Jay Dee - The Lost Interview

EDITOR’S NOTE: This exclusive interview was conducted on November 8, 2002 at the Roxy Blu in Toronto. This was my first Hip Hop interview and, to date, still my most memorable. First off, 40-minute interviews are unheard of, especially for independent online magazines in 2002. Secondly, the interview took place AFTER Jay’s DJ set, in the wee hours of the morning. And lastly, Jay rarely gave interviews. He was an incredibly gifted musician who shied away from the spotlight. He was a man who truly let his music speak for him. Until now. Rhyme Revolution proudly presents JAY DEE: THE LOST INTERVIEW.

R.I.P. James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006) 

Wow.  After this interview, I’m thinking all future rap sessions should be held at 3am!  Jay Dee aka Jay Dilla aka The Past, The Present and The Future recently passed through Toronto and didn’t pull any punches during, or after, this interview.  Remember Tribe’s industry rule #4080?  Well, Jay sure does.  And don’t think just because you haven’t heard from Dilla in a minute that he hasn’t nothing left to say.  Quite the contrary.  He talks very candidly about “the label”, various other artists, and the police.  Call him whatever you want, but know this, the man is a musical genius yet still mad under-rated, if he’s even rated at all (and I’m not alone on this, check out what Frank N Waajeed have to say about Jay)!

Rhyme Revolution:  You just finished your set, how did Toronto feel?

Jay Dee:  Aw man, Toronto, let me tell you.  Toronto reminds me of back in the day when I was at Rhythm Kitchen, Maurice Malone shit, you know what I’m saying?  Toronto’s love!  It reminds me of when I go overseas, it’s very unlike the D.  You know, the D is love and I come from the D, but I know I can play shit out here.  People appreciate more uh…

RR:  Good music.

J:  Yeah, just good music period.  There’s nothing better than that to me, that’s what I do this for.  I remember when I came out here with Slum about 2 years ago, it was ridiculous.  This is my first time coming out here since then.  Bananas.

RR:  Okay, you just mentioned Slum.  You wanna speak on that?

J:  Slum.  My family, my heart.  Aw man!  We still, just for mothafuckas that don’t know, that’s still my peoples.  They’re doing they thing, you know, I’m slow as hell with my shit.  I’m still working on my shit but I wanna make sure that when it comes out, it’s solid.  I had alotta shit that was kinda out there, like real underground, but it’s kinda hard to fuck with these labels now cause everybody trying to make money so it’s like, I gotta mix it up and come with some ‘Tainted’-type of shit.  They wanna hear that now!  But it’s all good, it’s all good. (said very unconvincingly!)

RR:  So what are you working on now?

J:  So that, the solo album --

RR:  Any time frame?

J:  Uh, look for it around February 7th through to the 14th on MCA.  A couple of EPs on Groove Attack.  I’m doing an EP with Tip, with Nottz, with Madlib, uh what else?  That’s all I’ve been doing, just stacking up shit.  Just getting ready to drop at the beginning of the year so, ahh!  It’s gonna be good hopefully, hopefully.

RR:  Now the average producer might make a beat that goes 1-2-1-2, but a Dilla beat, to me and my untrained ear, is like 1-2-skip-a-few…

J:  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Right, you know, that’s some other shit.  I get that from -- me and T3 used to sit around and listen to old records and listen to the drummers fuck up and go off beat and shit, but it sounded dope!  So I found out how to program that and it just became a habit.  Like when I do my shit now, I don’t have no Quantizer, I just do it free-feeling.  That’s why it feels like that.  But the labels don’t like that shit!

 RR:  No?

 J:  Naw, it’s so hard.  It’s still hard trying to break that sound out.  I had a problem with that when I did “Runnin’” for The Pharcyde.  The drum pattern was too much for them.  So they actually went in the studio and looped up like one bar of my drum pattern.  And then played it for me and said ‘Here you go, this is the new ‘Runnin.’’”

 RR:  Here you go?  To Dilla?

 J:  Man, yeah!  I’m like, ‘What the fuck happened to the kick and shit?’  He was like, ‘The kick was just too much, it was too busy.’  I’m like, ‘That’s the whole point of the damn…’

 RR:  Is this the original or the remix?

 J:  The original, I know, with the remix too.  I think Pharcyde actually got in a fight with that shit.  A fistfight making that song!

 RR:  A fight over what?

 J:  You wouldn’t believe it, but they got in a fight over what filter sounds the best, a 950 or an ASR-10 or something.  It was wild man!

 RR:  Let me ask you, what’s Dilla’s favourite Dilla beat?

 J:  (in deep thought for a good 15-20 seconds) Man, that’s kind hard, damn!

 RR:  For me, it has to be the “Runnin’” remix, even though I wasn’t aware of all the drama, “Love (Is A Thing Of The Past)”, and the “Fall In Love” remix.

 J:  Man, good lookin’!  Damn.  You know what, I like that “Fall In Love” remix.

 RR:  You killed us when you dropped the original and then followed it up with the remix.

J:  Yeah, hell yeah!  I was thinking of what shit to bring, but if I knew Toronto was gonna be that open I woulda brought all that old shit! 

RR:  Now if Puffy can say he invented the remix, then Dilla perfected the remix.

J:  Yo, I said I was gonna come out with a remix album too, just because I got to come out with something.

RR:  You’ve got to.

J:  Oh, speaking of remixes, check for this Cameo shit coming out.

RR:  Cameo, really?

J:  I think that might be my favourite shit thus far.  It’s on DJ Cam’s compilation.  What else?  New Frank N Dank.  I’m loving that.  We did an album called 48 Hours, not that!  48 Hours was through MCA, but the new shit that we’re doing, it’s more like what they were doing in the beginning.  Like the original, raw shit.  We did 48 Hours and that was kinda jiggy.  The labels were like they wanted that Jay Dee shit.  I’m like, ‘Fine’.  I was about to take them on some other shit but we ended up doing something that we do naturally so it worked out for the best.

RR:  Now can you confirm this.  I just heard you’re doing a Kweli track with Vinia Mojica.  That’s like my favourite producer, emcee and vocalist on one track.

J:  Oh word?  I was actually geeked myself to get some shit on Kweli’s album ‘cause I know he always fucking with Hi-Tek so it’s kinda hard to get in there like that.  But when he was looking around, shopping for shit, it was like a blessing to me.  I forgot about that Kweli shit.  De La.  The De La tracks with Sean Paul and… who else on that?

RR:  De La and Sean Paul?  Dilla produced?

J:  Yes, yes, yes.  I’m geeked about that shit, that’s another one.  Then uh, new Busta.  Alotta R&B shit.  Another Badu, this time more of, I tell the people this, I tried to give Badu some crazy shit, she wanted what she wanted.  To make a long story short, the album didn’t come out how she thought it would.  The people took to that also.  So this time around, we gon give her what we gon give her, so hopefully people hear her on that rough shit I wanted to hear her on.  Man, we gave her some ridiculous shit man and she picked some, aww man… I picked that raw shit ‘cause I know what the people wanna hear her on.  They wanna hear more of that “On and On” shit she originally came with.  The raw shit.  That’s all I’ve been doing.  Just really working and trying to get my feet back in the door.  I had to take a break for about a year-and-a-half with MCA.  It’s been hell. (making a throat-slashing gesture)

RR:  Any regrets being on a Major?

J:  You know, if I had a choice, skip the major labels and just put it out yourself man!

RR:  Indy, eh?  That’s the way to go?

J:  Trust me.  I tell everybody it’s better to do it yourself and let the Indies come after you instead of going in their and getting a deal and you have to wait, it ain’t fun, take it from me.  Right now, I’m on MCA but it feels like I’m an unsigned artist still.  It’s cool, it’s a blessing, but damn I’m like, ‘When’s my shit gonna come out?  I’m ready now, what’s up?’  They’re just like they gotta wait on this person and this person and they’re firing this person.  It’s getting crazy.  I woulda did a lot better just not even fucking with them, keep doing what I was doing before.

RR:  Are there any artist you still want to record with?

J:  Um, definitely Jay-Z.  I just wanna get some retarded shit on that nigga’s shit.  Put some crazy-ass beats on his album.  Uh, who else?  Eminem.  Even though we hook up, we never done any work together.

RR:  What about Mos?

J:  Mos, yeah he got some tracks for his up-and-coming shit.  He’s in the same position I’m on at MCA.  He’s starting to push out through Rawkus and other kinda labels ‘cause they’re bullshittin’ basically.  They got Hi-Tek over there signed.  They got Mos, Snoop, all kinds of people and nobody’s moving.

RR:  That’s too much talent to be sitting on the shelves.

J:  I’m like, ‘Damn, how you gonna have…’ -- you know, I love Tek, people think I don’t like Tek for some reason.  I get asked if I think Hi-Tek beats sound like mine or do I think he’s biting -- Hi-Tek is my man!  Like I said, just to get on that Kweli shit, it was another goal of mine, like I wanted to fuck with that Common shit.  Shit like that man, you just gotta stick with it.

RR:  So are you gonna be heavy on “Electric Circus”?

J:  Oh yeah!

RR:  How does it sound?

J:  Okay, this is honest again.  It’s not, um, what I would’ve given him if I just wanted to give him some shit like the first album, when we was just in the basement fucking around.  This album, it was kinda like the label’s involved, they want singles, they want another “(The) Light.”  It’s a lot different on this album, I think it’ll sell more, we definitely catered to the mass audience like they wanted us to.

RR:  But your heart’s not in it?

J:  Yeah, it just wasn’t that spontaneous shit that I’m used to doing, you know what I’m saying?   That’s one thing I was disappointed at but, you know, everybody ain’t like that.  But the Busta shit, Busta took it as is.  It’s coming out like that, I mixed it!  Shit like that is what I’m proud of that’s coming out.  He got some stupid beats!

RR:  Some authentic Dilla stuff?

J:  Yeah, you can actually hear the real shit, ain’t no watered-down thing playing keyboards on top of it and all that!  It’s looped, chopped, whatever.

RR:  Alright, I was talking to Frank N Waajeed and they said you’re not getting the respect you deserve and if you were based out of N.Y. or L.A., it would be crazy.

J:  (laughs) It’s weird, in Detroit I’m just a regular joe.  But you go to New York or Cali or London, even coming to Toronto now, it’s a whole different thing.  I get the love for what I do in that basement, it’s like appreciated so I go back and do more shit.  But it’s hard in the D ‘cause you gotta come with a commercial-ass single to get played or get noticed, or you gotta be hard as hell and talk about killing somebody!

RR:  Did a change of style ever cross your mind?

J:  We did that with Frank N Dank, like I said, 48 Hours.  We tried to give the masses what they were looking for, but it wasn’t what the label was looking for.  And we kinda took a whole year-and-a-half in the hole, basically.  We worked on the album so hard.  If I’d known that they wanted this simple shit, well I wouldn’t call it simple, but the shit that we do so easy, you know, we woulda did that.  But we tried to put work into this album and tried to give them some shit that’s competitive with this Roc-A-Fella camp and with this big money shit.  We want to take it bigger.

RR:  Frank N Waajeed also said it’s because you’re so humble and you’re not in everyone’s videos.

J:  People ask me that all the time, ‘How come you weren’t in the Slum video?’  Or the Busta shit.  I kinda want to wait, you know, ‘cause I still have a passion for this shit.  I have the beats and I still wanna rap too.  But people just know me and the beats.  I’m trying to do my shit.  Like in the beginning of the year when these EPs drop, then I’ll start getting in these videos and doing these interviews and getting in these magazines.

RR:  So it’s a conscious decision to lay low right now?

 J:  You know, ‘cause I learned from before with Slum.  I was getting in these magazines before and, what happened was, the product didn’t come out right away or the label was bullshittin’ and it fucked up the album sales.  It fucked up a lot of shit ‘cause we stepped out too early and got in too many magazines and talked too much shit, basically!  People waited for that and it didn’t happen.  So now I’m waiting ‘til it’s official and I got a release date and then it’s all gravy.  I’ll do the interviews and the videos and I’ma get myself out there like that!  But I’ma keep it underground for now.

RR:  Alright, I’m getting the wrap-it-up sign, but I gotta ask you about “Fuck The Police”, how did that cover come about?

J:  That’s a song I been wanting to do for a long-ass time.  I need to do a Part 2 actually.  It’s getting so crazy in Detroit now with the police, man.  I just felt like I wanted to speak on it.  People knew it from N.W.A., but I just wanted to touch it on a more underground level so the people that I fuck with can relate too and people know that it’s still going on.

RR:  It’s real.

J:  It’s real, yeah!  It’s like you can go through life and act like it’s not but I deal with it everyday, for real, just riding in a nice car they’ll fuck with you.  Just being a black person in Detroit, it’s so stupid.

RR:  What made you decide to take it upon yourself to get the message out there?

J:  I don’t think nobody’s even saying it, saying enough about it.  Like you see it on the news everyday, but it’s like it goes right over their heads.  People know that there’s corrupt cops and cops do bullshit all the time and mothafuckas get pulled over ‘cause of the colour of their skin, but it just seems to go over their heads.  So I think it helps out a lot if you’ve got a little voice and somebody can hear it.  Like I said, in Toronto people hear that and it puts them on some other shit like ‘Damn, this gonna be some shit!’  I just hope that gets across to the masses.

That last line can mean so many different things.  Dilla’s clearly talking about police brutality but you can’t help to draw the parallels with his own career.  Either way, like the track he produced for Phat Kat, you can’t fault him for feeling “Don’t nobody care about us”!  And after the camera stopped rolling, Dilla mentioned he’d just gotten off the phone with Tip and was happy to say the Abstract Poetic is back hungrier than ever, eager to show naysayers that he hasn’t fall off.  Look for a name change back to Q-Tip and that same ol’ Tribe flow we’ve all grown to love.  But what about the much talked-about ATCQ reunion?  Well, don’t hold your breathe because it’s not on the radar right now, which Jay attributes to nothing more than a communication breakdown.  But that being said, Dilla is now in contact with all of them so, hopefully, one day it’ll all make sense!

Written By: Aadel Haleem