Stüssy / J Dilla / Stones Throw
To celebrate the life of brilliant hip hop producer and rapper James "J Dilla" Yancey, we released a special limited edition tee shirt produced in conjunction with Stones Throw and the Dilla Estate. The shirt features Raph Rashid's classic photo of Dilla from the book, Behind The Beat. For the release we produced a three part documentary series focusing on J Dilla's life in Los Angeles. The Stussy x Stones Throw J Dilla Tee was released in February 2010.
Peanut Butter Wolf: I first found out about him through Houseshoes actually. I put out a record called Peanut Butter Breaks in 1994, and Houseshoes was working at a record store, and I was sending the records to him. He was like, 'Oh, you've got to hear my man, Dilla.' He was just always really holding the torch for this guy who I had never heard of and didn't have anything out. He was just really proud of him, that it was this guy from Detroit that was making music that was so powerful.
DJ houseshoes: They came through with the Fantastic Volume One cassettes, brought me, like 20 of them. The spot would be greasy at times. There'd be backdoor s**t going on. What I would usually do is, if it was somebody that I really wanted to have it, I'd just slide it in their bag, and then when it comes to take out of consignment, 'Oh, look, 20 tapes are gone. You're getting paid for them anyway.'
So these cats from Manhattan Records was in town. At that time Manhattan Records in Japan was the biggest record store in the world. We were chopping it up, and I gave them the tape, and from that hand off is how the Fantastic 12-inch came about.
DJ Rhettmatic: I went to Japan, and I was on tour with The Visionaries. Babu and myself were going record shopping, and we happened to go in Manhattan Records. They would do a lot of exclusive stuff from the United States that they only sell in Japan. The hip-hop buyer at the time, his name was Toshi [SP]. Toshi says, 'Have you ever heard of JD?' I said, 'Oh, yeah.' He said, 'You know he has a group called Slum Village.' I was like, 'Ah.' So, he plays the record. The first thing he played was I Don't Know. Babu and I were bugging the h**l out how he would flip, how he would use James Brown within the song. 'I don't know. You t-, three, one, two.' Personally, I bought at least 15 or 20 to bring back home with me. I pretty much hooked up the crew with the vinyl. Then, The Junkies were pretty much the ones who broke Slum Village in L.A.
DJ Houseshoes: For some reason they took to it out here. Toronto and Los Angeles were the first two markets outside of Detroit that really got on it. That's because, hip-hop-wise, L.A. Has always been way ahead, with Freestyle Fellowship and Blow, just lyrically way ahead of the game. And, Toronto, they just love good hip-hop.
Garth Trinidad: The production on all of the early Slum Village stuff just immediately grabbed my attention. It was like, 'What the h**l is this. This is like a dream come true for hip-hop music.'
J.Rocc: My boy J'Kwon used to always give me Dilla's stuff. He had a link. I don't know who his link was, like HouseShoes and a couple other people. Back then, like '96, '95, early '97, there was already a community of Dilla-heads. There was already people, 'Yo, I got this dude, J D's new beat tape, or I got his new demo.' So, that stuff was already floating around.
Brian B+ Cross: That's how Dilla would shop beats, is he would make beat tapes. Not too dissimilar to how Donuts is. A compilation of minute long musical ideas that could be turned into songs. So, J got his hands on a bunch of the ones from the early 2000s or the late '90s.
J.Rocc: I told Madlib I had one and he was like, 'Yo, you got a what?' So, I dubbed it for him and he just went and made a bunch of songs over those beats.
Peanut Butter Wolf: Madlib got a hold of a lot of Dilla tapes and started rapping over Dilla's beats. And we came with this idea. I was working on a mix tape, and this was before Serato. I came up with the idea to do a vinyl so I could mix and scratch with it. I put one song of their's on it and we did 200 copies, or something like that.
Brian B+ Cross: Yeah, I remember hearing some of the first results. The Stereo Lab chop, the one that Busta Rhymes rapped over, subsequently, and just being blown away. Just hearing Madlib. Madlib's a great emcee. Just like Dilla, two really great emcees, but not always rapping, you know what I mean? More, making beats. But to hear Madly over Dilla sounded real good.
Peanut Butter Wolf: We didn't even tell Dilla, actually, when we did it. Dilla called me up afterward, and he was like, 'Yo, what's up with that bootleg man?' And, I wasn't sure if he was like, 'What's up? I'm pissed of at you,' or, 'What's up.' And, I was like, 'Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm doing this mis, and I needed the song.' And, he was like, Yo man, let's do some s**t like that, but official.' So we came up with the idea of Madlib rapping over Dilla beats for half the album, and Dilla rapping over Madlib beats for the other half.
Garth Trinidad: I, as a DJ, was just waiting once I began to hear from Egon and Havana Joe about what was going on. People were just talking about, 'Oh yeah, I just heard some stuff the other day.' And Jay Rocc would talk about, 'Yeah, I heard something. Man it was crazy,' and this and that. It was exciting because the only thing that could happen was some sort of meeting of the minds that would influence the two of them together.
Brian B+ Cross: Emotionally they both speak from a similar kind of place in their music. That's what makes them better and different from the most of the cats that touch a drum machine. They're able to reach an emotional place in their music that other cats don't get to.
DJ Houseshoes: He had sent the 2002 batches of five volumes with 25 beats on each of them to Madlib. Gets a knock on the door. The UPS man shows up with an envelope. He opens it up, it's a CD. Takes it out, puts it in, and it's like 15 song. We were trying to figure it out because he said he had sent Madlib the beat tapes like three or four days ago. So, we were trying to figure out how it was humanly possible for somebody to do that.
Eothen 'Egon' Alapatt: When he was sending this stuff back and forth with Madlib, we didn't expect, in any way, that he was going to pick the beats the he picked.
Frank Nitty: So, we're all sitting around in the basement and we're listening to these beats. It's Madlib beats, so there's some bangers on it. There was some stuff on there that was like, 'Holy crap.' A lot of the stuff that ended up on the J/Lib record. Just bangers. Nasty Filth, while it was a good beat, it just wasn't one of the ones that immediately struck us. And, for Dilla, I think a lot of times making records was about the challenge.
Eothen 'Egon' Alapatt: The CD came back from Dilla in the FedEx, and I was like, 'Madlib, what the f**k, why did he pick that?' Madlib was like, 'I don't know, but it's dope.' And it was dope. It was like send-shivers-down-your-spine dope, that he chose all those beats. And Maldives picking all these beats that kind of referenced the Dilla that had made all the money revolutionizing commercial hip-hop and neo-soul. But, Dilla was there picking s**t that didn't sound anything like the stuff he was known for making.
Peanut Butter Wolf: Then he started doing shows with us out of town. That was another thing where I never wanted to ask him to do shows cause I knew even back then that his health was off an on. He was really encouraging us that he was down to do the shows. And, he was. We did a lot of shows with him before he moved to L.A., and they were all really special. And, I think, just that energy gave him the need to move here too.
B: So you think that's why he moved to LA?
C: That was probably one of the reasons.
D: Eventually he called me up and he's like, 'Wolf, I'm moving to LA. I was like, get the f*** out of here. Because he was always representing the D so hard, and it was just such a part of him.
E: (?) was synonymous with Detroit for all of us, and all of us kind of regarded him as a mythical figure even though Wolf had of course done some work with him. He had put out those bootleg remixes when he was at TRC. And of course I'd met him and I think Mad Lib had even met him. But he was still like this mythical figure that was all Detroit. He would pop into these different cities but he was clearly Detroit.
F: You know, when you get older, you look for a certain type of vibe to do what you do. Things have to be a certain way. And maybe Detroit just didn't have it for him anymore he had used it up.
G: According to Ma Dukes [SP] I think he was kind of tired of Detroit, and Detroit was a real struggle for him. It was hard for him to stay there.
H: Detroit sh** will just wear you out, I had to even get out of there too. It can kind of suck the life out of you.
I: Of all the times I've been there I think I've seen the sun once. And it wasn't even for that long. It's either snowing, raining, or overcast, period. That's the D.
J: Cat's get tired of that cold, in the winter and the rain, and all that sh**, and just want to get as far away as possible without leaving the country, and come out here and just get the love that they never got in their own city. Musicians throughout the history, way before Hip Hop, the same sh** has been going on for a long time.
K: Whether you look at Marvin Gay, the whole Motown scene, even before that you go back to an era of cats like Paul Humphrey, there's a railroad for musicians between Detroit and Los Angeles that's existed for many generations.
L: Well Motown had offices in Detroit and LA. I mean come on now. Like the Electra scene in LA which is humungous that's how Hip Hop started here was the Electra. There wasn't much disco rapping made in Los Angeles.
M: Over here where DJ's used to do doubles, cut it up and stuff was Cybertron, their song was called clear, and a lot of people don't know that Cybertron is Juan Atkins a famous Detroit techno producer.
N:They had the Electra thing kind of going with the parallels to Cybertron and Egyptian Lover. Juan Atkins and Egyptian Lover are good friends and they were kind of making a similar music even though geographically it's so far away, so there was that going on in the early 80's, mid 80's (?) Mad Lib they kind of continued that tradition.
O: I honestly think that Mad Lib was a big reason why he moved here. I never talked to him about it, and there's no way confirm or deny that, but that's how I felt about it.
P: Dilla [SP] and Mad Lib had this energy that they shared, and it was obvious when they were doing the J Lib project that the music that they were sending back and forth was influencing the music that they were making. A lot of that was vocal performances but subtly you could hear it in beats Del would send through and the beats Mad Lib would send to Dilla. In one of the tracks on the J Lib record that always struck me as something that was influence by Mad Lib was that beat that Percy P rapped over for the interlude on the record. Chopped up drums like super distorted vocal exclamations coming in and out that reminded me that Mad Lib had influenced. And that interchange kicked into high gear when he moved to LA.
Q: Him and Mad Lib hung out a little bit more, got into each others style a little bit more.
R: Those guys are like cousins, they're like a mirror images of each other, in some ways like yin and yang. Dilla was a little more out spoken than Mad Lib, and stuff but there spirits are the same. I even just remember chilling in the back, I forgot what show it was. You hear Dilla go, "Yeah", and then you hear Mad Lib go, "Whoa". Just one word, but they all communicated exactly, giving each other pounds, and smoke and laugh. It's like if you watched them you knew already knew what they were talking about without hardly saying nothing. Like, "Yeah". It's fun.
S: I think they were both like aliens as far they were really out of this world and nobody makes music as well as they do. I think Dilla felt like wow, there's finally a guy that I can relate to. I think when you're that talented you get really lonely. Like there's nobody else on earth that can relate to you. And they just had that music bond that was very strong.
T: I think mentally it just kind of freed his mind, because it's a better way of life out here compared to where we were. So I think it just freed him up to think I can do whatever I want to do, even if I want to go back, because it was hard for him to go backwards. He likes staying ahead of the curve. Donuts are really loops and breaks.
U: I think moving out here from Detroit and leaving the studio behind him, a very fine beautiful studio with a very killer Pro Tools set up, that he'd built up over time and taken a lot of that record company money and put it into the studio and then leaving that behind freed him up to do that kind of work that he did when he was out here which was much more like choppy, sample oriented just really about ideas.
V: He'd already done so much with so many different artists as far as defining the Dilla sound before that, that I think he was sick of it at that point and I think he was ready to change things enough that he was going to define a new era. And so he moved here and limited himself to just the bare basics as far as tools that he needed. I think he was playing around with an MPC, I think he had a Korg electronic drum machine that he brought my house a couple of times and he was really excited about that, turntables, just some basic sampling, maybe a couple of keyboards. By the time I had started working with him which was J Lib, he was already starting to go for that raw sound. That's what he talks about in donuts and J Lib and everything else. More Low Fi, more hard hitting, less point on the drums, less gating on everything and cleaning everything up he wasn't going for that at that point. Let the noise bleed, let things sound, you know, damaged and more destroyed and that was kind of where he was coming from at that point.
W: Yeah. Out here he was just on different phase just on his loops, he was chopping breaks and finding loops. He wasn't on his keyboard beats anymore, he wasn't on any of that he was just on some straight hip hop, find the record, dig it out, chop it. He was on that vibe at that time.
B: Get on one page, and he would conquer that. He would be satisfied and then he would move on to the next and he wouldn't look back. It was always no looking back with J. Like, 'I did that. I'm done with it. Let's go five years ahead.'
C: He was very good at knowing when he had played enough cards for one sound and enough people were copying him at that point that it was time to switch it. He was trying new things out. He wanted to go more [??], [??], lovely, kept saying that, more like a cassette.
D: At around that time he put out the "Rough Draft" record, so he made a statement, at least, to the people that were paying attention to that vinyl only release, that he was taking a left turn.
E: He's one of those dudes, he could take any record. I know Erykah Badu tells a story, he would just say, 'Pick any record, I'll make a beat out of it.' He was one of them dudes, he needed the history of recorded sound but within that, if it was [??], it could be rare or it could not that rare.
F: He took from all sources. He would take from techno records and he would take from obvious artists, but maybe a song that they didn't know. He would take from obscure stuff too. He would take from the Bee Gees or from whatever. It wasn't all about, 'It's gotta only be something rare.'
G: When Dilla grabbed that Stereolab beat. I remember at the time, B Plus was the one hippin us to, he's like, 'You guys aren't listening to Stereolab? That's the shit that the fucking kids at my college radio station listen to. I'm playing [??] hip hop, man, or funk.' He's like, 'You should check this out.' I was like, 'Fuck, man. Stereolab? Dilla was grabbing from much more current stuff than that. He was grabbing from everything and [??] was the same way. I remember first time I saw a Vincent Gallo record and [??] to-be-sampled stack, I went like, 'You're sampling Vincent Gallo?' It all made sense 'cuz just like no boundaries. That was just the way those guys worked.
H: One thing I did laugh about was him like, 'I got to find this hand clap.' And then go into the closet and he had a record, he already knew exactly the record, it was ill with the hand clap on it. He sampled it up.
I: He thought how you hear about Amadeus explained. You know how he would just have everything mapped out in his head before he even composed a note on paper? Dilla was the same way. He had the whole thing mapped out in his head before he even got going. We'd sit there for 15 minutes doing drops on a song and it would just be, 'OK. Right there, next bar. Drop out the kit [SP]. Next bar.' Four bars later, 'Drop out the bass. Right there, but bring it in right before the high [??], yep, that's it.' Move to the next eight bars. He would just go through it like a railroad, man. He would just cut through it. It was amazing watching him work 'cuz I could barely keep up with just the [??] operating.
J: Eighty to ninety percent of all these drops that people have heard, 15 minutes. Fifteen, 20 minutes tops. The first beat I ever saw him make was "Get a Hold" off of [??] "Rhymes and Life," and that's when he was working in the [??] studio in Southfield and it probably took him about 12 minutes to make, and he was getting frustrated. Like he was getting frustrated on the drums. Bam-bam-bam. Finally got 'em and then just to chop the loop up, put it on top, took him like 2, 3 minutes.
K: Sometimes with the plugins and ProTools, things would get a little out of sync between my system and his system, 'cuz I had a TDM system and he had an LE system. It's technical stuff, but things would fall out of time because the plugins wouldn't be exactly the same between our systems and he would be sitting on the couch and he'd like, 'Something fell out.' He'd go, 'Move the bass back two baby hairs.' So I'd nudge the bass [??]. 'That's good. Move the snare back one baby hair.' OK. 'Now the vocals, move 'em all back three baby hairs.' I'm trying to interpret what baby hairs are, but I'm going ahead and doing it. 'OK. What do you think of that?' 'Yeah. Cool. One more baby hair.' Cool. He's like, 'That's it.' Sure enough, you listen
to it, the whole beat, it felt like a little crooked beforehand, before he got his hands on it and his ears on it, but by the time, exactly one minute later, everything was time aligned without him having to sit at the board and do it himself. He just had crazy ears. You could sense timing very, very accurately and zero in on the stuff very quickly and fix it.
L: He was always giving us beat tapes and he was making, kind of jokey names for 'em. One of 'em was like "Pizza Man," one of 'em was "Donuts," and it was always like diss on healthy food and stuff. Donuts was one of 'em and I just remember it was me and Madlib and him in the car and he's like, 'Yeah. You have my new stuff. Whatever.' We were always wanting to hear, or I was always wanting to hear his [??] stuff. He played it and I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a beat tape for rappers or what it was supposed to be, but it was, to me, it just sounded like the songs were full, finished songs. I said, 'We should put this out as it is.' He's all, 'I'm with it.'
M: Chris always said it's gonna be a way for him to get his beats out there again and people are gonna realize that he's sick but he's not out for the count. He's still making incredible beats 'cuz they're just getting shared around the internet and no one really knows how great they are. We're gonna master mix 'em and all that. He took that project really seriously. He was editing stuff in the hospital all the time. He might have even made some of the beats there, but I doubt it. He had the portable turntable and he had the 45s and all that, but I don't recall him ever sampling his stuff. I just remember him always with the laptop editing the stuff on ProTools. When he turned in that record, he gave me two CDs, I still have one of 'em. One of 'em I brought to production, one of 'em I kept at my house and it's the original "Donuts" as he made it because Jeff went and edited "Donuts." That was a funny story in and of itself but Jeff had to extend it 'cuz it was hella short. It was like 20 minutes long or something like that and when I heard all of that together in the way that he actually wanted it to come out, I was like, 'Fuck me, man. This last couple of years has just completely flipped music on its head once again.' There was no way that anybody's gonna know what to do with this. It was so astronomically different than everything that everybody had tried to do with that source material.
N: If "Donuts" is his most deceptive album because it sounds so simple and so easy. If you were to just listen to it at the most basic level, it's basically soul loops but if you were to go back and try to redo some of the stuff that he did, it's like, there's so much more to it than meets the eye and then he threw in all these amazing hidden messages in there, here and there, and it was so complicated, so complex and so well thought out, but anybody could get down to it.
O: When I first heard it, I think with a lot of us, when I first heard it I was like, 'Man, this shit is crazy. It's real minimal, like sticking to the records. Almost like edits of the original joints, but when he passed, with a lot of us the shit took on a whole new meaning. Like, was he really that nuts to basically make a good bye letter? That shit is like saying good bye.
P: Artists like this [??], at the height of your powers is one of those things where it's like, to free the full stop in the middle of the sentence is one of those things that just makes people think about things in a whole different way and to put mortality into he mix in terms of your art, yeah. I mean, listen to "Donuts.' Do you really think the dude didn't know what was gonna happen? He fully knew what was gonna happen.
Q: A lot of the original tracks that he sampled, if you listen to the lyrics and the song titles, it's really dark. Like a lot of speaking about death and even the snippets that he put on top and the way he cut the records to make them sound like something else, like cutting on Jadakiss and making it sound like he's saying, 'Is death real?' when he was saying 'Is that real?' It's crazy.
R: He consistently, with each project he ever produced, it would crack your head. He's one of a kind. There's no one else that could say, 'I'm out of here. I know that my time has come and I want to express that to you through this project.'
S: All these cats out here owe it to Dilla Dog. All these cats. They found their own niche now, a lot of these cats they're, he's been gone for a couple years now, so it's like, the teacher's gone so you got to find your own style still. When he was around, and if he was still around, mu'fuckas would still be biting whatever new shit he would be doing right now.
T: While he was alive he changed so many people's lives as it is. All my time with him, I always felt like, 'I'm in the presence of a living legend.'
U: I tell a lot of people, the first time I heard J's shit is pretty much just like the first time I heard hip hop. I was like, 'I don't need to listen to pop music or any of that shit on the radio. This is what I want to do.'
V: LA certainly, like I said, had a reverence for Dilla that probably didn't exist in Detroit. I see it with [??] all the time. We go do a gig in LA, and I'm not saying that it's bad, 'cuz we'll do great gigs in LA, but you show up in Paris and there's a line down the block and I'm sure that Dilla saw a lot of that in LA when he first moved out. But the thing with Dilla in LA is that it persisted. It just never stopped. People just had love for him wherever he went. [??] the great JD. He decided to spend some time in this city with us and we're all better for it.