Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) (sometimes spelled as Fantastic, Vol. 1), is the first album by Detroit group Slum Village. It comprises songs from their demo album, which was recorded in 1996 and 1997, but not officially released until 8 years later. It was nonetheless leaked onto the underground circuit and caused quite a stir in 1997. The whole album was produced by J Dilla. Many of the songs would later be revamped or re-conceived for their follow up album, Fantastic, Vol. 2 in 2000.
Yet it was the group's weaving of rousing, mellow, call-and-response punctuations and idiosyncratically inventive delivery which set them apart from the flock. An example of this charming quality can be found on the song "Players", where the three MCs juxtapose battle ready lyrics over liquid-smooth crooning, working their simple hook around the sample which says "Clair", but sounds like "Players", just because they constantly use the word in lyrics.
The group received much praise for their seemingly freestyled approach (which they later admitted to), and also for the production style of the then-upcoming producer J Dilla (known as Jay Dee at the time), whose subtle use of low end frequencies, intricate basslines, and offbeat drums, coupled with the tag-team rhyming of his partners, T3 and Baatin, was a refreshing change from much of the formula driven commercial hip hop which enjoyed a boost in 1997.
Tale of the tape:
It was March of 97, I was in Hamburg, Germany. Fresh off a 3 hour throwdown on stage that had to have been 108 degrees. Although I had no business doing so I sneaked a phone call on the club managers phone to check my messages. I'll never forget what happened next.
Message 6 at 10pm - "Yo, you ain't up on this ain't ya." (plays music, can barely hear between the static and the club noise but I hear what sounds like the music from the Beastie Boys/Q-Tip collabo "get it together" but there is this funk-Greek chorus thing going on that I can hear loud and clear. "we say fan-yah-cero-you-say-huh-what?-you-know-its-that-shh-T!--eh yo" What the hell? It was q-tip gloating on my answering machine that he was the lucky recipient of what my crew is now known to call "treats".
"Treats" can be musical or video snippets that will spark a rush of inspiration over you once you absorb it. Kinda like the needle to vein or gas to car. 1997 was a crucial year to the development of "the next movement". That would be the inaugural year of what would soon become a 5 year residency inside the home base station headquarters otherwise known as electric lady studios. ELS was built by Jimi Hendrix during the last year of his life. We chose that spot because of its location and cause of its history and most importantly its equipment (still vintage and intact).
D'Angelo first began recording his second album Voodoo at that studio in a very unorthodox manner, there was no manner. It was a loose atmosphere. We'd spend more time socializing , watching vintage soul-train, concert tapes, etc. ... I mean, name it, and we were watching it and studying it. From how many mics were used to record a certain drum kick to the type of Fender Rhodes used. Week after week a new treat would hit us like scooby snacks. The normally guarded D'Angelo was really shy with strangers but most people new how to get a front seat to our sessions: bring a treat.
The Neo Soul movement began with Queens own ATCQ Midnight Marauders. It added a lush soundscape to the already impossible to top Low End Theory album some two years back. The formula seemed easy enough: crack snares, the Low End sound and the Fender Rhodes. Tribe's not the first to use these formulas or these sensibilities...but damn if they didn't approach the podium as if this formula wasn't their birthright.
Of course this album allowed the floodgates to open. many came in the name of 'Acid Jazz' but it was more of a 'close but no cigar' for fans of boom-bap. Tribe had managed to rewrite the rules 3 times in their career. Most artists are lucky to even stand next to the gatekeeper let alone jack the book of life from the gatekeeper and change some rules. Tribe did it THRICE! The question was 'how do you build atop of what was already miles above Mt. Fiji? The answer is in your hands.
The club owner charged me 200$ I didn't have for long-distance charges. I didn't even get to the other 30 messages. I think I played that "Fantastic 3" interlude about 18 times in a row. Of course the carrot on the stick tease was Q-tip telling me he wont make me a copy just yet. Fuck that. I called Jay Dee the second I got home and told him the Roots were going to pass by St. Andrews Hall in Detroit and please can I hear that song Q-Tip let me hear over the phone. He did better...he gave me the whole album.
Egads! There was an album that came along with tha skit? In my head I was cool but I was like "surely this album cannot top that interlude but whatever... Oh My GOD! I had never secluded myself for an album in all my years as I did for Fantastic Vol. 1. I mean I can recall every landmark record I've ever purchased...all those records I would spend hours absorbing... but this shit? WHOOOOOO!!!!! I mean this tape, the tape of all tapes, never left my side!
I loved this tape so much I copped a high-end walkman for it. (97 was the year i pretty much kissed walkmen goodbye). I loved this tape so much I did a stage-walk-off faking a piss-break during HUB's solo just so I could sneak a peak at a song or two. I loved this tape so much I swear I was going to break up the Roots when I learned that Black Thought took it w/o permission. I get mad just thinking about that day. I would sleep with this thing in auto-reverse praying that I could be so inspired to create something so impactful. Don't get it twisted: As with most revolutions there was resistance. I mean, lets not forget this was 1997...
The Year of Bad Boy. The civil war in hip hop had somewhat ended in a bittersweet manner with the murders of Tupac and Biggie. Leaving the door open for a new gatekeeper and new rules. As a result the fire within the hip hop culture that was once enthusiastically drawn to the new and innovative had turned a deaf ear and now "new" was "foreign" and celebrity was the name of the game, it was the age of irony and now someone had to pay the price.
See the thing is, many so called taste-makers would still absorb what they hated, kinda like a vegan saying "a lil McDs don't hurt every now and then", I mean you don't have to purchase the music to desensitize yourself. You can keep it on constant rotation on the home radio or TV and that shit would still cause as much damage as if you went and bought it yourself. Of course I'm exhibiting the classic behavior of what they call "hating". See, you're not allowed to criticize any type of black success story. And you're also not allowed to show any interest in an artform that's not driven by celebrity. The magic that lies in this CD is for starters: It was executed in a bullet-time period of 3 days. Then, to top it off, Dilla revealed that T3 and Baatin recorded all of the vocals with nothing but a high hat to lead them. In other words, the music was added after they recorded the vocals... which is astonishing to me because the great thing about this album is how rhythmically funky this trio is over its music bed. Just try to not sing-a-long on "estimate" and "beej-n-em".
We couldn't, hell naw we couldn't. F Vol. 1 was the soundtrack to Electric Lady Studios. The chord structures made us shiver (F. Vol. 1 was a great example of Dilla's ability to take a sample and chop it to his hearts content - it took D'Angelo 4 listens before he even realized his own "Jonze in my Bonze" was chopped beyond recognizability. The drum patches were as perfect as any drums done in current music (yes played or sampled) and even the presentation was unique. I mean they weren't gangsta, but they weren't Huxtible either. That was the strangest thing of all: musically they were the next level Tribe Called Quest. But lyrically they were closer to NWA than De La, an obvious influence of their Detroit 7mile culture.
But as history has shown us, for every Jordan on the court there are 9 "and one"ers ready to kick his ass, and it wasn't an easy sell to the average listener being weened on Viacom or whatever the flavor of the month was. But the right taste-makers knew what it was and they were willing to give a helping hand to get the word out. Common featured them on Water for Chocolate, and Dilla's production ended up on landmark albums: (Q-Tip, Bilal, Black Star...etc.)
Of course the success that was deserved eluded the original Slum Village. And even crazier is that they weren't allowed to shine on the music that they helped pioneer. But in light of the untimely death of death of J Dilla, perhaps now those who were 10 years tardy to the party can find their invite within the selections on this disk. This is where the revolution began.
(Paraphrased by CP12.)