J Dilla: Welcome 2 Detroit (20th Anniversary Edition)

Welcome 2 Detroit, Jay Dee’s 2001 debut, was a turning point for hip-hop and Dilla himself. The glossy, overproduced sound of the mainstream was still dominating the airwaves at the time, but the underground was steadily producing visionary artists. By the late 90’s, Jay Dee was making waves in the rap game via the Detroit-based, Slum Village. Welcome 2 Detroit is when Jay Dee officially became J Dilla, yet the album has equal footing in both personas. The rugged, Midwest sound is juxtaposed with J Dilla’s keen ear for melody. Welcome 2 Detroit – the 20th Anniversary Edition doesn’t rewrite the book on remasters, but it’s core album is still a benchmark for what this genre can do. The coarse, but affectionate, rapping by J Dilla is also aided by a stellar supporting cast.

This remaster is essentially three tapes for the price of one. Between the updated record, instrumentals and alternate cuts, there’s nearly 50 tracks included in the package. The supplemental material offers a brief look into Dilla’s thorough process, but little else. The selection of b-sides doesn’t add much variety of sound as most tracks sound nearly identical. Without any live cuts or remixes, the overall collection feels a little underwhelming. Some permutations are more interesting than others like the drumless versions of “African Rhythms” and “Brazilian Groove (Ewf)”. “Think Twice” is given a considerable amount of the spotlight and it’s the only track that gets an actual facelift. It’s a lovely song but including six versions seems excessive.

Despite some pacing issues, it’s a joy to experience these songs with fresh ears. “Give it Up”, like a few choice cuts, gets completely disassembled when listened to in sequence. It’s impressive his verse doesn’t lose any urgency when stripped down completely. Plus, his Rudy Giuliani diss is as timely now as it was in 2001. The production on Welcome 2 Detroit is much more subdued compared to the eccentric Donuts era, but it’s surreal to hear the seeds being planted. “Brazilian Groove (Ewf)” is a sublime instrumental detour featuring warm, floral guitars. “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)” is notably ahead of it’s time, containing a synth bounce reminiscent of Netflix’s Stranger Things. “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” is another high point where Dilla is allowed to flex his international influences. It’s a shame more tracks weren’t given a similar treatment with a full band extension. While some of the extras are lackluster, the main course is as impactful as ever.

Grade: 7.7/10

Listen on Apple Music

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