Mr Fantastic

A new solo record from Slum Village founder member T3 is catnip to Luke Cartledge

The sole surviving member of the original Slum Village lineup, the adventurous joy of the group’s early records lives on in T3. His sprightly, seamless flow is as essential to the Slum Village canon as J Dilla’s iconic production, and on Mr Fantastic, he remains a thrilling presence.

The record begins with ‘Turn Me Up’, a mean, muscular introduction that’s darker in tone than many listeners might expect. It’s a very strong start though, its villainous groove irresistible and its scratched vocals masterfully deployed. It’s followed quickly by a more heartfelt cut, the title track, on which T3 pays his dues to Dilla (“I did it for my mans”) over a beat that manages to conjure the spirit of the producer without resorting to pastiche. If, like me, you’re one of the many hip hop fans who was awakened to the endless possibility of this jazz-informed, warmly experimental strain of the genre by Dilla and Slum Village, this stuff is catnip.

Throughout Mr Fantastic, T3 manages to balance upon the tightrope that separates fitting tribute from imitation. Yes, it’s impossible to listen to this record without thinking of the mastery of his original group. But this is undoubtedly a solo album, with T3’s idiosyncrasies front and centre throughout. ‘Nue U’ is a particularly vivid example of this, its clipped guitar line and rubbery bass adding up to a weirdly entrancing fusion of Quasimoto, Pharrell Williams and Anderson .Paak. Contrasting with this sharply is the track that follows, ‘Galore’, the heaviest tune here, on which T3’s rhymes are shot through with a hard-edged sense of purpose (“New life, new lane, new living, brand new pursuit cos we got new vision”), matched only by the teeth-gritting thrust of the instrumental. It’s barely a minute and a half long, but it packs a real punch.

A short, sharp record, Mr Fantastic doesn’t offer a great deal of surprise, but it doesn’t really need to. It’s just predictably great, a solidly excellent set of tracks from a man who’s been involved in some of the very best hip hop of the last twenty-odd years. It probably won’t convert any new fans, but for longtime admirers of T3 and Slum Village, there’s much to cherish here.

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