Pharcyde: She Said (remix)
From 12″ (Delicious Vinyl, 1996)

A Tribe Called Quest: Busta’s Lament
From The Love Movement (Jive, 1998)

Slum Village: Fall In Love
From Fantastic Vol 2. (Goodvibe, 2000)

Jay Dee: Fuck the Police
From 12″ (Up Above, 2001)

Jay Dee: Last Donut of the Night
From Donuts (Stonesthrow, 2006)

I was originally planning on writing a Jay Dee primer but emotionally, it just seemed a bit too distanced. I’ll do another post later for the uninitiated but today’s is meant to be more personal.

Let me start by saying that I had never really thought of Jay Dee as one of my favorite producers of all time. I had always liked his work, respected how much others respected him, but when I think about my favorite beatmakers, names like DJ Premier or Diamond D or even Kanye West and Just Blaze tend to pop up first.

Yet, when I went back and started listening to older Dilla songs, I was struck 1) by how much I still liked them, including ones that are 10 years old and 2) that there was something very distinctive about Jay Dee’s production that explained why they weren’t always at the forefront of my mind.

My friend Hua nailed it right on the head: Dilla’s beats were “anti-anthemic” which is quite unlike other hip-hop songs which deliberately want to stick in your head as much as possible. It’s not that Dilla wanted his tracks to be ignored but their brilliance were precisely in how subtle they were. Jay Dee filtered most of his samples, sponging over obvious melodic loops or snippets, and instead, left you with impressions and moods, or as Hua noted, “textures and ambiance.” If all this sounds rather vague that’s exactly the point: Dilla’s tracks had a kind of vagueness to them: you couldn’t always pinpoint where the “hook” was. Instead, it’s the “feel” of the beat that beckoned you in, wrapped you in its warmth (and Dilla’s beats all exuded warmth), and generally, left you feeling good.

Case in point: the “She Said” remix was one of Dilla’s early productions (he had, of course, produced much of Labcabincalifornia, much to the delight of some, the horror of others) and despite the song’s more melancholy content, the track has that “happy/sad” quality that great songwriters aim for. On a personal level, when I was listening to this again, it brought back a rush of nostalgia though I’m not even sure for what. I had this vision of listening to it, driving through West L.A. which might be possible though I think the song actually invented a memory rather than tapped into an old one.

“Busta’s Lament” was a random album track off A Tribe Called Quest’s final album but I liked it best of all the songs on that LP. This, to me, is what a “happy” track should sound like; music that brings a smile to your lips, brightens your day but isn’t saccharin or cheesy. I remember actually putting the song on a mixtape but I mastered it from CASSETTE because the vinyl wasn’t out yet; that’s how much I liked it.

“Fall In Love” is one of the first Slum Village songs I heard and from what I’ve seen, it is, by far, the favorite SV track for a lot of cats. It’s such a perfect Jay Dee track: start with that crunchy breakbeat, then drop in that mesmerizing (filtered) sample that embodies the Dilla aesthetic; it smudges over the obvious parts of the sample (except on the chorus) yet you can’t get enough of it. Great hook too.

“Fuck the Police” is another fan favorite – when it first came out, people were blown away by it, not just because of the song title (which, by 2001, is rather tame if you think about it) but the track was insane with its blistering, crackling drums and that flute sample running underneath. This is one of the exceptions to the “anti-anthem” standard: this song was meant to be heard and remembered even if Dilla had to drill a hole in your head to do it.

Lastly, it seems only appropriate to include something from Donuts, the album that came out just the Tuesday before Dilla passed. With a melancholy heart, I noted that the very last song on the album was called “The Last Donut of the Night.” (And the song before that is called “Bye”). Seemed only right to end on that note.

Saw this on the Stonesthrow.com website:

    “On behalf of Mrs. Yancey we ask that in lieu of flowers, any heartfelt donations be made payable and sent to a fund which has been established in her name:

    Made Payable to Mrs. Maureen Yancey

    Donations can be mailed to:

    Maureen Yancey
    132 N. Sycamore Avenue
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

    Bank Wires can be sent to:

    Wells Fargo Bank of Los Angeles, CA
    Routing Number: 122000247
    Account Number: 6043250676

    Please note that donations made to Mrs. Yancey are not considered a charitable deduction. This will be considered a gift of help.”