Detroit hip-hop artists honor J Dilla with tour

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit rapper Black Milk says the all-star lineup of Detroit hip-hop talent on the national Kings Court Tour may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

“I don’t think you’ll ever get a tour with all of us guys being able to go on the road, all these guys from Detroit that have been doing their thing for a while,” he says. “This is like the first one ever.”

Black Milk appears alongside fellow Detroit hip-hop stars Guilty Simpson and Phat Kat on the tour, which is headlined by the long-running hip-hop group Slum Village. The tour coincides with the 10th anniversary of the death of legendary producer J Dilla, who cofounded Slum Village and frequently collaborated with the other acts on the Kings Court Tour. Slum Village member Young RJ describes the tour as a “tribute” to Dilla.

“We basically just wanted to go with the family, people that we’ve been working with, people that have a history with Dilla and just dope artists from Detroit,” Young RJ says. “We feel like the city never did a real tour to show that unity and support.”

Most of the acts cite Dilla as a formative influence on their careers. Young RJ, who met Dilla in the early ’90s at age 7 through his musician father, describes a “big brother-little brother” relationship with Dilla that grew as the older artist taught Young RJ how to produce.

Black Milk, who Slum Village has repeatedly turned to as a producer and guest artist, goes one step further in describing Dilla’s impact on his work.

“I don’t even know if I would have a career if it wasn’t for him,” Black Milk says. “That’s where my roots is from…Getting a chance to work with him and (Slum Village) kind of just opened the door even more for me to explore my creativity as a producer and as an MC.”

The Kings Court performers express particular anticipation for the tour’s homecoming stop Sunday at the Majestic Theatre. Although Slum Village is still based in Detroit, the show will mark the group’s first performance in the city in two years. Black Milk says he expects a “family-and-friends type of atmosphere,” and Young RJ hints that additional special guests may appear alongside the advertised lineup.

Performers on the tour say awareness of Dilla’s legacy, and the Detroit rap scene in general, varies around the world. Young RJ says Slum Village’s recent European tour was rapturously received by what he describes as “fanatical” concertgoers.

“They chase you down the street, lick your car window, know every lyric to a song,” he says. “You’ve got to do an hour encore because they know the A-sides and the B-sides of all your material.”

However, Slum Village founding member T3 says audience members are “still learning about Dilla in certain parts” of the country, including some West Coast markets where the Kings Court Tour kicked off. He describes the tour as a way to continue advancing the legacy of Detroit hip-hop.

“We’ve always got to make our way and prove to people that we deserve to be here,” T3 says. “People try to write you out of history sometimes, or take what you did and claim it. Us Detroiters, we’ve always got to keep that in the forefront, that this is all Detroit-based music and this is our legacy.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.


Court Tour

7 p.m. Sun.

Majestic Theatre

4120 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $20

(313) 833-9700