Slum Village Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Slum Village has been through numerous lineups over its 23 years, but unlike other legacy groups that keep rehashing the hits long after key members have left, the influential hip-hop group honors its roots while moving in fresh directions. Currently a duo of T3 (aka RL Altman III) and longtime producer “Young RJ” Rice, Slum Village was founded in 1996 by T3 and two childhood pals from Detroit’s Conant Gardens neighborhood, Baatin (aka Titus Glover) and J Dilla (James Dewitt Yancey). Their smart lyricism and original beats made them popular in late-90s alternative and lo-fi hip-hop circles, and after Dilla left Slum Village in the early 2000s, he became a breakout producer and writer for hip-hop and R&B musicians, including Janet Jackson and A Tribe Called Quest. He died in 2006 due to complications from lupus, but his work in and out of Slum Village continues to inspire a staggering amount of hip-hop production and attract praise from artists such as Common and Q-Tip, which in turn has drawn new fans to the group. Baatin left the group in 2003 (he passed away in 2009), leaving T3 as the sole original member. In 2015 Slum Village released Yes!, which relies on unused Dilla beats reworked by Young RJ, and the following year they put out Vol. 0, a compilation of previously un­released material from the original lineup. On their recent tours, though, they’ve been mixing up work from the Dilla era with new material that they’ve said will be recorded in the future. And this month they’ve dropped two collaborative albums with British hip-hop big band Abstract Orchestra, titled Fantastic 2020 V.1 and Fantastic 2020 V.2 (Ne’Astra Music). Comprising instrumental tributes to Slum Village’s first two albums, 1997’s Fantastic Vol. 1 and 2000’s Fantastic Vol. 2, they remind me of the interpretations of J Dilla’s compositions by composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. The new albums aren’t track-by-track remakes, but include lush orchestral versions of most of the songs from each original album. V.1 especially sounds like a love letter to Fantastic Vol. 2, with its instrumental versions of songs such as “Climax” and “Hold Tight” made just a little fancier with Abstract Orchestra’s horns and strings.   v