Although Yancey’s collaboration with the Ummah had its ups and downs, his connection with Tip provided a launching pad for countless new opportunities. The Ummah era coincided with the creation of Slum Village’s first album, Fantastic Vol. 1, which—continuing a pattern that would play out throughout Jay Dee’s career—became entangled with label issues, but the demo leaked, sending shock waves throughout hip-hop’s cognoscenti. Though some hailed them as the second coming of A Tribe Called Quest, SV’s lyrical content was far more ratchet, and their vocals arrangements and Jay Dee’s beats more intricate.
Tip would play SV’s debut cassette for Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, drummer for the Roots and founder of the Okayplayer online community, over the telephone—long distance from Germany. “My bill was 382 bucks,” Questlove revealed, “and WORTH EVERY FUCKING CENT.”
This led to frequent trips to the D, where he witnessed Jay Dee’s drum machine genius firsthand. He would soon invite Yancey to collaborate on the Roots’ 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, which was right around the time that things came together for the Soulquarians, a loose-knit collective of like-minded singers and players—including Erykah Badu, Bilal, Common, D’Angelo, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, James Poyser, Q-Tip and Questlove—many of whom discovered that they happened to share the same astrological sign, which is known for independence and creativity. During his time with the Soulquarians, Jay Dee learned how to translate his musical ideas into live instrumentation, as they forged a warm, organic sound that would come to be called neo-soul.