The Greatest Dilla Stories Never Told

posted February 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 12 comments

Many music artists are in the game for the millions of dollars to be made; others are lured by the flashing lights of fame and adoration. However, every once in awhile we stumble across a unique breed of true artists who are in the game simply for the love of it. James "J.Dilla" Yancey didnt crave fame and fortune, though his friends will be quick to tell you he definitely didnt mind it. After all, this is the man who once said [on his track Make Em NV on Ruff Draft] You cant change me, cause I'ma be a nigga wit ice! But despite his affinity for the conspicuous, he wasnt purely driven by money. Dilla was a man of musical genius that simply wanted to share his gift with the world. So naturally, when he passed away in 2006 of complications with Lupus, fans mourned not only the loss of a mentor, but someone who felt like a friend.

They say memories dont live like people do, but the outcry of support, appreciation, and respect that we have for J. Dilla proves that adage to be wrong. Below are the favorite memories of Dillas friends and family that prove through his music, his legacy and the countless memories that we hold dear, Dilla is sure to keep shining.

When I was six or seven years old we used to ad-lib songs. [Laughs] You know how singers do that Jennifer Hudson overboard singing? So we used to see who could go on the longest, just like Mmmmm-oooooh-aaaaahh-uhhh-yaaaaah till you couldnt go no more. [Laughs] I used to love that. I loved being around Jameshe would be in the studio a lot so sometimes I wouldnt see him a lot, but in my family its more about how every time you see each other it should be like thanksgiving. It shouldnt just be like that on certain holidays. You should appreciate every time you see someonebecause you never know when youll see that person again.
-- John Illa J Yancey, Dillas younger brother and artist


We had a show once, one of our first big shows, and Dilla waited til the last minute to make our show CD. So we were all at Dilla's house and I had to leave and go to the show and perform by myself for 45 minutes until Baatin [of Slum Village] showed up with the CD, [but there was still] no Dilla. Needless to say, even though he was late, the show CD was one of the best we've ever had and we still had a great show. Plus he made new beats just for the show that I had never even heard before. And that was the mad scientist in Dilla. You never knew what to expect, but you knew when he was done it was gonna be good and well worth the wait. Thats why I love James Yancey!
--T3 (of Slum Village), artist and collaborator

I used to see Jay at all the beats shops digging for records. We were kickin' it for a minute and he was telling me about his babyI was like Oh! Did you have a boy or girl? he laughed No as he rolled up his sleeve and showed me his new iced out Rolex! I was like damn! At that time no one in Detroit was making it like that unless you were selling dope! Or in Jays case selling beats to the majors.
-- Brian Gillespie, Detroit deejay and radio personality

Right around the time me and D12 was going through some things- because it was hard for them to realize that I wanted to do other things than just be in the group- I started going to L.A. to work with Dr. Dre a lot more. Dre was like I dont wanna step on anybodys toes,' and was like, I dont either, but I also dont wanna miss out on the opportunity of working with you.' So I went by myself to L.A. and stayed at this fancy apartment Dre got for me and I was basically living there. The balcony of my apartment was bigger than everybody elses so it extended out past the others. The only place my wireless internet had a good signal was out on the balconyI was sitting there one time on the computer and I looked up at the other balconies above me and was thinking to myself Damn, that would be fucked up if someone dropped some ashes on me Sure enough, someone dropped some ashes on my computer! I was like What the fuck so I looked up, and started yelling. Then I was like WaitDilla? He was up there with Common! I was like What the fuck are you doing up there? he was like What the fuck are you doing down there? [Laughs] So he came downstairs and [I was glad to have someone from home there] plus hes like one of my mentors. So Im out here with the biggest cat ever [Dr. Dre] and the other biggest cat ever [Dilla]. So then my goal was to introduce Dre to Dilla 'cause Dre was a fan of Dillas work but had never met him. I wanted Dilla to be a part of the Aftermath team. So it was me, Dilla, Focus, Dre, I think Scott Storchit was some great dudes to be in a room together. I had both of my mentors in the same roombut I didnt have a fuckin' camera! [Laughs] But thats one of my best memories of him- the things we shared that night. I cant disclose everything we talked about because it had to do with a lot of people in the industry, but being in the same room with him and Dre was my best memory.
-- Mr.Porter, producer and D12 member

Dilla called me and asked me to come by the crib so I did. We chopped it up for a minutes and he said, 'Let me ask you a questionhave you ever been to Europe?' I said, 'Nope,' he said, 'You wanna go?' I was like 'Hell yeah, Im down for whatever you need.' Out of all the folks he knew he asked me to go on tour with them. [Dilla] took me to like 10 countries that I probably would've never gone toI remember the tour promoter kept messing up every hotel [we were staying in] didnt have a room for me except for one. So Phat Kat was cool enough to get a double room. Then there was two or three plane and train rides I didnt have a ticket for so I had to put them on my credit card- thank God I had them with me. So I had some heated words with [the promoter] and everybody was holding me back from puttin' the smack down him. When it was over I said, 'Dilla, Im sorry for losing my cool.' He looked at me and said, 'Dave, youre a grown ass man. If you gotta smack em up, do what you gotta do!' and Frank N Dank, Phat Kat, DJ Rhettmatic and Tim Maynor was like, 'Nooo! Are you crazy? You can't beat him down!' Me and Dilla were rollin', that shit was funny as hell! and no, I didnt beat him down but I wanted to. I think Dilla wanted me to as well but i cant really speak on that. [Laughs]
Dave New York, manager

My favorite memory is when we would mock women who walk really fast in high heels in the tittie bar when Techno music was playingass shaking and shit...Man I still get a good laugh at that, dog. That's the funniest Dilla moment in life.
--Baatin (of Slum Village), artist and collaborator

Most of my memories with him revolve around record shopping, but I think the memory with the strongest impact was when Madlib and I first flew out to Detroit to record with him for the MCA album that never came out. He was a good host, driving us around in the Dillalade [Dillas name for his Escalade], taking us to dinner at a restaurant where they were playing Van Halens 'Jump.' We talked about how hilarious- in a dope way- heavy metal music is. He took us to a big nightclub one night where they were playing commercial music and introduced us to everyone there. Next night, he took us to a strip club and kept buying us rum and cokes and lap dances. He catered to us the whole weekend. Of course we went to Detroit to work and we enjoyed our time in the studio as well, but he made it a point to extend himself to us outside of the studio and I never forgot that. My uncle always told me about the importance of balancing work and play and Dilla seemed to live by the same principals. When he called me and told me he was moving to L.A. a couple years later, I thought Great, now we can return the favor and show him our city.
-- Peanut Butter Wolf, founder of Stones Throw Records and artist

My favorite Dilla moment was flying to Detroit to work on Quality, and being picked up in the limousine by Frank N Dank. Dilla had them swoop me from the airport and show me around the D a little before we worked. His crib was not furnished except for a flat screen, a couch and some studio equipment. It was Grammy night and The Roots, Common and Erykah were all nominated for records Dilla produced. As I watched The Grammy's, Dilla made beats. He wasn't at all interested in the accolades when he had fresh records to dig through. That showed me where his spirit was.
-- Talib Kweli, artist and collaborator

I think a lot of people dont realize that 98% of the things Dill said on record was true! From the whips to the houses to the clothes and strip clubs and oh my God, the women! He was a real quiet, personal dude unless he trusted you, so everybody didn't get to see him really pop off, but believe me there was a lot of debauchery involved. Lets just say that the strip clubs, after-hour spots, and frequent trips to Amsterdam were part of our mojo. Thats how Frank, Dank, and Dilla made records no matter where we were in the world. From Maine to Spain it was like a way of life... and some of your favorite rappers and singers have been to a shindig or two with Dilla Dog and F&D...and no Im not giving names. [Laughs] Honestly, it made us more free and genuine when it was time to make records! I think it was part of his genius. And even now things happen and it takes me back to something we did or spoke about and it's like he was always giving us advice, knowledge and lessons. The crazy thing is I don't know if he knew that it would affect us so profoundly later in life and even more after he passed. I really think thats a sign of genius fasho!
-- Frank [of Frank N Dank], artist and collaborator

Everybody knows me and Jay fell out for a bitso my favorite memory is us being able to make peace with each other. Me and Jay had squashed the shit in 2004. He was doing his thing and I was doing my thing so after we squashed it [we still didnt talk often]. After the rumors [about this health] after the European tour people started hitting my phone up and I just went into emergency mode, you know? We had our lil' issues and shit, but hes still my brother. I got a hold of T3 [from Slum Village] and he got me in contact with [Dillas mom] Ma Dukes. She filled me in on everythingshe said he was in the hospital real sick. She gave me the number to the hospital room where she was staying with him. A little later I called the hospital and she answered the phone. I was like, 'May I speak to Jay?' and she was like, 'Hes sleeping, may I ask who this is?' I said, 'Its Shoes,' she said, 'Hey Shoes! Jay said youre the only person hell talk to.' And that really fucked me up, 'cause even though we had squashed the shit, it really wasnt the same between us then. But she put him on the phone so we could talk. I told him I was gonna come see him. I threw all my shit in a bag, grabbed a bunch of music and shit, went out there and kicked it with him every day in the hospital for like a week. We were just chillin', listening to music, telling old storiesAnd during that week I felt like I kinda helped him get it together, 'cause three days after I left he checked outta the hospital.
-- DJ House Shoes, deejay and collaborator

My favorite memory was the last tour that we did in Europe right before he passedwe were there for like two or three days alreadyand we ain't have no weed. [Laughs] So we were trippin'. So we were chillin' backstage before the show and this guy came wit the weed! So we were smoking and shitand after Dilla came out the blue like, 'Yo Kat,' I was like, 'What up?' He said, 'You know youre gonna be straight, right?' It was me, Dilla and Ma Dukes just standing there. He said it again and I was like, 'Huh?...um..yeah,' it kinda threw me off. Then I finally realize what he meant.
-- Phat Kat, artist and collaborator

Check HipHopDX's extensive J. Dilla Tribute pieces: interview with Dilla's mother and brother [click here], and Dilla Wafers: Remembering J. Dilla [click here].

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