James Yancey


James Yancey aka J Dilla deserves to be in the same sentence as John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

J Dilla joins Gilles Peterson’s World Wide in 2001 to speak on several tracks from his solo album, Welcome 2 Detroit, and other collaboration and production tidbits. Listen to the 30 minute interview here and read the transcription below.


Welcome to Detroit 2:59

Well the title Welcome 2 Detroit is welcoming you to Detroit! The realness, it’s about that.

The compilation basically came about from a break beat album, Idea, that Peter from BBE had, which turned into giving Jay Dee 100 percent creative control.

Basically he let me do whatever I wanted to do. So I wanted put people on there who was going to spit, lyrically, and represent each Detroit. Because I wouldn’t of been able to pull this album off if it came under a major [label].

Because they’re not going to just let you do a song or do an instrumental. You got to have this feature. And you Jay Dee, why don’t you have Erykah Badu or so so on your album.

I had to go through all of that instead of just putting out beats on this joint.


Think Twice 4:15

The Think Twice song, the Donald Byrd cover, basically to make a long story short it’s one of my favorite cuts.

I always wanted to replay it, sample it, anything. So that’s why I messed with that.

I just wanted to also get it to sound like something I would find digging. You know sonically, for those that don’t know, that’s very hard to do.

I’m not saying I did it. But it’s really hard. When I listen to a Roots album, it’s like they did a lot a work. They did a lot of work to get that sound.

Because you compare that to an Acid jazz group that does the same thing, plays the same instruments, records live and everything, sonically, it just doesn’t sound the same. It’s more of a raw sound.


BBE 6:00

BBE, moving on, I wanted to do something if you hear it, you’ll hear trans europ express, that’s why I was trying to get across, but in my own way basically.

It reminds me of some terminator theme music. And that’s where the melodies come from the strings and the whole direction of that song.


What to Expect 7:21

Right now, what to expect is whatever I ain’t touched on. It’s what to expect you can say.

Anything I’ve done, I’m not about to do.

And that’s my word. Y’all going to see it. Bear witness. Like the Rico Suave Bossa Nova. You know just show people a little difference.


Runnin’ 9:10

Check it out y’all, got a little story for you. I’m going to tell y’all about Runnin’. You know Pharcyde.

I’ve seen a fight out of that song from members of the group.

Because the 950 filter sounds better than the ASR-10. That was the argument. And that was the fight.

I mean a fight. A fight. That’s one just one instance.

Not to mention the others. I’ve done seen this cat get his arm broke. And cats with leopard skin boxers on, their pants coming down.

I’m telling you, man, the making of this Pharcyde Labcabincalifornia album was hilarious. It was just all the way around.

It got me prepared for what was ahead in this rap game. Is Pharcyde still together? You know?


Bootleggers 11:25

I remember coming to World Wide, almost 2 years ago, I was in the middle of doing a Slum Village joint. That whole album, that was an experience you know.

They said we went platinum in the streets. Multi-platinum because everybody got bootlegged. Everybody. Different companies got bootlegged to the point when it finally came out, everyone already had it.

It’s all good. To speak on it, I really thank you. I thank the bootleggers because you actually helped me.

Because that gave me, I guess you would say a little power. In this industry, it’s needed being an artist who wants to change things and wants to do something different.

You can’t do it alone, basically. It took all of that bootlegging for the labels to look at it and say, “This is actually, people want this.”

Let’s get on it. I appreciate it. It’s cool with me.


Working with Common 13:46

Working with Common, I tell everybody, it’s like working with Slum, Frank-n-Dank, Phat Cat. That’s like, he’s a midwest cat.

He’s automatically, he’s connected with us. Damn near staying in the D [Detroit]. He’d been coming to Detroit for the longest.

I kind of knew what he wanted. He gave me an idea, a direction he wanted to go, basically, just let me do my thing after that.

Whatever you bring is what we’re going to do. From hooks to beats to whatever.

Common speaks on Dilla 14:25

Jay Dee is one of the best producers to ever touch it. Point blank.

He’s been so innovative with his sound and so like progressive with it. Even though you know his feel, it’s like he can give anybody what they need really.

And it’s got a certain funk to it. A special thing about it. I don’t know. I can’t put my finger all the way on it.

Basically from the work he did with Tribe from him producing that Janet Jackson song, on and on it seems to go. He ghost produced that.

Many people don’t know. If you listen, you can tell he ghost produced that.

From the work he did with Busta, even Pharcyde and Slum Village. People just feeling it.

I can say this from the Soulquarians perspective. People like QuestLove, D’Angelo, and James Poyser - they all sit and study Jay Dee. He’s like the genius behind it.

He was the one where they sit, and wonder how does he do this or that, and they start trying to play similar to him.

Not like they don’t have their own thing. The point of the matter is they do look to him for inspiration, as do many producers.

All I can say is the boy is dope.


The Ummah and Q-Tip 17:25

The Ummah consists of 4 cats. Raphael Saadiq, Jay Dee (myself), Ali and Q-Tip of Tribe Called Quest.

I want to speak on Got ‘Til It’s Gone by Janet Jackson. Who really did the production?

That doesn’t sound like a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis beat. That’s not to say any names, but it just doesn’t sound like it. I know they could of done it.

Why is Q-Tip rapping on it? It sounds like a Tribe beat. We all had an input into that. Me, Tip, and Ali.

In this game, there is cats coming up producing, and have joints come up and your name is not on it. You know?

It’s all good. It’s all good in the end. You just got to stay focused.

From the Beats, Rhymes, and Life and from the Love Movement, Q-Tip, from day one, we’ve been on the same page. Always. Creatively.

Working on this Q-Tip album, I Just used to send him joints. It was love like that. He used to get beat zip discs.

I never send that to anybody else, you know what I’m saying. But I trusted him like that.


D’Angelo 20:21

I got a D’Angelo story, going back working on the Slum album. The illest thing I can remember is going to the studio and seeing D’Angelo.

It was him and Ahmir Thompson, but this cat comes in, D’Angelo comes in first with a cigarette, just chilling, kicking it, whatever.

And he gets behind this fender rows. You know I jammed with him before, but this was the first time we were recording. We were about to put something down.

I swear I have DATs at the crib of playing, just him and Amir. It seemed like it was all night. Different grooves too. Ok, we’ll use this one.

I just got to say he is, the thing he does with that keyboard, you can’t play like that. He’s got his own thing. He’s like Stevie Wonder with that.

But that’s the Soulquarians crew. D’Angelo, myself, Ahmir, and James Poyser.

We automatically clicked. The Aquarian thing. Come to find out, we’re all aquarian.

Basically I mean Ahmir is in my head. I can say this, Ahmir, if I could just pull him out of my head, he would be the drum kit I would use on joints. Because it’s unlimited. It’s unlimited the things he can do with that.

D’Angelo would be the keyboard player. The song arranger in my head. It’s unlimited. Like if I have samples I want to play, he’ll do it, just like that he’ll play.

If there’s drums I want to loop in, Ahmir will come in, and put it right there. The EQ. Just like ‘em.

That’s why it’s definitely good to have them two brothers in my pocket. Whew, because that’s some serious business.

It’s hard to find talent like that. What I consider the best of the best right here. It’s like okay, what do we do.

I’m going to try to touch everything. I tried to it in this little compilation, I tried to touch a couple areas. But we’re going to really try to take it somewhere else. Really try to take it there.

And try a complete album.


Future of Music 26:04

It’s funny how things work. I have to say I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work with such artists.

It’s funny how things come together. And people come together.

Like I think this music. This whole thing is about to do a 360. In a good way.

I think the good music is coming back around. People are making, I wouldn’t say good music, people are making things they’re honestly proud of. That they feel. That’s truly them.

Thank God first. People are starting to accept this Common single, which is somebody who never sold over 125,000 units before.

Now, he’s got a Gold album and the single is doing well. It’s good to see that it’s turning around.

To see the Roots go get a Grammy a couple years ago. It doesn’t have to be all watered down, non-original stuff you hear every day. It can be a little bit of everything.

I know myself and the people I work with, as far as Common to Busta, all these artists, De La Soul, we all have this goal.

I guess this goal is to we want to change things. Make a statement.


Erykah Badu 27:33

I’ll tell y’all a story. Check me out. Here’s a nice juicy one.

We’re working on the Erykah Badu album. She’s at the crib. She makes this tea for us.

But today, for whatever reason, I have a headache. Crazy headache.

We’re chilling upstairs. I tell her, I’m going to chill out for a minute.

Now, the beats are banging upstairs. She’s writing. I’m just going to take a breather. It’s cool.

She comes upstairs and fixes me some tea. You notice my voice change.

She fixed me some tea, sat on the couch with me. The next thing you know I’m getting a massage from Erykah Badu. Mhm. On top of me. Straddled. While I’m on the couch.

Now, nothing happened. It was just nice to have Erykah on my lap. Immediately after that, we made the track Kiss Me on My Neck.


Influences 29:31

Some influences Kraftwerk, Prince, James Brown, Jack McDuff. These are all people, I grew up listening to in my household.

Classical music, I can’t even name anything. My mother listened to classical music.

Old doo-wop music. Platters. Four Freshman.

Right now, Radiohead. Probably a Stereolab Omar. Hi-Tek. Timbaland. Madlib.

Ok, check Feather, Going Through Changes. I don’t know why I think of that. It’s on Discovery Records.

It’s actually one of the joints I did use on Beats, Rhymes, and Life album. This song is a good song to listen to. So I definitely recommend that.


Thank you, James

That was the whole interview. Dilla is a legend. His MPC is in the Smithsonian.

I first heard Dilla listening to my brother’s old Pharcyde compact discs. Runnin’. Splatittorium. Drop.

Holy shit. That’s all I could say. The drums and the swings instantly put me in a better mood. And I had no clue who Dilla was back then.

I listened to Common’s Like Water for Chocolate. Q-Tips solo ablum, Amplified. Slum Village on the Office Space Soundtrack.

My goodness, this music was incredible. I started to figure out who he was. And when I did, I also learned he was sick.

Real sick. Dilla was living with lupus. He passed away February 10, 2006.

He continues to inspire millions with his music. Earlier this month, on his birthday, I came across an interview from 2001 and it was a pleasure transcribing it.


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