-2010).
Sterling work to that effect has indeed kept the Slum Village name alive with a further three albums dropped since that sixth release. Promise kept, Young RJ has finally reached a point where he feels ready to put out his debut album Blaq Royalt.
Three promo tracks: Huh, Issues and Wait (featuring Pete Rock) suggest much promise from this debut release in October. Tailored production, clean addictive beat-making with honest lyrical content are the order of the day. At a time when rap seems to have been reduced to a multitude of rappers with names referring to their size ‘Lil’, Young RJ seems to be standing tall.
Seeing the creativity and freedom they [Slum Village] had in their approach to music gave me a different outlook.
Let’s get your musical story. Chart your journey to now as this musically gifted producer.
I grew up in a musical environment watching my parents record and produce music for their group in the 80’s. The group was called RJ’s Latest Arrival. This sparked the bug for music. In the 90’s they stopped touring and I started producing. At the time I was being mentored by J Dilla, who was going by the name of Jay Dee at the time. I was around 14 years old. A year later I started producing for Kurupt from The Dogg Pound. He gave me my jump start as a producer and that’s when I got the call from Dilla to help him finish Climax. This started my career and I ended up working with; Slum Village, 50 Cent, Little Brother, De La Soul and Dwele to name but a few.
Outside of music we all have Issues. What challenges solidified your aspiration to do this music thing?
First issue would be having a lane in the music business. Coming from Detroit, MI, there’s no real music scene. Trying to sustain a lively hood at the same time is hard. My friends come from an environment where they have no options to make it. Music forced me and the crew to focus harder to make it happen.
Has music been a saviour?
Yes definitely. Music puts food in my family’s mouths. Without the fans, I would be working at Walmart or something. Music saved my life but not only that it helps me escape from the stresses of life, period.
What was the first track you produced where you thought ‘yes’ I can make something of this?
I would say the track I did with Kurupt. When he told me I was dope that was huge. Getting the salute from Dilla by having me co-produce on Climax gave me the motivation to keep it going.
So, you have gone from un-official to official member of Slum. How did you get involved with Slum?
I met Slum when I was 8 years old at my pop’s studio when I was in a kids group. I would see them in the studio recording demos from time to time. Seeing the creativity and freedom they had in their approach to music gave me a different outlook. I realised you needed to take chances which meant not following trends.
Can you elaborate a bit on that last conversation with Dilla before his death?
The last time I spoke with Dilla in person we were sitting in the studio working on some remixes. He had fallen behind on the work. I asked him why didn’t he just get a production team together to help with all the work? He told me he didn’t want to do it because when he’s gone he didn’t want anyone to have his sound. At the time, I didn’t know how sick he was so didn’t pay it any mind. It didn’t sink in until after he passed away. He was trying to tell me what was going happen.
How does it feel pushing the legacy of such an important hip-hop group?
It’s an honor and an extreme pressure to uphold such a legacy. The last time I saw Baatin he said no matter what keep the Slum name going. At the time, I felt like the conversation was so weird. He had just come back to record on Villa Manifesto. He started touring with the guys again and a week later he passed away. We have been keeping up with the promise we made to him ever since.
Obvious question-why have finally decided to drop your first solo project?
Well we finally accomplished the task of placing Slum legacy back so I could focus on other things. Other than that, I finally felt that I had something to say. People like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole push music with meaning back to the mainstream, so I can make what I want and not sacrifice my musical integrity.
Music forced me and the crew to focus harder to make it happen.
Can you talk about the technical aspects of creating this lp; getting the collabos, studio time and getting the sound you wanted?
On this album, I recorded everything in analog with my Sp-1200, MPC 3000 and a lot of live music. I have my own studio so I could take my time recording and experimenting. The album needed to have a warm sound sonically so I took a lot of time trying different pre-amps on my drums and vocals. As far as collaborations I wanted to work with people who could make the songs better. It was not just who’s hot at the time. It was people who I am a fan of.
I appreciate that. Pete has been my mentor since Dilla passed away, so we send each other videos of what beats we made for the day. He heard the beat and was like ‘yooo send me that I gotta rhyme on that’ and the rest is history’
There is a real sense that you wanted to create a project that discusses real issues but is also far removed from talking about what cars you have and talking more about normality?
On this album, I definitely talk about personal Issues. There was a couple of my personal problems in the single “Issues” but I have a song called Closer 2 God on the album which is the first song. It speaks on some things going on in my life.
Is there anything about creating this album that stands out as a pivotal moment?
Just having my father in the studio helping on some of the songs and sharing the experience of creating with him was priceless. Not many people can say they did that.