I bomb like Saddam twice
Smoke fills the room like the intercom vice
I’m wicked enough to punch you in your inner mind’s eye
Until you black out and wake up within the land of Mt. Zion
Wack niggas get screamed on, and highly retire
I got the eye of the tiger like Rocky’s theme song
Step in the concrete jungle
I bust you ’til you see doubles
Then watch all four of me reach for you
The heat bubble ready to cock back
I’m aimin’ shots at any nigga
I even got midgets with triggers
Hidden inside of top hats, ready to kill ya….
(Elzhi; “Come Get It”)
With Dilla Month (the term of endearment applied by hip hop heads to the month of February in honor of the late, great J Dilla, also known as Jay Dee) coming to a close today, I’d like to take this time to celebrate the legendary and highly influential producer’s debut solo album, Welcome 2 Detroit, which celebrated its 16th anniversary yesterday. At the time of this joint’s release, Dilla had been truly making a name for himself as a well-established and respected beatsmith with productions for The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul already under his belt. Jay Dee was also known as an original member of Detroit-based group Slum Village as well as the hip hop/neo-soul production collective known as the Soulquarians (which also included Questlove of The Roots, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, James Poyser and others); just the previous year, Dilla produced the entirety of SV’s critically acclaimed album, Fantastic, Vol. 2, and also worked extensively on Common’s fourth full-length opus, Like Water For Chocolate.
Branching out on his own for the first time on this album, Dilla strove to continue making heads turn as well as nod with his unique, eclectic and virtuosic production style while also showing a ton of love for his hometown and allowing some of his closest comrades and fellow Detroit artists to gain some exposure; Dilla additionally spits some bars himself several times, though he is not usually recognized as an emcee and his talents behind the boards far outweigh his mic skills.
Released through London-based label BBE (Barely Breaking Even), Welcome 2 Detroit is notable for being the first release in the company’s Beat Generation series of albums that focus on the producer as an artist (the series would later grow to include strong projects from such important artists as Pete Rock, Marley Marl, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Spinna, among others), and it is also the first release to include the J Dilla moniker (as the man had been going by Jay Dee all the while up until that point). Highlights on this underground gem include the bangin’ lead single “Pause” (featuring Frank-N-Dank), the lyrical assault from future Slum Village member Elzhi on “Come Get It”, the spacey, psychedelic instrumental “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)”, the groovy and jazzy Brazilian vibe of “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” (Dilla also does his own short instrumental cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Brazilian Groove”!), a cover of jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” (featuring neo-soul sensation Dwele on trumpet and keyboards; believe it or not, that’s Dilla himself singing the main vocals!) and the aptly titled “Featuring Phat Kat” (featuring Dilla’s longtime homie Phat Kat; the pair were originally known as the short-lived duo 1st Down in the ’90s before Dilla got down with Slum Village).
In addition, “The Clapper” (the only track on the album to be produced by someone other than Dilla; Karriem Riggins) features a guest verse from Blu (not to be with the prolific Los Angeles emcee/producer of the same name that has been especially active in the past decade), while other Detroit representatives Big Tone and Ta’Raach (credited here as Hodge Podge and Lacks, respectively) lend their support to “It’s Like That” and Slum Village crew affiliate Beej shines on “Beej-N-Dem Pt. 2”; the latter is an alternate version of a song that initially appeared on the group’s heavily bootlegged first album, Fantastic, Vol. 1, which was recorded in 1996-1997 but wouldn’t see an official retail release until Dilla’s death a decade later.
Driven by hard-hitting drum sounds and deep basslines, the lush and organic grooves of Welcome 2 Detroit would only be the tip of the iceberg of Dilla’s incredible talents, as the wealth of material he put out up until his death just five years later and the hoards of previously unreleased gems that have surfaced since then should remind heads of his true musical passion, dedication and genius. For nerds like myself who buy physical copies of everything and appreciate liner notes, Jay Dee breaks down the project track-by-track and offers background information on the recording of each song! Why can’t every album do this?
Happy Dilla Month and Rest In Beats James DeWitt “J Dilla” Yancey (1974-2006)