This listen, from the understated but monumental Detroit trio Slum Village feels you’re soaring amongst the clouds, able to see for miles and miles.
From Motor City’s Conant Gardens neighborhood, the original lineup of Slum Village were rappers Baatin and T3, and producer Jay Dee. When the Village came together in the mid-’90s Detroit had a simmering underground hip-hop scene with a few rappers breaking out beyond the region, but it still wasn’t quite a nationally regarded hip-hop spot like New York, L.A., or Atlanta, and the group was undervalued from the start. Their 1996 debut Fantastic was shelved, and label drama (see: Tribe‘s Industry Rule 4080) sidelined them for years, even resulting in the group dubbing themselves the J-88 to release a record of b-sides while in limbo.
One thing kept the Village buzzing though: Their producer, Jay Dee, a quiet, skillful wonder on the boards who had an immense talent for chopping up beats and procuring the most rare grooves. Dee caught the attention of everyone who heard him, and became highly requested in the hip-hop world. Dee linked up with Q-Tip and crew as The Ummah to produce much of Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life record, De La Soul for their Stakes is High album (including the iconic title track), and other artists such as Da Bush Babees and The Pharcyde. He even landed some high profile collabs, such as a remix for Janet Jackson. Before the group put out their proper debut, Dee already had a hand in shaping the sound of hip-hop in the late ’90s, carving out a soulful, pared-down sound favored by artists who rejected the bling and mafioso trends of the era.
So when Fantastic Vol. 2 dropped in 2000, there were a lot of folks checking for it, and a lot of people hailing the group as the descendants of the Native Tongues, although Dee and the group rejected the label. The album, reworked and refined from their shelved and bootlegged debut was pretty ambitious, filled with guests from Dee’s orbit (Q-Tip! D’Angelo! Pete Rock!) and tons of content. Baatin and T3 weren’t the strongest rhymers around but they carried themselves well, with braggadocious rhymes, and Dee’s beats were dry, understated, and just so damn chill. The record took a while to grow on me, but the tracks that hit, really are…fantastic (I tried).
It’s a damn shame that the record would be the swan song of the group. After this, Dee, now known as J Dilla, would embark on his own legendary career, leaving his mark on several massive rap and R&B records in the late ’90s and early ’00s and influencing countless producers to this day. Baatin would also leave the group after its third album due to health issues. The Village’s subsequent albums didn’t quite hit the same highs as Vol. 1 and 2, even with contributions from producers like Waajeed, a new member in Elzhi, and guest spots from artists like Ye. Sadly, Dilla would pass away in 2006 and Baatin would pass in 2009.
Let’s get back to this track though. “Untitled / Fantastic” is a phenomenal listen from an album with some real gems. That intro is calming, peaceful, and so very open, leading off to a fun mic-passing moment among the trio. Even Dilla gets in a quick verse! It never fails to lift my spirits.