J Dilla – Music’s Prodigal Son
In high school, Dilla, along with friends T3 and Baatin, formed the hip-hop collective, Slum Village. With a turntable, a tape deck, and a seemingly endless collection of vinyl, Dilla spent more time in his basement perfecting his craft than he did with the outside world. Little did anyone know, he was preparing to teach the world how to listen to music all over again.
The members of Slum Village continued to sharpen their skills as DJs and MCs. Eventually, their hard work and preparation paid off in the form of their first album. In 1996, the men recorded the tracks that would make up their début, Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1). The album was released in 1997 to a great deal of local buzz.
The group had a sound that was sharp, reminiscent, and completely original. That, of course, didn’t stop the comparisons. Straight away comparisons to Slum Village predecessors A Tribe Called Quest were whispered throughout the Detroit hip-hop scene. With Quest’s mellow groove and use of funk and soul beats, it was no wonder Q-Tip himself hailed them as the next in line. It was a muddled comparison, and one that Dilla was never truly comfortable or convinced with:
It was kinda fucked up because people automatically put us in that category. That was actually a category we didn’t wanna be in.
~J Dilla, XXL, The Lost Interview, 2004.