Many of us may claim kinship with the music of the late, great J Dilla, a/k/a Jay Dee, but far fewer can claim to have been down with the man himself. Waajeed is one of those special few. A high school pal of Jay Dee's back in Detroit, and an early member of Slum Village (back when the crew was rolling under the name Ssenepod, i.e. "dopeness" spelled backwards), Jeedo got his start in production when he bought Dilla's old MPC and taught himself the art of beat-making. His tracks have since graced the efforts of Slum, Invincible, Tiombe Lockhart, and his own band with Saadiq, Platinum Pied Pipers (whose 2005 debut Triple P remains one of the great nu-soul/hip-hop efforts of the aughts). Waajeed's latest endeavors include his Electric Street Orchestra project - still incubating and featuring collabs with what sounds like a who's who of underground music luminaries across genres - as well as a documentary film on the life of J Dilla. His newly relaunched site, bling47.com, is the web manifestation of his Bling 47 creative organization (which has included a label and management team), and features an excellent ongoing video series entitled "Bling 47 Breaks" dedicated to sample spotting within the Dilla ouevre. On this, what would have been J Dilla's 38th birthday, who better to present a special commemorative list of his 10 favorite Dilla sample flips than his friend and colleague, Waajeed. J Dilla, RIP.
(In no particular order...)
1. Slum Village ft. Common - "Thelonious" (GoodVibe, 2000)
SAMPLE SOURCE: George Duke - "Vulcan Mind Probe" (Epic, 1982)
Waajeed: That sample kind of eluded me for a while. Just because of the name of the track, I thought that it was a Thelonious Monk sample. But turns out it wasn't. I’ve been doing these "Bling 47 Breaks" videos, and this is one of the Dilla samples that DJ Spinna mentioned in our interviews. He pulled out this George Duke record and was like, "Yo, man, you’ll never believe what this is." Then he’s like, "I don’t know if I should even play this." I’m like, "Man, just play the shit." So he played it, and yeah. [Dilla] slowed it way way way way way down. And sure enough it was "Thelonious." It just totally flipped my wig. Not to mention how relevant the song is to me. The song is super personal in so many ways. The guy that Dilla is talking about on the record, I know the guy. [laughs] He’s talking about a dude who took an older Benz and changed the numbers on it and tried to pass it off as a newer car. I know the cat that he’s talking about – this corny ass cat. They used to hang out back in the days. I used to tell him the dude’s a fuckin’ cornball. [laughs]
2. J Dilla - "Trashy" (Bling 47, 2003)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Stanley Cowell Trio - "Maimoun" (ECM, 1973)
Waajeed: "Trashy" was one of the things that we put out on Bling 47 Recordings. We used to go record shopping every weekend. We were out record shopping together and I remember him pulling that [Stanley Cowell] record. It was a record that I had actually already played on the turntable. And I was like, "Man, Jay, you ain’t gonna be able to do nuthin’ with that damn record." The following weekend we was driving [and listening to his new beats], and I was like, "Yo, what’s that?" He was like, "Oh, that’s that record you was frontin’ on." I was like, "Oh shit!" He was like, "Yo, I like the beat, but I’m not gonna do nothin’ with it." I was just like, "Well, people wanna hear these beats. I wanna hear these beats. You just flipped the shit." That’s when we kinda came up with the idea to do the instrumental series [of his unreleased productions], after he did that beat.
3. De La Soul - "Verbal Clap" (Sanctuary, 2004)
SAMPLE SOURCE: N.Y.C. Peech Boys - "Dance Sister" (Island, 1983)
Waajeed: Oh man, that is an amazing track. I remember that was one of those beats that everybody was fightin' over. I remember being around [Slum Village's] T3 around that time when Dilla first did that beat. T3 was really gunnin’ for that beat for Slum. And there was a fight – not a physical fight, but a big debate - as to who that beat was gonna go to. Was it gonna go to Slum or De La? And I think that was also around the time that Dilla did the beat for "Do You" - that Slum [eventually] used. So between the two I think they kinda made an agreement, like who was gonna go take which. [The Peech Boys sample is] not the lead sample in it. It’s just a voice, a vocal sample that he kinda chopped up and put on top. So it’s just a little vocal thing that he put on top of it, that to be honest it didn’t even really need it, but it just made it better. He kinda had the sensibility where he could sample the most random records and somehow make 'em all work.
I think that’s kinda what differs our cloth of producers, or maybe even Detroit producers, from New York producers. Just comin' out here [to New York] and noticing how cats are sort of on labels and brands and records that are super rare. And if your shit ain’t rare then your collection ain’t shit. That type of thing. That’s totally not what was goin' on in the D. I think [a philosophy] that we kind of inspired with each other in our own crew was there are no wack records, there’s only wack producers. You consider every record almost to be a keyboard and in that way it’s like a palette for you to create something fresh. It’s not in the record it’s in your ear. That’s more or less where all that came from.
4. Erykah Badu - "Love" (Motown, 2010)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Fabulous Souls - "Take Me" (Fabulous Soul, 1971)
Waajeed: Aw, man. That’s another one I came across doing this "Bling 47 Breaks" series. Straight loop, damn near. Just raw. Another one of those things that would have been so obvious to me as a producer that I wouldn’t have even picked it up. And again he made it work – just in its simple form. The beat is crazy. I love that beat. [I originally remember it from] a beat tape – I heard that on one of those many many trips to the record store. I think it was a longer trip, like to Ann Arbor - a college town. I remember hearing that beat, and just being like, wow.
[During those trips] we would compare notes. I guess at the time I didn’t realize what we were doing. We’d talk about music theory - I guess that’s what it is: chopping records. Just sharing ideas. We would get busy during the week - make beats during the week and then on the weekends we would just ride and play 'em and compare notes. Talk about chicks and fuckin’ records. It was the life.
5. Guru feat. Bilal - "Certified" (Virgin, 2000)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Klaus Wunderlich - "Sugar Me/Standing In the Road" (Telefunken, 1975)
Waajeed: Another one of those records which is un-fucking-believable. An unbelievable loop. I think the two of us had different ideas of beat-making. He had been through a lot of sample [clearance] issues. Stuff was cleared for the large part, some wasn’t. And kinda by me coming in a little later, I saw that shit and was like, "Man, I ain’t loopin' shit! I want to try to get some fuckin' bread, I wanna try to see some royalties, you know what I'm sayin'? I want some ASCAP checks to be poppin'. I don’t wanna fuck around with them loops." And I also considered loops lazy beat-making. But once again [I was] proven wrong. It’s not lazy beat-making. It's really a matter of if something’s not broken, why try to fix it? And that loop is one of those things. It’s like how could you make that [sample] better by chopping it up or trying to disguise it? Trying to be a cheap ass, you know what I'm sayin'? [laughs] It’s like, yo, let that shit run, man. Let that shit run. That’s one of those beats where it’s like, again, we’re sittin' around listening to beats, and I just had to give it to him. I was like, "Aight, man, I see where you going with this loop thing, I understand it now."
6. J Dilla - "Signs" (Stones Throw, 2006)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Brenton Woods - "Gimme Me a Little Sign" (Double Shot, 1967)
Waajeed: My boy Parler up in Harlem actually brought that record to my attention. Again, another one where I hadn’t heard the original break. But here we go with the loop business. The raw loop shit. And another one of my favorite beats even prior to knowing what the record was. Even the record [he sampled] was ill. That’s a playable record on the dance floor.
It’s kind of a loop but it’s a reconstructed loop. On those [record buying] trips we used to make, Dilla used to say he made his best beats when he was bored. And I imagine this was just one of those beats he made when he was just fuckin' around when he was bored. Because it’s a hard track to kind of get around, or even kind of create so it has a certain amount of interest. And he did it. By him saying that – his best beat-making was when he was bored - I imagine that. Again, this isn’t one of those tracks that as a producer like you’d necessarily be running to, like, "Ooh I need to sample this, this is crazy!" But shit! How he cut it up, it’s crazy. He’s like in the beat.
7. J Dilla ft. Common - "E=MC2" (BBE, 2006)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Giorgio Moroder - "E=MC2" (Casablanca, 1979)
Waajeed: Hands down one of the illest Dilla beats ever, in my opinion. Another one that we covered in the "Bling 47 Breaks" series. I liked it so much I had to talk about it my damn self. There’s a couple different versions floating around of that actual beat. There’s the one that’s the beat tape joint, and that’s probably a little more raw. And there’s the one that I believe Karriem Riggins touched up – the one that Common is on from The Shining. The drums are a little different. I really like both. But to be honest I’m probably more favorable to the one that Karriem did. Maybe it’s just the drummer’s sensibility. It's a little crazier. Even with the Tomita and little bits coming in and out of it. The perfect beat.
8. Slum Village ft. MC Breed - "Do You" (Priority, 2004)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Zapp - "More Bounce to the Ounce" (Warner Bros., 1980)
Waajeed: I don’t know how he managed to separate those parts. That’s kinda why I picked it. 'Cause there’s something going on in there where he kinda pulled [things from out of the recording, and] it felt like separation. I know the time when he made the beat was when he had just signed his deal with MCA and the dude at Guitar Center, Johnny Muhammad, had just hooked Jay up with all this incredible software. I know he had mentioned at one point – because we weren’t record shopping as much together at that time – some program that allowed you to pull stuff out from the left-hand side of a track or some fuckin’ craziness. That’s what I think that he did in order to get those kind of separations like that. You just can’t do that by sampling a record. So just on some production wizardry shit, that’s certainly one of my favorites. How he fuckin’ flipped that shit? Crazy. [By using "More Bounce"] that was like the other big challenge within our crew: for cats to re-do joints that people had [already sampled]. In some ways I guess it kind of adds on to that boredom thing – how do you impress your peers by rippin' up something that’s already been done. You gotta really make an effort.
9. J Dilla - "Track #35" (Beat CD track, 2005)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - "Nothing's the Same" (Manticore, 1975)
Waajeed: I was out in Portland and I ran into Rev Shines from Lifesavas. And I spent the afternoon talking with him about records – he’s like a fuckin' Dilla crazy nerd. And he put me up on the original of that record – the Banco joint. It's got this really funny album cover. It’s a brown and white cover and this dude is throwing a leather shoe in the air, and on the back of it he’s naked with this thing covering his head. It’s the strangest looking record ever, man.
It was always one of the beats that I loved. It was a mystery to me why nobody ever picked it [to rhyme on]. When [Rev Shines] put me up on the sample, I was like, wooooow. Straight loop, more or less. And the reason why I chose it as being one of my top flips was because he took it from like the second half bar or something crazy. The loop is really odd. But it falls in the right place. He figured out some way to really make it work. By far, it’s definitely one of my favorite beats ever.
10. Busta Rhymes - "Show Me What You Got" (Elektra, 2000)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Stereolab - "Come and Play in the Milky Night" (1999)
Waajeed: Again, it goes against my theory of loops. Sometimes if it’s there what can you do? All you can do is run with it. It’s there. No need to put all this extra effort in. Run it. I think [I first heard this] at Baatin [of Slum Village]’s birthday party. We had a celebration for Baatin’s birthday at Pizza Hut. Crazy. [laughs] Baatin’s sister threw it. At the end of it we all went outside and was listening to beats. And he played that beat, and it was just like, my gosh. I was like, "Man, that shit sound like a loop." He was like, "Man, you know how we do." I was like, "Aw, fuck!" Once again proven wrong!
Very often - because I consider [Dilla to be] my mentor - people say, "Well, what did you learn beat-wise from him?" That’s a difficult question. I honestly have to say that I wish he was my mentor in that way where I sat down and he tutored me. I wish I did have that. Jay was always super secretive, super protective, very competitive. So there was none of that goin' on at all. None whatsoever. [laughs] I wish. But I think on a larger level [the thing] I learned from him was just be diligent in your craft. I didn’t necessarily learn how to EQ snares and kicks and program all that shit, but I did learn to really marry it. Put your life into it. It’s bigger than music. It’s really about commitment. A commitment to excellence. Not even so much about popularity and trying to be everybody’s favorite and all that shit. Because I know he really had no aspirations for that. His drive was internal. It was based a lot on [competing with] us – the crew. We were all mad competitive like that. I’m sure that played a large part of it too, I know it did for me. I learned to really commit myself to my craft. Craft first, brand second. I think that’s the opposite of what’s going on these days, where people are so fashion conscious and so brand conscious that the music suffers. You got a bunch of people out there practicing on the fuckin’ stage. So yeah, I think that diligence to the craft first is still something that I live with every day.