Are you satisfied with how Jay Stay Paid came out?
Oh yes, I’m very happy. The quality of the work and the love that went into it, I certainly can feel it. I knew what it was like and it’s a precious, precious product and Nature Sounds, they have been very gentle with this. They took their time making sure that it was done right and that everybody involved was satisfied and happy with what they did. It really made me feel good about it. They really believed in the quality and it’s a Dilla thing, 100%, as much as possible. This was a project that was so important to have Pete (Rock) there because that was Dilla’s inspiration and this was who he patterned himself after and he had the very essence of what Dilla wanted to do.
From what I understand Nature Sounds gave you a bigger percentage of the sales for the J Dilla Foundation.
Oh yeah. Of course we won’t see that stuff yet but it will happen sooner or later! They definitely had it worked out in the contracts and everything and it has been just wonderful. By us going through the estate transition thing, it’s been a lot of paperwork and a lot of stuff held up and headaches for everybody all the way around. But they’re hanging in there and making sure everything is smooth and they’re just great to work with.
How involved did you get in putting together Jay Stay Paid?
I was called on everything for advice! I don’t like to interfere. Well, yes I do! (laughs) I will interfere if I’m not sure about who’s working on a project or if I don’t know how they felt about Dilla. But it just seems that everybody really felt Dilla’s essence and had a very patient thought process when they added to the process. I really didn’t have too much to say. I was just very excited and it hasn’t gone away yet! I hear everything that he does and all his music, every beat, it means so much to me. He does live through his music, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s how I feel. I even burn his incense in the house and I have his pictures all over the house. He’s very real and present and not just because we play his music continually at home but because it’s a feeling that he’s there and that’s how I felt when I hear Jay Stay Paid. It’s like he’s right there or he’s very aware of everything that’s being done.
Did you talk to a lot of the MCs who did something on Jay Stay Paid?
I have personal relationships with them and Dilla fans! I know it’s crazy but that’s what keeps me going! (laughs) Everybody calls and checks on me and that was even before the project. Everybody is making sure that I stay sane and that I keep my spirit up. But everybody calls and they make sure that I don’t have anything to add or to take away. But I’m totally pleased with every artists’ work and every note. And believe me, I’ve been to a bunch of listening parties and it’s been great. It’s just been great. The response is tremendous and the fans are just loving it.
How do you like interacting with fans? You’ve become an underground celebrity as of late.
Oh, I’m a hip-hop fan and a beat head myself! (laughs) I’m just an old beat head. The interaction is wonderful for me because it puts me in tune with what’s really going on and who’s listening to the tracks, and not just Dilla’s but others. I feel what’s going on and it’s been a good thing for me. It’s been positive all the way around.
Is the estate transition complete and in the right hands today?
It’s being worked on. The family is all on one accord and there’s no dissension anywhere. It’s better. It’s more solid now with everybody on one accord. It happened and things get kind of wild sometimes, especially with him having two different baby’s moms. All of that is solid now and we’re all on one accord and it’s beautiful right now. We went through a two year crazy phase with the estate because we didn’t really have the people behind us who cared or loved Dilla’s work or understand that he was more than a beatmaker or a producer and that he actually lived through his work. It would take somebody who understood that he lived through those beats and he lived through the movement of those beats and he really believed in it. he believed that was what the purpose of his life was.
Do you feel like posthumous projects like Jay Love Japan didn’t reach its full potential because it wasn’t in the right hands?
I feel that Jay Love Japan didn’t reach its full potential. I feel like it should be redone and reissued because there was a lot of interference with the estate at that time .There was a lot of dissension that was being caused by the estate and what’s crazy is that the family had nothing to do with it. I speak on behalf of all of the heirs to the estate and we had nothing to do with any of the dissentions of any kind. We don’t operate like that. Those works were completely composed of love for life and for family and to be a part of something like that, it makes a totally raggedy picture and it’s not something that we’re about. Just to be able to have someone that’s concerned about how their family feels about things and be a part of what’s going on, this is how the executors are now that we have. It’s a smooth transition and it’s solid now and it’s going to be great.
Does The Shining go in that same category?
I think that a lot of people didn’t even know that it had been released. I got requests for it. I think I got more information from a Japanese magazine that I couldn’t read (laughs) than I got here at home. Maybe Miami would know about it and on the East Coast but nobody in Detroit had it!
Donuts was released when Dilla was still alive. Do you feel that instrumental album reached its full potential?
Yes! Dilla was changing. He was making a musical transition at that time and I think that what made it so different for me was watching him do that particular production in the hospital. It was laboring because of the pain that he went through and he had not even half-days when he wasn’t able to work because of everything he went through. The IV’s tormented him because he couldn’t get to his turntables and things (laughs), but other than that, I think that’s what made it a special work for me because he labored through it. It had a different meaning. I think he was sending out a message on every track on that to individuals and to his fans with things that he had already been talking about in his previous work.
What did you take away from watching Dilla put Donuts together?
One was patience. I learned that since he was gone. (laughs) I took away a deeper appreciation for family and to love what you do and to be totally yourself and to care about what you do and to put your heart and soul into whatever you hold dear, regardless of the circumstances around.
How could an artist get a Dilla beat today?
They can contact Egon at Stones Throw and that’s the fastest way and everything will be taken care of right away. It’s different than it was with the other executors. A lot of people were upset. I was sending people that way and they were turned away and because I had been ill, a lot of the artists didn’t want to bother me and let me know that they were having problems so a lot of things didn’t get done, but that’s not the case anymore.
There’s a lot of artists that would want to pay for a beat, so how will you decide who can get one and who can’t?
Well, individuals that are interested just need to call Stones Throw. They can contact Jeff Jank if they can’t reach Egon and they’ll get right back to them in less than a day. The only reason they wouldn’t is if they are out of the country and they have to wait on a reply.
Do you want final approval on any of the songs?
No. That would be great but I’m not trying to judge. Everybody has their own artistic taste and gift and everybody has something to say. I think anybody that reaches out for those tracks would be worthy of doing that. I don’t think that any artist would go that way. Most people are sincere or have something to offer and I’m sure that any label would make sure it was right before they released it because you have a lot of competition out there and you got a lot of people that want to do it and you want your product to be pushed just like everybody else’s and I’ll support it regardless. I will certainly support it and give it all the PR and encouragement that I could give.
Would you be able to tell us how many beats you guys have in the stash or would you rather keep that under wraps?
I’m not certain of the exact amount but my God, I would say it’s thousands.
Do you feel like Dilla’s sound will always be relevant in the ever-changing landscape of hip-hop?
Oh yes! Oh yes! He wrote different styles for different artists and there’s a lot of material that hasn’t been heard yet that he wrote for different types of artists and he has songs that are different for neo-soul or jazz or rock or pop. A lot of work was done and given to artists by Dilla based on what their style was and there’s much more in the library of each type. I’m not going to spill any beans but you’ve got some artists that are quite difference that are very positive they’re going to be doing some Dilla stuff very soon! (laughs) This is what I’m talking about. You’ll hear a different sound, just like when they turned Dilla’s sound into symphony music. it’s beautiful. He just had an insight and a third ear for listening because there’s some things that he’s done that are just so remarkable. It’s just mind-blowing.
A lot of artists have done Dilla freestyles and mixtapes of previously-released beats. What do you think of those projects?
You know what? I got mixed feelings about it. A lot of them do it legally and that’s a good thing. There’s been some that I heard that were not supposed to be done. You know, you got pirates out there. And a few of them have actually been good. That’s the sad part, when someone has to stop it and shut it down, but there are actually some good artists that do it. They just needed to go through the proper channels. But there have been a couple that could have maybe worked a little harder but most times they did great.
Does it bother you when artists do freestyles and songs over released beats or are you talking about artists getting their hands on unreleased stuff?
I really like the ones that have been released already and going back to the beginning, I think they should be redone. You got music that people are more familiar with now and there are instrumentals that should be released. Some of this stuff is timeless and if it were redone or re-tweaked it would make tremendous hits.
There are messages in those beats and a lot of people have lived those exact feelings in songs of what Dilla went through. This is why it’s so touching. There’s a lot of different messages in there for individuals. I think that’s something that’s going to be timeless. I heard a lot of talk about Donuts as of late and a lot of people are still looking for it that don’t have it and they’re trying to get it. There’s just something about that and a lot of talk about The Shining lately. People are beginning to listen again to some of those things and I think that Jay Stay Paid has made them go back to some of the beginning things, even Ruff Draft. It’s about what you’re looking for.
I remember hearing a story about MF Doom, Talib Kweli and Black Thought all having the same beat. How do those disputes get settled today?
Mmm…Good question! (laughs) Now you got me on that! I’m not the expert on the artists that did those tracks. I did hear the finished product but what I hear at home is the raw music before it was made and before any artists got on it so I don’t have any input on that. It would be going through so many changes. They would be in New York or Miami or L.A. and a lot of the artists were unknown artists and I never really got a chance to really hear it and I never received the product at all.
How is the J Dilla foundation doing and what can fans do to make it more successful?
It is not up and running just yet. We’re redoing it. We’re in the process of bringing that back with the interference from the estate, they wanted to be a part of it, so they said, when in fact they didn’t. They wanted to quash anything that I was doing because they wanted control over things and I wasn’t aware of it at the time and I was too sick to fight it. But in a way it was a blessing because we’re going to be back up by August and this time we’re going to be international and we have so many fans and so many companies and record labels that are going to be a part of it. We have so many MCs that are going to take part in it personally. It’ll really be a good thing and it’ll be better. We’ll be reaching out to the fans and I’ll take an active part to what’s going on.
You were also diagnosed with lupus. How are you feeling today?
I’m halfway well. I’m looking forward to working via email and doing the travel and a lot of PR for the organization and to do what we started out to do in the beginning, and that’s to help young people be able to nurture their skills, to create an avenue for the arts that have been taken out of the schools and to nourish the talent that we have here, and not just with the music but with young artists. We have kids that are really young that are doing great things and they don’t have any avenue here, not just in Detroit but worldwide. They need a voice. That’s why you got things like America’s Got Talent. They’re so bizarre and crazy but they’re for older people. We have so many youth that are talented beyond their years and they have to have a voice. I’m talking about artists that are working right now to give their time and do workshops and it will open up a different door and it will make them understand what’s going on and they can maybe decide on something that they want to do, because if they haven’t tested the waters then they’re not sure.
And the background doesn’t matter. There are a lot of youth that have exposure because of the community they’re in and we’re really reaching out to those who want to do things. Maybe there are some who are privileged enough to have lessons or to go to a school or have a trainer but it’s not always the parents that believe in the kid. It’s a triple-edged sword there. You may have a great talent that needs to be nourished but the parent doesn’t want it to happen. That happened with friends of ours. The parents were educators and they had a son that was so talented and Mr. Yancey took time with this man and he’s an artist today. If somebody like Mr. Yancey didn’t test his skills, we don’t know where he would be at this time and his parents were not aware that he had this talent.
What do you want J Dilla’s legacy to be in hip-hop?
What I want is I want to be proud that we’ve done everything to help young people because that will make Dilla happy. I want to be able to look at his daughters and say that their dad didn’t just make music to live forever but he cared about them. And they’re talented too! (laughs) And they have the love and respect of their family. And just to have his music played and for him to be known worldwide and for people to love him the way they do, that’s all I would ever want. I just feel like the world has made a tribute to him that he’s certainly earned. Even though he’s not here to see, I’m sure he felt it through his friends and colleagues while he was here.
Can you give us any insight to the next Dilla projects?
You can expect that if a project is coming out, you will hear the PR coming from Ma Dukes’ mouth. (laughs) I’m gonna support it 100%. If you hear no radio interviews or interviews in magazines, just know that I don’t know anything about it and it’s not endorsed by Ma Dukes, and I don’t think there’s anything that I wouldn’t endorse if it had anything to do with his legacy because that’s my main purpose. And I love his fans and the fact that they’ve been staunch in the love that they give and continually listening to Dilla’s music and for being faithful in Dilla’s legacy and being a strong fanbase and keeping that love going.
Every time I go to a venue and they come out it’s always filled to capacity and everyone there knows about his music. I love to see everyone and I’m talking about all different age groups and ethnic backgrounds and they know his words and his beats. Within the second beat of the song the entire crowd is up. The love and the passion, it doesn’t get greater than that for me and I want to thank them for that because that’s what keeps this family going. They’re proud of Dilla and I’m proud of them for being wonderful people.