When Detroit rap group Slum Village was still known to only a select few, the unit’s soundman Jay Dee was settling into the role of one of hip hop’s most sought-after producers. Laying the foundation for the Ummah – the production team consisting of himself, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad – the man with the trademark "emptyful" sound produced classics for everyone from Busta Rhymes and De La Soul to Diane Reeves and the Brand New Heavies. Fresh from an overseas tour, SV’s sonic superman took time to address the group’s upcoming debut – scheduled for June 28 on Interscope Records – the city’s reputation as home of the white rapper and the cloud of anonymity he plans to remove from over his head.
Metro Times: How was the UK tour?
Jay Dee: The show we did in London was actually the first show we did where people knew our words. Knowhumsayin’? ’Cause they got crazy bootlegs up there. People got double-vinyl and CDs. Everything. So we’re doing our regular show. You know, how we regularly do it. We did "I Don’t Know." And I just said, "We’re about to do a song called ‘I Don’t Know’." And they started screamin’. I was like, "damn."
MT: What groups were known in the city when you started producing?
JD: Let’s see. 5 Ela. 31 Flavors. There were a couple people at the Hip-Hop Shop. B-Flat.
MT: How do you figure into Detroit’s surge in hip hop over the last two years?
JD: Actually, I’m just really being recognized. As far as worldwide. I think Eminem, maybe, was really the first to break the barrier.
MT: But you were doing production with, like …
JD: Like Busta, and everybody.
MT: Your name didn’t really stand out.
JD: Nah. The first couple tracks I had done for the Pharcyde and Madd Skillz, and for Fat Cat. Right after that, I got with the Ummah, and then my name was just covered up. People didn’t really know. I’m not gonna say it wasn’t worth it, but we just gotta do it right this time.
MT: It’s about more than you being mysterious?
JD: Yeah. On the new album, it’s gonna be (produced by) "Jay Dee, overseen by the Ummah."
MT: How is the perception of Detroit hip hop different now than it was a couple of years ago?
JD: It’s got a lot do with Proof winning the (Source) MC battle. Eminem comin’ out. Royce (signing a deal with Tommy Boy). ’Cause, like, the impression of Detroit two years ago was like – no offense – West Coast. Detroit’s Most Wanted. Bombshell. Knowhumsayin’? It had a local sound to it, so I guess the labels weren’t tryin’ to get with that. But when they heard this new shit, it’s like "Damn." Everybody wanna sign groups from Detroit now.
MT: I remember the last time we talked (six months ago) you said that, even at that point, labels …
JD: Still, man. It was still hard to get it.
MT: So the turnaround was that quick?
JD: It was that quick, man. All it took was one person.
MT: What label is Slum Village on now?
JD: Interscope Records.
MT: Since you had to deal with the label change, what are you doing to keep the buzz alive (Slum Village’s original label, A&M, folded after the Universal-Polygram merger)?
JD: We’re just getting back on the road, man. Doing these shows, man. White labels. Mix tapes. We’re about to do, uh – before, I did remixes on album cuts. I just did the beats, but you’re about to hear lyrics now.
MT: What will people hear on the SV album that they won’t hear on the bootlegs?
JD: Riiight! You will hear some new cuts. We had to redo the album like three times, because of the bootlegs. We added, like, five new cuts to the album that, hopefully, people haven’t heard yet.
MT: Any collaborations?
JD: With, uh, Pete Rock. Kurupt. Busta. D’Angelo and Tip.
MT: What other production have you worked on since the album?
JD: I’m workin’ on Erykah Badu’s shit. Rah Digga, Mos Def, Common. This kid named Bilal that’s comin’ out on MCA. He’s a singer, man. Ridiculous. That D’Angelo shit. Tip’s solo shit. Pharcyde. De La (Soul). Heavy D’s single, everybody look out for, ’cause that’s Jay Dee’s first platinum single. That’ll be my first.
MT: What do you think the potential is for Detroit to become a hip-hop "power city," like New Orleans, New York or Los Angeles?
JD: I think, right now, it’s a good time. As long as all these groups keep pushin’ toward their deals. ’Cause it’s a lot of labels lookin’ for Detroit artists only. Like Virgin Records, last month, was like, "We only wanna sign somebody from Detroit."
MT: Is that right?
JD: Yeah. I’m like, "Oh, shit." But we had already got picked up.
MT: It’s like that now?
JD: Yeah, so it’s definitely about to happen.
MT: Has Slum Village’s style been copied?
JD: I didn’t wanna say so, but yeah. It has. But I would also like to say that the album comin’ out, people from Detroit know it’s old. But the world doesn’t know it. But this new stuff? We’re gonna try to really concentrate on these lyrics for this next album. This album, we were kinda just feelin’ the music. Goin’ with the flow.
MT: Detroit has gained a reputation for being the home of the white rapper. What do you think about that?
JD: Aw, man. At first, I was kinda scared. I thought that would mess it up for Detroit. But it actually has opened doors as far as, like, MTV. As far as a crossover crowd. I think they would accept it more than if there wasn’t an Eminem or a Kid Rock. Even though it’s some other shit. Especially that Kid Rock.
MT: If you could choose the ideal type of celebrity status, what would it be?
JD: Um, I would like to say, um … mm, that’s a good one. I’d like to think of someone who … damn, that’s a good question, man. ’Cause, I would say a Michael Jackson. But I wanna walk through a mall without damned near getting killed.
MT: Are you recognized now?
JD: Now we are. But, unfortunately, only in LA. Only in New York.
MT: Not at home?
JD: It’s not like that at home. Not yet, which I can understand. Detroit is a hard city.
MT: People don’t realize that they hear your music on 105.9 every day.
JD: All day. Every commercial. Weather. Everywhere. All through clubs.
MT: What track is that?
JD: That’s "Get This Money."
MT: Hope you do. Thanks.
JD: A-ight, man.E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org