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On record: Slum Village Fantastic Vol. 2

Del Cowie

J Dilla (born James Yancey) — who died at the age of 32 from lupus complications on Feb. 10, 2006 — was one of the most celebrated and influential hip-hop producers of all time. Out of all his prolific output from the mid-90s right up unto his death (his last album Donuts was released three days before he passed away), Fantastic Vol. 2 is the first record where the framework and sheer scope of J Dilla’s highly influential sound on underground hip-hop and neo-soul became apparent to the music world.

Slum Village was the group J Dilla, (then widely known as Jay Dee) formed with his childhood friends T3 and Baatin in Detroit. Fantastic Vol. 2 is the only widely released album by the group to feature this original lineup. By the time it was officially released in 2000, the songs on Fantastic Vol. 2 had been so heavily bootlegged and circulated that when the group performed their first raucous sold-out live show at Toronto’s Comfort Zone the year before the record’s release, most of the crowd knew and chanted back most of the album's lyrics.

The loose, freestyle lyrical approach was completely dictated by the album's bold sonic sense of adventure with Baatin, T3 and Jay Dee’s often stream-of consciousness banter weaving in and out of the album’s seductive grooves like jazz virtuosos on tracks like “2U4U.”

Truthfully though, it’s the album’s trailblazing musical approach that sets it apart. “I Don't Know” took the act of sampling James Brown — a practice that had become completely passé — and reconfigured it in a fresh, invigorating and humorous way. As well as reinventing old approaches, Jay Dee also paved his own sonic path with the pedantic astral funk of “Players” and the proletariat strut of “Get Dis Money.”

Dilla also imbued his production with infectious swing and off-beat rhythms on purpose, eschewing too-mechanical precision and embracing organic spontaneity, a formula he’d use as a foundation throughout his career. Hints of the esotericism that would be the hallmark of his late-period work are evoked on the minimalist “Raise It Up,” and his propensity to cook up beguiling and timeless soundscapes are amply demonstrated on “Fall In Love” and “Untitled/Fantastic.” Although Q-Tip, who helped J Dilla get his big break, symbolically shows up on “Hold Tight” to pass on the sonic torch from the then-recently disbanded A Tribe Called Quest to give his blessing, there really is no need to verbalize what is undeniably apparent listening to the music alone.