Hear J Dilla’s Unreleased Demos & His Story Told By The Man Who Helped Launch His Career (Audio)
J Dilla’s sprawling discography can be a challenge to process. The Detroit, Michigan visionary was a producer, an MC, a member of many groups, a musician, and somebody who loved a laissez-faire approach to his music. In his 32 years of life, he made lots of it.
In his career, Dilla would release high-profile records with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and his own Slum Village outfit. Eventually signed to MCA Records, the man previously known as Jay Dee made music for Janet Jackson, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu. Outside of his group, Jay released Welcome 2 Detroit, an album that showed his cohesive vision, outside of collaboration and for-hire work. However, the mortar between the mainstream stones of music included releases under the guise of “J-88,” a series of boutique singles, EPs, and long players, and widely circulated beat-tapes.
Following Dilla’s 2006 death from complications related to Lupus, even more music has spilled out. Since Dilla’s acclaimed Donuts instrumental LP, there have been a plethora of releases, remix projects, beat efforts, and this year’s The Diary effort. The hardest part may be that the man who made the music is not here to help Heads understand it.
Amp Fiddler is credited as being one of J’s mentors. It was Amp, on tour with A Tribe Called Quest in the mid-1990s, who put Jay Dee’s music (Slum Village) in the hands of Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip. Fiddler, a keyboardist, engineer, sound designer and producer who has been in legendary bands like Parliament and Funkadelic, worked extensively with Dilla. He was there from the beginning, as the Motown native released his own music dating back to a late ’80s Elektra deal. James Yancey looked up to Amp, and the pair had overlapping sensibilities. Watching the teen-aged Dilla show an incredible passion for the music, Amp taught him the MPC, and helped get Jay Dee in the studio.
Sitting with Boiler Room for a podcast episode, Amp Fiddler gets to tell James Yancey’s story—with music to color the evolution. In a one-hour discussion, Amp brings cassettes, demo tapes, albums, and other work and explains (as a producer himself) why J Dilla evolved the way he did, when he did. Host Raj Chaudhuri and Amp pay special attention to Welcome 2 Detroit as part of London, England’s “Classic Album Sundays” series. However, this is much bigger than one album.
There are some great anecdotes surrounding Ali’s response to the first Dilla beat tape, when Jay Dee bought his famous Range Rover, expanded his record collection, and more.
For those seeking the Cliff’s notes version, as Pitchfork dissected, the first unreleased demo heard plays at 3:30. The next comes at 4:30 mark, with others featured between 6:00 and 7:30.
#BonusBeat: Amp Fiddler’s “I Believe In You (JayLib Remix)”: