Black Thought Details Making The Roots’ “New Years @ Jay Dee’s” Collaboration With Dilla

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The Roots have released an expanded edition of Things Fall Apart in honor of the album’s 20th-anniversary. The 1999 LP that connected the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania band with their first taste of Grammy gold was recently performed at this year’s Roots Picnic. Album collaborators such as Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey), Common, Beanie Sigel, Dice Raw, and Ursula Rucker were among those who took the stage at West Philly’s Mann Center, in front of a giant LED display. One artist who was not able to attend the festivities was J Dilla. Back when he was credited as “Jay Dee,” James Yancey produced “Dynamite!” for the MCA Records album.

In the expanded edition release (embedded below), fans get a second Dilla-produced Roots track from this period. “New Years @ Jay Dee’s” is released digitally for the first time. Released as a B-side to the Grammy-winning “You Got Me,” the song was made in Detroit during an annual tradition for Tariq Trotter.

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Black Thought told AFH TV about the process while headlining J Dilla Weekend in 2016. That video interview is available at AFH TV. “‘New Years @ Jay Dee’s’ marked the end of a week that we had spent at J Dilla’s crib—not at J Dilla’s crib, but at J Dilla’s studio, which was at the basement at Ma Duke’s crib,” Black Thought said of Maureen Yancey’s residence. “Jay Dee, he had a spot of his own, but his records and equipment [were] still in his mom’s basement.”

“It was an annual thing for me. Every year, I’d go to Detroit for at least a couple days to spend with Jay Dee, so I could be one of the first people that got his tape, of the upcoming season,” noted Black Thought. “Every January, he would put out a new volume of beats.” Those beat tapes contained what would later become affectionately known as “donuts.” At that time, those jewels went to elite collaborators of the Slum Village co-founder. “Certain people like Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Common, myself, Erykah Badu—a longer list, but in essence, it’s a shortlist of artists—Pete Rock—who were related to the work that J Dilla was doin’. We’d get the new batch every January.”

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Black Thought wanted an edge on his peers, friends, and collaborators. “So I started sayin’, ‘Aight, if the batch is comin’ out in January, then he must have it in December too—it’s probably done. Let me just start goin’ out to Detroit to hit him up every December. So my run would be: I would go to Detroit every December to be with Dilla.”

He remembered the particular experience that led to Things Fall Apart sessions. “This time, I was out in Detroit. I had my man Rehani with me—who’s the other rapper/MC on ‘Dynamite!’ I know Common was out there. Pete Rock was out there. He was runnin’ with Proof, and Baatin. It’s crazy how many people were there—who were present that day during that visit for roll call—who are no longer with us: Proof, Baatin, Dilla—we was all there, together.”

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Black Thought continued, “He started diggin’ to come up with a beat for the new Roots album. He came up with the ‘Dynamite!’ joint. We had that looped, and that was poppin’.” But Dilla was in stride. “He was still diggin’ for something else. That’s when we just started freestyling over some beat that him—I think him and Pete Rock and Questlove had it poppin’—just a real basic drum beat jawn.” He added, “I think that New Years song came from me doing an impression of what Busta [Rhymes] was gonna be like when he got his new batch. I was like, ‘Yo, when Busta gets this, this is the sh*t he’s gonna be on.’”

Notably, Tariq modeled his delivery is mirrored after Busta. “The last couple words of each measure were the words, and the rest was just scattered. I imagined that that’s how Busta Rhymes wrote his songs—come to find out, it is like that. [Laughs]”

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Busta Rhymes was also an important Dilla collaborator. Yancey would also work on additional Roots albums before his 2006 death.

In addition to Black Thought’s conversation, there are other video interviews dedicated to J Dilla available at AFH TV. We are currently offering free 7-day trial subscriptions. New music by Black Thought is presently available on the official Ambrosia For Heads Playlist.

The Roots’ Things Fall Apart 20th-anniversary expanded edition includes a package that features clear 3LP vinyl, as well as a standard version that also includes books, liner notes, and more.

#BonusBeat: The expanded songs from The Roots’ Things Fall Apart: