J Dilla (R.I.P.) is considered by some to be the greatest hip-hop producer of all-time, and those who don't have him in their top spot generally place him somewhere in the top five or top 10. He has worked extensively with artists and groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Common, and De La Soul, making unbelievable use of soul samples to create some of the most mesmerizing beats imaginable. However, his most renowned work may very well have come when he was a part of the group Slum Village.
Although Slum Village changes group members as much as George Steinbrenner (R.I.P.) changed managers, it has always managed to put out quality material, even when the group's sound drastically changed when Jay Dee (J Dilla, for those of you who may be a bit out of the loop) left the collective in 2002 to pursue a solo career. Still, Slum Village's best work clearly came when J Dilla was laying down the heat on the boards.
Slum Village first gained notoriety in 1997 when it released Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1), a very short "album" that contained the group's demo material. The group consisted of T3 (the only original group member currently remaining), Baatin (who died in 2009), and Dilla (who would pass on in 2006). At this point, Jay Dee was still on the come-up and was not yet well-known in hip-hop circles. However, the production on Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) quickly changed that, as rap aficionados everywhere were salivating over the prospect of a full-length release from Slum Village.
Fans got their wish in 2000 when Slum Village dropped Fantastic, Vol. 2, nearly entirely produced by J Dilla (he had help from D'Angelo on one track and Pete Rock on another). Although the album was criticized by some for its lack of pure lyricism and its misogynistic tendencies, it is regarded as one of the most well-produced projects in hip-hop history.
Now, Slum Village consists of two official members: T3 and Elzhi, the latter of whom is clearly the most talented emcee that has ever been a member of the group. Up until its most recent (and what looks like its final) album, Villa Manifesto, Slum Village has garnered production mainly from Black Milk and his camp since J Dilla's departure in '02, putting out two solid albums in Detroit Deli (A Taste Of Detroit) in '04 and Slum Village the following year. That said, as nice as those projects were, they pale in comparison to the group's earlier works, namely Fantastic, Vol. 2.
I usually don't write about album intros, but J Dilla's beat on this is too phenomenal to ignore. It just sets an outstanding tone for the rest of the project and certainly leaves the listener wanting more...much more.
2. Conant Gardens
The first official song on Fantastic, Vol. 2 is a great one, featuring some deep guitar strums, banging kicks and snares, and prominent hats. You will notice that while none of the three group members are ground-breaking lyricists, they all complement each other extremely well and possess perfect voices and flows for Dilla's smooth, relaxing instrumentals.
3. I Don't Know
I love this. Jay Dee takes samples of three different James Brown songs and mashes them into one incredible beat on "I Don't Know," Fantastic, Vol. 2.'s second single. I do think the persistent gaps in the instrumental so the rappers could emphasize certain words and phrases took away from the overall product a bit, but not enough to bring this track down from ill status. DJ Jazzy Jeff does some guest-scratching toward the end for good measure.
This one was just okay. I don't really have much else to add.
Remember when I said some people criticized Slum Village for being too misogynistic on this album? Well, consider this exhibit A, which I'm sure you can infer from the song's title alone. That doesn't mean this cut isn't good, though, as Dilla's beat will put you in a trance, particularly on the hook. This was the album's third single.
6. Hold Tight
Q-Tip makes a guest appearance on this drum-heavy beat which just sounds outstanding, and he sounds damn good over it. It's fairly appropriate that Q-Tip is featured on this album, too, as Slum Village was dubbed the next A Tribe Called Quest back in that day.
7. Tell Me
This is the best song on the album, and the funny part is that J Dilla was not the primary producer on it. He did co-produce the beat, but D'Angelo was the main man on the boards for this incredible, incredible production. He drops some guest vocals to add a very nice element to the record, too. The whole misogynistic theme goes right out the window on "Tell Me," as this is a very classy love rap. Nice job, SV.
8. What It's All About
On what is probably the most upbeat number on Fantastic, Vol. 2, Busta Rhymes stops by and does Dilla's production justice, flowing over an instrumental that fits him like a glove. Really nice record.
9. Forth and Back
In what may seem like a very odd and unexpected collaboration, Kurupt makes an appearance on "Forth and Back," and, interestingly enough, he fits in seamlessly. The only problem I have with this track is that J Dilla's beat seems far, far too similar to that of "What It's All About," and given the fact that the two songs are sequenced back-to-back, they don't mesh well. I definitely think they should have been placed further apart, but whatever; "Forth and Back" is still solid.
The backslash in the song's title is there for a reason; this track is two songs in one. Well, almost. The "Untitled" portion takes up three minutes and five seconds of the three-minute, fifty-four second song, and it's a shame, because the instrumental for the "Fantastic" half that begins at the :49 mark is far superior to its predecessor.
11. Fall N Love
That brings us to "Fall N Love," arguably the most well-known Slum Village song of all-time. Fans everywhere have unrelentingly praised Jay Dee's ridiculously smooth beat plus the simple work he does on the hook, and rightfully so; this is a great record. Dilla's reverberating snare is something of another world, as is the way he flips the sample he uses. Oddly enough, though, this was not a single.
12. Get Dis Money
Single number one, which is easily understandable (just look at the track's title). Dilla's beat is solid, the rapping is good enough, and the end result is a nice cut.
13. Raise It Up
The fourth and final single and, like "Get Dis Money," it's transparent as to why that is. Dilla's production is extremely unorthodox, as it seriously sounds like he sampled a video game off of Atari (even though he didn't). Believe me; you will love this record for the simple fact that it just sounds hilarious.
14. Once Upon a Time
This is the other beat that wasn't solely produced by Jay Dee, as Pete Rock gets the main production credit here while Dilla is listed as the co-producer. PR drops a verse, too, and while he sounds alright and puts forth a decent effort on the boards, this is just a meh track.
"Players" is a short cut, spanning two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, but Dilla's beat is hypnotizing, containing some pronounced kicks and smooth claps to complement the subtle vocal sample in the background. Good song.
16. Eyes Up
I really dig this. Like "Raise It Up," the production has a video game-like feel, but, for the first time on the album, you may find yourself paying just as much attention to the actual rapping as you do the beat (which is sick, by the way). There are no fantastic (no pun intended) lines or anything, but the voices and the deliveries of the three members just sounds terrific.
17. 2U 4U
This is probably the smoothest beat on the album, and that's saying a lot. The sample Dilla uses sounds phenomenal, and along with the outstanding drums he throws on on top of that, "2U 4U" will make you nod your head endlessly. T3, Baatin, and Jay Dee also do a great job with their deliveries, once again.
Another sick beat by Dilla; what a shock. However, as great as the instrumental is (and it's one of the best on the album), the "fellatio interference, promiscuous homosapiens" line that is repeated several times on the hook just sounds stupid. The production is good enough to make this a top five song on Fantastic, Vol. 2, though, regardless of how poor some of the lyrics may be. That's how good Jay Dee's instrumental is.
19. Go Ladies
It's smooth, but meh.
20. Who Are We
"Who Are We" is one of two bonus tracks that appeared on Fantastic, Vol. 2's re-release, but what the heck; I'll throw it and the following one in, anyway. The kicks on this knock, and the overall feel of the song has single material written all over it. Nevertheless, this wasn't a single for obvious reasons (like, it wasn't even on the original album). Oh well.
Bonus track number two. This cut also appeared on Common's album, Like Water For Chocolate, which was released in the same year. Obviously, Common is featured on this cut, but he sounds a bit out of his element, as this beat is clearly geared more toward Slum Village. Because of that, "Thelonious" sounds much better on Fantastic, Vol. 2 than it did on Common's project.
By all means, you need to listen to Fantastic, Vol. 2 as soon as possible if you haven't already done so. J Dilla's production is as close to perfect as you can possibly get, and while he, T3, and Baatin are not the greatest rappers in the world, they sound great over the beats. Most importantly, each song has its place on the album; there is no "filler" material.
You have to wonder what kind of discography this group could have put together if numerous circumstances, some of them extenuating, did not force them to break up. Clearly, T3 and Baatin were exceedingly comfortable rhyming over Jay Dee's instrumentals, regardless of how elementary their raps may have been. Asking for a repeat of Fantastic, Vol. 2 may have been a bit much, but I certainly don't think expecting similar projects would have been unrealistic.
Although Fantastic, Vol. 2 was the last Slum Village album where Dilla was present on every cut, he did lay down three beats on the group's next project, Trinity (Past, Present and Future). However, due to the fact that the majority of the album was produced by other beatmakers (including T3 himself), it was not received well at all, and many felt that that was the end for Slum Village.
Fortunately, SV was able to nab Black Milk for its next two albums, and while said albums were not nearly as highly acclaimed as Fantastic, Vol. 2, still put the group back on the map and established it as a consistent force in the rap game. Villa Manifesto, released in 2010, was also solid, adding yet another notch to Slum Village's legacy.
So, in conclusion, if you are new to J Dilla and are not familiar with any of his work, Fantastic, Vol. 2 is a great place to start.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Tell Me
2. Fall N Love
4. 2U 4U
5. Eyes Up