J Dilla’s posthumous legacy will enter a fruitful period over the next few weeks with the release of the Dillatroit and Rebirth of Detroit projects — both of which have been overseen by Maureen Yancey, J Dilla’s mom, and verified by her as official additions to the late producer’s body of work. Hive checked in with Ms. Yancey and Jonathan Taylor, the chief executive of the Yancey Media Group, to talk about Dilla’s early house music productions, his love of the Black Byrds’ “Rock Creek Park,” and the exact extent of Dilla’s unreleased music vault.
What inspired the new J Dilla projects Dillatroit and Rebrith of Detroit?
Jonathan Taylor: Detroit is going through a major change here and a lot of artists have left the city and have not worked with each other for a lot of years. So we need to find some people to help [make] a change in the city, and J Dilla being the greatest producer in history and being from Detroit, and with his mother having a responsibility for his music, I made a proposal to his mom: I told her we could use his music to help bring about a rebirth of the city and galvanize the city on an organic level. Dilla’s one of the only people that no matter what you feel about life, Dilla’s music encompasses all.
Maureen Yancey: Dilla was a very compassionate person and was inspired to have people educate themselves. People love Dilla, and it’s a shame to see people not come together. But music is the universal language — it’s the one thing that could cut across the board. So we want this to be something positive for the people of Detroit.
JT: Also, Ms. Yancey is a third generation Detroiter, and not many people can say that. She and Dilla grew up in Conant Gardens, and I grew up in Conant Gardens too. So not many people in Detroit could make this happen.
MY: I also felt that the city didn’t recognize Dilla. It’s always struck me that I can travel globally and people recognize and adore his music and his talent, but when I come back to Detroit, nobody knows or supports or knows that not only did he do hip-hop but he also did jazz and house music. He did house music and DJed that as a very young teenager. I think it’s a shame that people don’t know in their home town.
So did Dilla attempt to make house records when he first started producing?
MY: Yes, he did house music. He was not one to categorize music or follow someone else. He was just a musical being. He knew how to touch people and knew how to inspire their energy and he had that from a very early age. So he’d get up and put on house music and listen to it. Like you could tell from his work with Erykah Badu — he did tracks for her — he knew she was also a special human being and he crafted music for her. He had a deadline but they’d get together and vibe and stay together for another week; just the two of them would create ’cause it was such a passion. I remember he’d be not eating, not sleeping, and three days later I had to beg him to get a nap, ’cause he was just making music.
Were there any songs you played when Dilla was a kid that he really liked and inspired his own music?
MY: Oh, all sorts! There would be music all the time: country and western music, his grandmother’s opera, his father’s jazz, and all of the R&B and the blues …
JT: I’d like to interject, and bring up the Black Byrds record.
MY: Oh, he heard “Rock Creek Park,” he was really into funk — it was one of his favorite records. When he was a small child, we’d be on the balcony listening to music and there was an individual that would play this song every day. I never knew the name of the song at the time, but Dilla became silent because he loved that song, really loved it.
JT: And now Alan Barnes [from the Black Byrds] will also be doing something on the Rebirth of Detroit album.
How much unreleased Dilla music is there? Can you put a number on it?
MY: There’s not an exact number ’cause there’s so much!
JT: Without being specific, it’s a lifetime! Dilla was prodigious. He never had employment, so he did 20 hour days for 15 years of music.
What can J Dilla fans look forward to hearing in the near future?
JT: We’re just going to keep everything with integrity and make some major decisions soon. He’s the most bootlegged artist in history, unfortunately, so it’s kinda like God’s work for new music to come around that’s never been heard because unfortunately a lot of people leaked his music.
MY: In honor of Dilla, I owe him to dedicate my life to getting his music out the right way. It’s an honor.
Can you give us any details of what other Dilla projects will be coming up?
MY: I can’t give titles, but there’s much more to come this year.
JT: Talking specifics, we have the Dillatroit EP, which is a promotional project with Mahogani Records with a house DJ called Moodyman who was a great friend of Dilla’s. That collaboration should have happened when Dilla was alive. So that will open up on May 25th. Then we have a ten-inch single called “Jay Dee’s Revenge” with Danny Brown, and then Guilty Simpson and Finale, who all worked with Dilla before, will be on the b-side called “Birth Right.” That will be released on May 25th also. Then on June 12th, we’re going to put out the full-length Rebrith of Detroit. This record will be a game-changer. Then after that we have some things that are going to be a surprise – let’s just leave it at that.
Watch the trailer for Rebirth of Detroit below: