Shine On...and On (Extended Sentimental Remix)

November 18, 2006

In the new issue of The FADER, our last Vinyl Archeology column of 2006 is dedicated to the stories about some of producer and rapper J Dilla's greatest tracks, as told by the people who were part of or were affected by their creation, everyone from Erykah Badu to Just Blaze to the members of Slum Village and many more. To further our tribute to Dilla, who died earlier this year at the age of 32, we've put together an extended version of the article with more in-depth reminiscences and more discussed songs. Read it after the jump.

Interviews By: Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, Eric Ducker, Edwin “Stats” Houghton

“Runnin” The Pharcyde Labcabincalifornia (Delicious Vinyl 1996)

We were looking for Q-Tip to do some tracks for us. Tip would be like, “Yeah, I’m getting some stuff together…” He couldn’t do what needed to be done, but he said, “You can check my boy,” and we were like, “Okay, who is it?” He was like, “Jay Dee.” We didn’t even believe Jay Dee existed. Q-Tip’s name is Jonathan Davis, we thought it was Q-Tip pretending that was his little spin-off name. Q-Tip brought a bunch of beats over, we heard “Runnin’” and “Drop,” it was some incredible shit. Jay Dee came to Los Angeles and he had his SP1200 and he would just flip these beats like nobody’s business. This kid couldn’t fuck up a beat. I gave him one of Vince Guiraldi’s Snoopy loops like, “I always wanted to do something with this,” and he flipped this song called “Splatittorium” and I was like, “Of course.” Fat Lip and I fought physically over the way Jay Dee originally programmed “Runnin’.” Fat Lip went in and reprogrammed a very straight beat because Fat Lip was all about having the beats a certain way. I fought for it to be the way that it was because I was a stickler about people’s creative input—that’s what we hired him for. If I didn’t stop that and physically fight this guy for it, “Runnin’” would have been a different song all together on a spiritual level. Tre Hardson

“Players” Slum Village Fan-Tas-Tic Vol 1 (Goodvibe 2000)

[The sample] don’t say “players,” it say “Claire,” but we used subliminal tactics on that one. Dilla didn’t really even chop it, but by us saying “players” so much you think it says “players.” People don’t know that was a battle song, only niggas in the D know that. We was actually talking ’bout some real niggas. We’re cool today, but it was actually [deceased rapper] Proof’s group. These niggas had just dropped they CD that Dilla did most of the beats for and they was just acting arrogant, walking around real tough and we got kind of offended by it. Once we started talking about it, Wajeed [from Platinum Pied Pipers] was like a hype man, like, “Man, they just put their shit out, where’s yours?” We went over to Dilla’s house and it was one a them nights where everything was clickin. Two weeks later we came with Vol 1. They kind of inspired us by being so arrogant, so we made “Players” about them. They found out, I don’t know how…somebody told. T3

“Don’t Nobody Care About Us” Phat Kat “Dedication to the Suckers” 12-inch (House Shoes 1999)

We met at this spot called Rhythm Kitchen, it was a spot where cats used to come and get on the open mics or whatever. We got close after that, that was like in ’92. We had the little 1st Down thing pop off before Slum Village, Dilla was on the production and I was on the rhymes. We had a single that was released on Payday around the same time that Jeru tha Damaja was over there, Jay-Z was over there, Showbiz & AG. Right at the same time, Q-Tip got one of his beat tapes. That’s how that little shit popped off. But we always stayed recording, it didn’t matter who he was doing production for. There is mad stuff that I turned down. That dude got beats for eons to come, stuff that people never even heard.

There were multiple beats that I’d already rapped on that ended up on the beat tapes that Dilla sent out and that somebody bought. When the industry started jumping on the Dilla bandwagon, they was getting scraps. He kept all the hot shit for himself and the crew. After we’d seen that people were jumping on all the stuff he was doing, everything that me and Dilla recorded, we did it right on the spot. That’s why I always got the freshest shit. That whole “Dedication to the Suckas” 12-inch—I bullshit you not—we started around 8 o’clock in the evening, we was done by 11. He would load the beats up and leave or talk on the phone, let me do my rhymes, come back and the verses were done, it’s a wrap. We recorded so fast that it was nothing really but laughs and jokes. A lot of smokes and a lot of jokes, for real for real. A lot of prank phone calls. That’s all we used to do, just have fun. Phat Kat

“Get Dis Money” Slum Village Fantastic Vol 2 (Goodvibe 2000)

We would always hear stuff in progress, like for “Get Dis Money” there’s a lot of little intricate stuff in the background of that song that didn’t happen until the last two weeks before the album had to be turned in. A little singing here, a little sound effects and all that. The drum programming on “Get Dis Money” is a little off. Dilla didn’t like to use a metronome or whatever, so some would be slightly off beat, but on purpose. It’s just the way his ear was, crazy. What’s funny about “Get Dis Money” is that Baatin wrote three verses before we liked one, me and Dilla was being real hard on his rhyme. If you listen to Vol 1 and Vol 2, Baatin don’t talk about the topic at all. It ended up being like we was doing it on purpose, but originally it was not on purpose. Dilla was more upset than anybody about staying on topic. I think our fans have grown to love that about Baatin, but at the time it was frustrating. He would just talk about anything. The song is about getting money and the pursuit of it, a real simple concept, and Baatin would just start talking bout his family and then go over here and over there…you ain’t know where he’s going! Even with three verses, Dilla still took out a part of his rhyme on the final version, Dilla kind of faded him out on the end of that song. T3

“Nag Champa” Common Like Water for Chocolate (MCA 2000)

When I was working on Like Water for Chocolate I would go to Detroit like two to three times a month. This is in Jay Dee’s original basement, in the house where he grew up. That’s where Slum Village recorded their album. I went out there first with the Roots to work with Jay Dee. When we would go to Jay Dee’s basement we would always burn nag champa incense, that’s where I got that title from. I was listening to Slum Village a lot, so I was influenced by them. With “Nag Champa,” which was either the first or the second song for Like Water for Chocolate, we had it for a long time with no chorus. We kept trying to do a chorus and there wasn’t nothing good coming out. I took T3 and them to the studio and I asked them to come and work with me on this chorus. T3 started chanting something, he didn’t finish, but he just had a little idea, Jay Dee heard and started really singing it and got it together. He had an incredible voice, he actually was going to do a singing album, we used to talk about that when he would stay in LA. Common

“Little Brother” Black Star Music From and Inspired by The Hurricane (MCA 2000)

At that point J Dilla was still an enigma to me, but I was still very excited about working with him because of the work he did with Slum Village and A Tribe Called Quest and Common. Mos [Def] had gotten his beat tape that was circulating and it had a couple beats on it that Mos wanted to use. One of them ended up being used for a Sprite commercial with Mos and Mack 10 and Fat Joe, I think. Certain artists want to go in the studio and mix and master and be there for every session, Mos will just take a beat off a beat tape and be like, “It sounds good to me.” With a producer like Dilla, a lot of his shit was so orchestrated and sounded so right that you’d be like, “Yeah, that’s how I want it to sound.” Mos took the beat tape to Electric Ladyland [Studio], we laid rough vocals and we wanted to get Gil Scott-Heron to sing on it, so Mos sang the Little brother… part and we got in touch with Gil Scott-Heron a week later. When he got there he was like, “I need to take a nap,” and he slept for like three hours. Then he woke up and he sang it, but it didn’t sound right. At this point Wendy Goldstein at Capitol was like, “We need it for the soundtrack!” She had the rough version with Mos singing and Gil Scott-Heron was supposed to come back the next day. A week later we were still trying to get Gil Scott back in the studio and I heard the song on a mixtape that had been sent out for the album and I got upset because I was like, “We didn’t get to hear the mixdown, it wasn’t approved. I know Dilla didn’t get to hear the mixdown.”

I didn’t really get to work with Jay until the Kwelity album when I went out to Detroit to pick up some beats and hung out with him and Frank N Dank. It was when the Roots won the Grammy for “You Got Me.” I was watching the Grammys at his house while he was making beats downstairs. A few of his records were nominated for Grammies and I was calling downstairs like “Common’s on…the Roots are on!” These are people he’s worked closely with and he was like, “Aight,” and just kept making that beat. Talib Kweli

“Didn’t Cha Know” Erykah Badu Mama’s Gun (Motown 2000)

I went to Detroit to work with this cat that I heard a few tracks from that drove me crazy. Common took me over there, we went down to the basement, Common left and Dilla and I sat and talked. He had records wall to wall like it was a public library and he goes, “OK, I want you to look for a record.” I’m looking through these organized, tightly packed crates, and I just pulled out one record and the artist was Tarika Blue. I liked that name. I put on the first track [“Dreamflower”] and I fell in love with the song and I kept playing it over and over again and I said, “I want this.” He showed me how to loop a small part of the bassline, he was very generous in teaching you and letting you be hands on. Then I left the room and when I came back he had looped some drums to a small sample of the song and I started to write to it. I came up with the Ooooh, heeeey melody. I wrote for a few days and then the song came to be. I’d hike down to his house in mittens and a scarf. I just kind of stayed down there and worked until we got the things the way that I liked.

My songs sound different from everyone else’s Dilla songs. The sound is a little bit more bass heavy and the frequencies are definitely different than most of the songs he does, because it’s his world. But when he allowed me to come into his world, it became another kind of world. I think he allowed everybody that kind of space and that kind of freedom because he was so super creative that he would go onto something else while we learned the first part. He was ultraviolet, cosmic, dark. He went to aeronautics school so of course he was a mad scientist mathematician. I don’t know, you can’t really dissect what he was.

I used to tease him all the time. I was dating Common and he seemed really shy when Common would leave and it was only he and I there. So I would play this little game, I would pretend like I was coming on to him, walking slowly towards him like, “ that we are alone...” Then Common would come back into the room and I would pretend I was doing something else. This would freak Jay Dee out because he didn’t know that Common knew that I was doing it. Common would be like, “Don’t do that Erykah.” We would talk about a lot of things, but he didn’t do most of the talking, he did most of the listening. Erykah Badu

“Eve (remix)” Spacek “Eve” 12-inch (Blue 2000)

I first became aware of Dee's work back in the early days of Spacek. I'm not exactly
sure when, it kind of feels like he's been there forever. The thing that has always struck a chord with me in all things Dilla is the soulfulness of his approach to music, mainly in the time and feel. Then there's his impeccable ear for chord progression and structure which I've always felt separates him from all other hip-hop producers. Even though you know he has the records and samples, you get the impression that those are just partial aspects of his beat making and production. His musicianship is forever present in all of his works. The way he applies the synth parts, the sound he gets from a drum kit—if he decides he wants to record his rhythm section as opposed to using a sampled beat, Dee killed it on an audio aesthetic level. The first time we crossed paths was when he touched one of our early Spacek singles “Eve” from our first album Curvatia. He displayed such grace and skill in the execution of that remix. It opened up a lot of cats to our sound back then, and I'm sure his too. Steve Spacek

“Hold Tight” Slum Village Fantastic Vol 2 (Goodvibe 2000)
Hold tight this is the last time you hear me/ I'm out now this is the last time to cheer me/
I'm a leave it in the hands of the Slum now."—Q-Tip, “Hold Tight”

I think Q-Tip wasn’t feelin his whole situation at the time and when we went in to make that song that was waaaay unexpected. We went to New York and we was just going get a verse from him and he just surprised everyone with that. And you know man, that was a gift and a curse, more of a curse than a gift, ’cause niggas kept comparing us to Tribe Called Quest. And although we were affiliated and those were our people, our lyrical content was nothing like theirs. We always had a street edge, a metaphysical edge and the nigga-in-between edge. It was nothing like them, but when New York cats heard that, some frowned up real tough on us, and that kind of hurt us in a sense. If they never compared us to Tribe, I felt like things would have been a little smoother. And it was at that time, once Dilla put his heart and soul into Vol 2, that’s when he decided he couldn’t deal with the whole Slum Village thing no more because he felt like he had too many demons around it. T3

“Soul Power” Common Electric Circus (MCA 2002)

We did a phase of beats that didn’t make the album, so “Soul Power” was really the beginning, but we had already been working towards making new stuff. I remember talking to Jay Dee about just taking the music to another place. At the time we all were listening to Stereolab and Radiohead and I was listening to Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, so Jay Dee knew I wanted some stuff that just didn’t sound standard, didn’t sound as traditional. I would explain a direction and he would come up with something that was completely above what I explained. We sat there and he came across the bassline part. We were both like, Oh man, and he started doing those drums the way he did it. It felt like that magic that I wanted. I knew that the way the drums were programmed were different than anything I had heard, and he went and pulled out this record that had the “Soul power!” vocals on it. And once he did that, I was like, “Man, this is a song right here.” The thing about Jay Dee was he could take it anywhere you wanted it to go. He could play instruments, he could cut. His musicianship was impeccable. Common

“Keep It Comin’” Frank N Dank 48 Hours (unreleased 2003)

“Keep It Comin’” was the era when we recorded 48 Hours for MCA—that’s just about coming up out of the hood because we finally crossed that barrier. “Keep It Comin’” was like the wrap up, that was just the last song we recorded for that record. ?uestlove from the Roots played the drums. For that album we played everything live. We had a sample version of it before, but [Dilla] was like, “I want to play this all live.” We used the traditional drums, tambourines, shakers, Mexican shakers, old school cowbells, the old school Moog, trombone. That record created Dilla. Everybody knew Jay Dee, Jay Dee sampled everything and chopped, Dilla was a more playing live instruments type. Dank

“Champion Sound” Jaylib Champion Sound (Stones Throw 2003)

“Champion Sound” was one of my favorite cuts, it stood out amongst all of the other joints in the first batch of Jaylib songs he sent to me. I didn’t think he would have picked that beat, it was one of the dirtiest tracks on the beat CDs I sent to him. But that fit perfect. That track is running, like rolling in your car. His lyrics made that shit even harder. And the concept…what! What! Someone else would have rapped over it, but it wouldn’t have been the same. I remember when we would perform that song, the crowd would get super hype. I wouldn’t even say his lyrics. I would just do ’em with steps. I’d just be watching him. Too hype. Flowing with my steps, Thelonius style. That is one of my favorite albums. People are sleeping, but they’re going to catch up. It’s one of my favorites I ever recorded. I’m still performing that motherfucker. Madlib

“As Serious as Your Life (remix)” Four Tet “As Serious As Your Life” 12-inch (Domino 2003)

My record company asked me if I wanted to get any remixes for my album Rounds. I instantly suggested Jay Dee thinking that he was my ultimate choice, but also thinking it was deeply unlikely seeing as he had records coming out with people like Busta Rhymes at the time. Domino tracked down his manager, sent him the music and a few weeks later we heard back saying he was up for doing it (for a very reasonable fee). A couple of months passed and no remix showed up, so we chased his manger. He came back saying that Jay Dee had been quite sick recently. Not knowing how serious his illness was, we decided to just wait and see what happened. Then a couple of months later we got a message asking if we could send out the parts again to his mother’s house because he was staying there while he was recovering. Not knowing what his situation was at all, I thought this was kind of strange, but sent out the parts again. Some more time passed after this and I wasn’t really expecting to hear back. Then one day I got a call from Domino saying that a CD has turned up in the post from Jay Dee and the remix is wild. It has him singing on it and some guy called Guilty Simpson rapping. He had made the heaviest beat from the sounds and him and Guilty were rapping amazing lines all over it, stuff about saxophone reeds and Eddie Murphy’s pants. The way he had made the title of my instrumental track into this huge vocal hook was just too good. “As Serious as Your Life” is a reference to a book about ‘60s free jazz, so to hear Dilla sing about something that I associated with Coltrane and Ayler was especially deep for me. I never got to meet Dilla so I was not personally able to tell him how much I was into the track, and that made me so sad when I heard that he passed away. Kieran Hebden
“Nothing Like This” Jay Dee Ruff Draft EP (Mummy/Groove Attack 2003)

I bought the Ruff Draft EP real late. I listened to it, but then I forgot about the album for a minute. Most of us don’t sit around turntables anymore, and I didn’t have it ripped to my iPod or on CD. One day I was on the net and found that someone had ripped it. I downloaded it, and when I was listening to it, I just skipped past that song like, “He ain’t rapping...” Then it hit me. It was hypnotic. I didn’t even know what he as talking about, but it didn’t matter. At the end of the beat, he hit stop on his machine, but the sample played out. I sat there for 20 minutes with that part on loop, trying to figure out what the sample was. He caught a part of the record that was so non-descript. That was what was so crazy about him: he wouldn’t use the obvious break. He might use the part right before or after the break. And that part he used on that song, I couldn’t figure it out. It drove me crazy for months. Finally I just gave up. Just Blaze

“Reunion” Slum Village Detroit Deli (Capitol 2004)

A lot of people think that’s a Dilla track, but it was produced by Black Milk, Dilla is just rapping on it. Basically what happened was me and [producer] Young RJ went over Dilla’s house, playing joints for him off the album ’cause we wanted to work with him on it. We played a couple joints and he picked to rap on that one. Originally it was supposed to be me, him, Baatin and Elzhi, but Baatin at the time wasn’t feeling doing anything Slum Village. Me and Elzhi already had our verses, then Dilla put his “rep mo’ D than 12 Eminems” verse down, then Elzhi said, “You know what, I’ma keep it real. I’ma tell people what really happened with Baatin cause they lookin at us like, ‘T3 kicked Baatin out.’” I didn’t kick him out, he left the group. Elzhi wanted to tell the truth and he did it. That’s when he put his “unlawful demons” verse down. He called Baatin up maybe like a week after he did it and was still asking him to get on the song, but Baatin never did. It was supposed to be four of us but Baatin was going through his whole struggle. I’m kind of mad that we never got to make a reunion LP, ’cause me and Dilla always talked about doing it. It’s kind of upsetting that we didn’t get to close the Slum Village chapter like that. Now it’s at a point like, where do we go from here? T3

“Dollar” Steve Spacek Space Shift (Sound in Color 2005)

I was recording my solo project in Hollywood, just around the corner from where Dee and Common lived. We met up at his place, rolled a blunt and got straight down to it. It was quite surreal actually. Myself, [manager] Mr French and Leon Ware were rolling together that afternoon. I had met Jay briefly a few times before in London, but had never really hung out in a chilled environment. So I say to him, “Jay man, just bless me with something for my album.” And he’s like, “Yo, Spacek man, I don’t know if I have anything ready for you now,” picking up the remote control for his DAT machine. So he’s flicking through this tape, then he stops, pulls out the DAT and exchanges it for another and resumes flicking through. Not even a couple of minutes have passed when he lands on the Billy Paul thing, looks up at me and just lets it roll. As soon as I hear it, what with the “yeh-yeh-yeh” vocal going through, I knew that it was the one. We hung out for a little longer, smoked a bit more, then I headed back to French’s gaff to start writing. A few verses and a hook later, along with a couple of chops/edits on the two track, and “Dollar” was done. That afternoon was the last I saw of Jay. He came across like an angel on Earth, man. Anyone who can create the way he did and still be so humble has to be on some heavenly tip. Steve Spacek

“Lightworks” J Dilla Donuts (Stone Throw 2006)

I knew he was working on a series of beat CDs before he came to Los Angeles. Donuts was a special project that he hadn’t named yet. This was the tail end of his “Dill Withers” phase, while he was living in Clinton Township, Michigan. You see, musically he went into different phases. He’d start on a project, go back, go buy more records and then go back to working on the project again. I saw it because I was at his house every day, all day. I would go there for breakfast, go back to Detroit to check on the daycare business I was running, and then back to his house for lunch and dinner. He was on a special diet and he was a funny eater anyway. He had to take 15 different medications, we would split them up between meals, and every other day we would binge on a brownie sundae from Big Boys. That was his treat.

I didn’t know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn’t want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product. He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. “Lightworks,” oh yes, that was something! That’s one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time. Maureen Yancey

“Stop” J Dilla Donuts (Stones Throw 2006)

I'd used Dionne Warwick's “You're Gonna Need Me” for Usher's “Throwback,” Dilla used it for “Stop” on Donuts. When that song first leaked, right before he died, people were asking, “Is he trying to jack you?” No. And I don't care. If you listen to the OG song, there are so many breaks you could take any part of that record. It's hip-hop, this happens. He may have heard the Usher version, maybe not. Just Blaze

“Love” J Dilla ft Pharoahe Monch The Shining (BBE 2006)

His label reached out to me about being part of the [Shining] project. He was in the middle of his illness so we didn’t meet in person, but we had met before in California. I usually do all my recording face to face, I’d been to Detroit a bunch of times to work with my man Denaun Porter, but never to work with Dilla. We did it all through exchanging files over the internet. They sent over some beats and I chose that one. It was soulful and had the feel that let me rap and sing over it and take it in that direction. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how much he affected the sound of neo-soul and R&B and music in general as much as he does for hip-hop. Pharoahe Monch

“Jungle Love” J Dilla ft MED & Guilty Simpson The Shining (BBE 2006)

I first met Jay in 2001. He fell through a few spots that I used to rock at and my mans House Shoes connected us. The very next day I was in the lab with him. We cut a few solo joints that the world has yet to hear. They were mainly joints for my project we were planning to drop, an EP called The Verdict. The song “Strapped” on the Jaylib album was the first released joint. A little further down the road brought the remix to Four Tet’s “Serious As Your Life.” I would mainly get beat CDs from Jay, take them to the crib, smoke to ’em and pick what I liked. It was a hard process ’cause I was looking for three tracks but he gave me three CDs each with at least 30 tracks. Impossible! After Dilla passed, Karriem Riggins took over the Shining project and he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do another joint. I told him “yes” and he sent “Jungle Love” to me the same day. MED actually had his verse on there already, I used his vibe to come up with mine. His verse was running wild on the beat so I just applied his mindstate to my version. It was difficult to record that song. I just had a heavy heart, that’s all I can say. Dilla’s death was fresh on my mind. It still is! And I just wanted to rep for my mans without putting his passing in the rhyme. It was important for his project to reflect his life, not his death. Guilty Simpson

Posted: November 18, 2006
Shine On...and On (Extended Sentimental Remix)