TAV ESSENTIAL LISTENING / MUST LISTEN
The opening two notes of Welcome 2 Detroit, a dramatic double hit of modulated bass guitar and dusted organ, represent the culmination of a vast musical history. Not only was this album J Dilla’s debut as a 27-year-old solo artist, but it was also the first time that name appeared on a record cover. After nearly a decade of DIY releases, high-profile remixes, and productions credited to Jay Dee, slowly a renown bordering on reverence was built for one James DeWitt Yancey.
Though he had several creative phases yet to come, Dilla was, in many ways, operating at the very peak of his game at the turn of the millennium. His production work with A Tribe Called Quest had brought him into the neo-soul collective Soulquarians, a circle of like-minded collaborators who had just worked on a string of critically acclaimed LPs: the Roots’ Things Fall Apart, Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun. After donating his talents to artists, it was time for Dilla alone to step into the spotlight.
What Dilla ultimately delivered to the label was not even close to a beat tape, which was what he was ostensibly commissioned to create. As much a portrait of a city as a personal introduction, Welcome 2 Detroit is closer to a jazz-funk concept album like 1969’s Yusef Lateef’s Detroit than a conventional rap record, framing Jay’s own particular reinvention of hip-hop within the city’s multi-decade legacy, including live excursions into techno, electric jazz, and Afro-funk. – Pitchfork