Less of an overhaul and more of a tune-up, with excellent results
A pioneer of lo-fi and instrumental hip-hop music, J Dilla should be considered one of the most influential people to ever come out of Detroit. Since his untimely death in 2006, artists from Madlib to Erykah Badu have come out with countless odes and tributes to the young producer and rapper, whose impact on the hip-hop scene was only fully realized after his passing.
All these years later, J Dilla is just as beloved and missed as he was before. But perhaps the music gods heard our cries for help during the last year or so of COVID-19, because on February 5th, BBE Music gifted us a re-release of Jay Dee’s 2001 debut Welcome 2 Detroit. The 20th Anniversary deluxe 7” vinyl box set includes a full slate of the record’s instrumentals, two remixes from Azymuth and Muro, studio outtakes and a book revealing the hidden story of the album.
When Dilla came out with the original project in 2001, he set out to capture a sound that was very personal to him, that of his home city, Detroit. And while the city has certainly changed since he graced it with his presence, the re-release accounts for that, adding an entirely new layer to the sound.
BBE’s remastered mix adds more boom to the bass and more punch to the percussion, bringing it more in line with the hip-hop stylings of today. Yet at the same time, Dilla’s (and his features’) vocals are left mostly untouched, and the listener can still hear that gritty, gnarly Detroit timbre that makes this project so beloved among lo-fi and underground hip-hop heads. Take the remastered “Welcome 2 Detroit” as an example. To match Dilla’s aggressive delivery on his introduction, the track’s instrumental expands and balloons; the sound seems to have a greater reach, and the new production brings out extra oomph from the drums and bass.
Some of the dancier tracks on the album get a huge upgrade here. “Y’all Ain’t Ready” glides along just as it did before, but with much more help from the lower frequencies. “Pause” is just as fun and humorous as before, but now it feels like it could be spun at a club. And “It’s Like That,” already one of the record’s most head-nodding grooves, gets even more texture on the bass and guitar.
Of course, the remastered version of Welcome 2 Detroit wouldn’t exist without the original, and BBE made sure to preserve plenty of that initial sound. Dilla’s vocal sounds just as gritty on his bars, and so too do all of his featured Detroit acolytes. The producers also succeed in maintaining the jazzy, bluesy vibe of the original, thankfully. The new version remains true to its roots in Motown.
BBE did touch up two tracks, “Think Twice” and “Rico Suave Bossa Nova,” but the new renditions make some compelling tweaks. On the former, DJ Muro adds more warmth to the synths and more interjections from the ensemble of brass instruments on the track’s outskirts, but he stays faithful enough to the original that the changes sound minor, even at a close glance. And on the latter track, producer Azymuth adds some clarity to the sound while boosting some frequencies to add punch.
Re-releases are always a tricky business, especially when the original artist has passed away. But on Welcome 2 Detroit’s 20th Anniversary box set, BBE Music stays faithful to J Dilla, preserving the authenticity, simplicity and grooviness of the original project while making some minor tweaks to calibrate its sound with that of today.