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.