J Dilla, The Lost Interview [circa 2004]

Four years ago today, James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla or Jay Dee, passed away just three days after his 32nd birthday. A native of Detroit, he was a highly respected producer who got his start as part of local rap group Slum Village, which included longtime friends T3 and Baatin.

As the musical force behind the group’s underground classic, Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000), Dilla eventually broke out on his own and joined The Ummah, a production collective comprised of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Dilla went on to craft hits for everyone from Busta Rhymes and The Pharcyde to Janet Jackson and the Brand New Heavies.

Meanwhile, Slum added Detroit lyricist Elzhi to the fold and scored a hit in 2002 with “Tainted.” In 2004, controversy struck the group as Baatin, who suffered from schizophrenia, unceremoniously left to go solo, citing unpaid royalties as the reason for the split. T3 and Elzhi addressed the inner turmoil, alongside Dilla, on “Reunion,” which was featured on SV’s Detroit Deli album.

In the midst of all the drama, XXL spoke to all four members about their role in the Slum Village legacy and to document the history of one of hip-hop’s most underrated groups. To commemorate the fourth anniversary of Dilla’s death, we’ve unearthed the lost tapes and present the outtakes from the 2004 interview with the respected producer.

XXLMag.com: What’s your relationship like with everyone in Slum Village right now?

J Dilla: It’s like, I don’t know why people always think it’s some type of friction. Like, I’ve done interviews before where they ask me if me and T3 weren’t getting along. It’s just not true… I look at it like everybody is a grown ass man and, shit, we all got different views and shit on where we wanna take shit. Collectively, as a group that’s what we were able to do but it got to a point where we couldn’t get together collectively and agree on some shit, which was right before that last Slum album [2002’s Trinity (Past, Present and Future)]. Like, creatively we were just on totally different pages and it was hard for me, but relationships… These was guys I grew up with. Went to high school with. I mean, it’s always like that loyalty and love there. Relationships is all cool. Me and El don’t speak that often but we the type that if it’s time to get down to work, it’s time to get down to work.

XXLMag.com: What were your initial thoughts when you heard Elzhi came into the group?

J Dilla: I wasn’t surprised ’cause at that time we was actually looking for another part. We was actually looking for a female member to join Slum for whatever reason I don’t know. But we was actually looking for a partner. Right before Elzhi joined, T3 was calling himself his manager at the time. I had already snatched the nigga [Elzhi] from the Hip-Hop Shop and shit and was fuckin’ with him. As soon as T3 heard that shit—and you can ask him, he’ll tell you—when he heard I was fucking with him he got serious about the shit and started the management shit. That’s how that actually went down.

  • http://www.justice.gov.za Chiliz

    Gone but not 4getten

  • parodi

    A-1 Healthy?

  • RARA!!!

    Ain’t That Some Shh!
    A-1 Healthy! That’s How Fast Things Can Go Wrong On That A$$….Get Them Check Up’s Regularly People!

  • http://www.jamal7mile.blogspot.com Jamal7Mile

    Rest in Paradise, J Dilla. That whole year was messed up with Jay passing and Proof passing 2 months later. Had my whole city depressed.

    Detroit seems to be on the uptick, though. Check out this cat named Hayes who has production from Timbaland and Dr. Dre on his project “The First 48.” It’s at Iamhayes.com.

    Also check for a free download mixtape from Just Dizle “Best of J.Dilla pt3.” You can pick it up at HHDX.

  • Rob Markman

    Wow- such a flashback. This is great considering the moment in time that it came from.

  • pastorgreg
  • http://www.facebook.com/maxprofit Max Profit

    “Not the backpack shit that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack” Lol!!!!

    I wish this article came out back in ’04 J Dilla never really got to show people who he really was.

    Best Rapping Producer of all time! (No Joke)

    R.I.P. J Dilla

  • Darri

    I agree, Max. He was actually really nice on the mic device.

    It felt bittersweet to read this. What a talent we lost…

    God bless your soul. RIP.

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  • oskamadison

    Talk about diggin’ in the crates. Reading this interview reminded me how much Hip-Hop needed (and still needs) a cat like Dilla but didn’t realize it. I was just listening to Donuts last week (as part of my personal Dilla appreciation week to commemorate his passing) and thinking, who would go in on an instrumental album like that, ON THEIR DEATHBED IN THE HOSPITAL??!!!! The fact that dude was literally sick making that joint only made it that much more sick figuratively. You know you’re ill when you have other producers, legendary producers, collecting your joints and analyzin’ them. RIP, Dilla, Andy Warhol on the MPC 3000.

    @ Max Profit
    To this day, I still gotta run with Large Professor as the best producer on the mic but I feel where you’re coming from, just on the strength of “Thelonious”.

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  • John Cauner

    That was good to read. There’s gonna be a “Dilla Day” here in L.A. at the Stussy store on Feb 13. Dilla all day people!

  • Ghetto GODfather

    This was really funny reading this interview. Only because it strengthened my affirmation of SV altogether. They were only making music to appease the Detroit crowd. Just some different shit than what was on the radio or what was being played underground. I guess that’s why I thought it was so genius.

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