Young RJ rode around with pre-fame Timbaland, learned from J. Dilla, and produced for Kurupt before he was able to legally buy alcohol. The 20-plus-year veteran has stories from the studio that are testaments to how long he’s been a student of the game.
“Kurupt actually helped me with my homework. I had a project that had to be turned in, and Kurupt helped me finish it so we could get back to work,” Young RJ told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” one of Slum Village’s key members explains Dilla’s cryptic final message to him and what he learned from the late musician. He also discusses working on a new Slum Village album.
Your first major placement didn’t come with Slum Village or J. Dilla; it came with Kurupt while you were still in high school. How did that session happen?
That’s what made Slum take me seriously. My dad would pick me up from school, and there would be different people in the car. One time, he picked me up and had Timbaland in the car before he was Timbaland. We went to the studio, and Aaliyah was recording out of our studio at the time. They were working on the One In A Million album. I was in the session where they were doing the song “One In A Million.” From there, I started messing around with the drum machines and things of that nature. Then, Dilla started coming in and telling me, “I think you should do some of this and some of that.” He was teaching me.
One day, Kurupt just so happened to come to Detroit. He was working on his album and was recorded on Fan-tas-tic Vol 2. My dad told him, “Well, I’m gonna let my son play you some stuff.” Then, Kurupt started going crazy over the joints and my dad was like, “Are you really feeling them, or are you just saying that?” Kurupt told him, “Nah, this is it.” We recorded about three or four songs in about a day-and-a-half. When Dilla heard what I did with Kurupt, he said, “Okay, now it is time to work.” We got it going from there.
How was it watching Kurupt record to your beats when you were still a teenager?
He was very quick. Once he heard something he liked, he was on it. He would go in the booth, he would lay what he had, chill for a second, and then he may take a nap. He’ll wake up like, “All right, I’m ready.” Then, he may record some more of the bars for it, and then he may be like, “Well, I’m gonna come back tomorrow.” He knew exactly what he wanted to do. Kurupt actually helped me with my homework. I had a project that had to be turned in, and Kurupt helped me finish it so we could get back to work.
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Taking it back further, how did you connect with J. Dilla?
I connected with D because my dad and John Salley had a studio at the time called Hoop Sound Studios, and they were looking for groups and auditions. We had a kid’s group called Kid You Not. We used to all hang out at the studio. One day, Baatin and T3 came in and auditioned, and then it went from there. I was about 10 years old when I met Dilla.
You’ve said Dilla helped you with production tips. What were those sessions like learning from him?
Dilla would come to the house and make beats after we shut that studio down. He would come to the house and use the equipment. I would come home from school and see him regularly. When I was 15, I started taking production seriously, and Dilla showed me things on the drum machine.
Do you remember the last session you had with Dilla?
Yeah, it was right before he went out to LA. He and I were working on many different projects he had to complete and because he wasn’t 100 percent, he asked me to assist him with finishing up some of the work. I wasn’t credited on most of the stuff, but some of the things, I was. I remember asking him, “Why don’t you just start a production team?” He said, “Nah, I don’t want nobody having my sound when I’m gone.” That was the last time I seen him in person outside of coming to the “Selfish” music video shoot.
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You’ve kept yourself ingrained in the Detroit hip hop space. How did you connect with Proof of D-12?
Proof and I connected from him coming up to the studio. Proof and I built a relationship in Europe when we toured the Detroit Deli album. When we got back, he was like, “I’m going to work on an album. I want you to do some music on there.” So, T3 was going to the studio to record the song he was on, and he gave him a CD we had that had “Gurls Wit Da Boom” and “Purple Gang” on it, and he ended up using them for his album. After that, he and I did a song for my record, and then we were supposed to link up because he wanted me to play some stuff for Eminem, but he ended up passing away.
What is a memorable studio session you were in?
I used to always love going to the studio sessions they would do in LA. I was there when they recorded “Selfish.” I was able to see how Kanye [West] produced a song, and I talked with him about it. Then, you would see Common pop in. Then, you would see will.i.am pop in. Anybody you could think of would fall through these sessions.
You put out a new album, World Tour, last month. One of the artists on it is a favorite of mine — Boldy James.
Boldy is the homie. Boldy and I met a little bit before the Blaq Royalty project. We got in the studio, and we’ve been cool ever since. We talk about things outside of music — like how the kids are doing. So, when you hear the songs, that’s pretty much what you’re hearing. You hear that relationship. As far as making music, Boldy will let you set the tone. He’ll say, “Play the beat.” When you play the beat, he’s like, “Okay, all right, so what are we talking about?” And then I’ll bounce the idea off him. Or, he may say, “This is what I got.” I’m not a street guy, so I always tell him whatever I’m writing will be from what I see and not from me doing it. He’s always respected that. Once we get in, I may already have the verse down, and then he’ll sit there and write and knock it out. He’s not a guy that’s going to take it home. We may do three or four songs in three or four hours.
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How long did it take you to record your World Tour album?
I recorded this album in quarantine. I have a studio in my lower level. So, just being in there recording music and not having anything to do but work and make music, I was able to lock in and just get it knocked out. I wanted to say things with a message and make records that regular classic Slum Village fans would love. The main thing was putting together a solid album that the majority of it had a message [and] to get out everything that needed to be said before we moved on to work on the new Slum Village album.
So, a new Slum Village album is in the works?
Yeah. It should be out next year. We’ve been working on it for about a month. It’s always us first figuring out the direction we want to go sonically and then just making music that feels good. We’ve been locking in, and we’ll lock in for the next two or three months until we get it done. There may be some Dilla on there. We have to see what makes the final cut.
What do you have coming for the rest of this year and 2023?
I have a whole other solo project done. It’s just a matter of when I drop it. I want to focus on getting this new Slum Village done. We have some shows coming up next month, and then we’re taking off and focusing entirely on getting this album where we want it to be. And then, of course, we got a lot in the works next year.