Chicago rapper Common has worked with some of the most talented producers in the game including No I.D., Kanye West and The Neptunes, but some of his best moments on wax were backed by the sounds of Detroit’s finest, the late, great J Dilla. Along with magnificent musicians like The Roots’ Questlove, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, James Poyser and Pino Palladino — the so-called “Soulquarians” — J Dilla handled a lot of the production on Common’s 2000 album Like Water For Chocolate, and 2002’s Electric Circus. Many consider LWFC to be one of Common’s best work, and Electric Circus’s experimental edginess still sounds fresh in 2015. The chemistry between Common and J Dilla was undeniable, and the collaboration birthed some of the most timeless music in Hip Hop.
Wax Poetics Japan, in collaboration with Universal Music Japan, is currently raising funds through QRATES.COM for a special limited edition vinyl compilation of the two’s collaboration. We collected some of our favorite Common songs that J Dilla produced, and if successfully funded, these songs will be available on two pieces of marble vinyl.
During his recent Tokyo show, we had a chance to sit down with the Chicago legend, and he was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts and memories of J Dilla.
photo by KEITA SUZUKI (PLOT. lv04)
You made such timeless music with J Dilla and the Soulquarians. What is your fondest memory of that era?
Just being in Electric Lady Studios, having D’Angelo in one room, I’d be in the other studio, sitting there working on songs with Bilal, Jill [Scott] and then Erykah [Badu]. Me and Erykah was real close. Going to Detroit and working with Jay Dee in his basement. I remember all that man. It was a real special time.
What do you remember about the first time you heard Dilla’s music?
I was on a tour bus. De La Soul was like, “man this dude got some stuff.” First, I thought they was just hyping it up, but then when I heard it I was like, “this is some special stuff.” And then I went to Q-Tip’s house and I remember this dude going through records down in Q-Tip’s basement. Jay Dee was real quiet. He was sitting there, and I ain’t even know he rapped I just knew he was doing beats. I was kinda still like, Chicago, drinking a lot, kinda raw, but Jay Dee was a real dude. But he was just sitting there quiet.
What was Dilla like in the studio? Would you say he was a perfectionist?
He was a perfectionist but he was kinda more like… it never felt forced and it never felt hard. It just felt like, “man, imma make this music and if you like it, cool. If not, we gon’ go on to the next beat.” He would sometimes make the beats [with] his headphones [on] so you couldn’t hear it ‘till he get close to finishing the beat, and when he takes his headphones off and turn it up, me and Frank from Frank N Dank would be like, “oh shit!” It never felt like Jay Dee was making music like, “I gotta please everybody.” He was like, “this is what I feel, I hope you feel it. I’m doing this for you, but I’m doing this ’cuz I love music.” Jay Dee was so musical, so artistic but he still was a Detroit dude. [He’d] go to the strip clubs, he’d wear chains, he liked trucks, he had that hood side to him, which I loved ’cuz I got the same thing, just in my own way.
I know it’s like picking your favorite child, but if you had to pick one, which would you say is your favorite song you made with Dilla?
Either “E=MC²,” “Thelonious” or “The Light.” I might have to go with “The Light.” It was the Jay Dee soul mixed with him just scratching and putting his hook that was just… it was him at his best. Him making a beat that’s so good but still able to touch so many people and then have a hook that’s beautiful. And it [was] new, nobody had a song like that out. And then I get to express who I am and what I felt at that moment. It’s a love song man and it’s lasting forever.
J Dilla is loved and respected across the globe, with many proclaiming him the greatest producer of all time. What do you think it was about him?
Sometimes God just blesses us with people who are born to be that. He was born to be that producer, that creator, that musician that inspired so many other musicians and made some of the most genius music ever. He came up with new ideas, new ways to do it. Some people are just born with that. He grew up into the music from the beginning. His mother told me he used to walk to the park when he was 3 years old with 45s on his wrist.
What was the most important lesson you learned from being with or working with J Dilla?
I think the most important lesson I learned was, be sincere to your music. Let your music come from the most sincere place. Don’t worry about who… or how it’s going to get to people, just create it. Do it from the soul. Do it from the spirit. Do it with all you got. Enjoy it. He enjoyed making music. I enjoy it. He is a reminder to keep it pure.
Wax Poetics Japan presents
THE LIGHT: A collection of Common classics
produced by J Dilla
For more information, visit here
This project is presented by Wax Poetics Japan in collaboration with Universal Music Japan.
The songs are properly licensed, and portions of proceeds will go to the artists involved in the recordings, including J Dilla. This is not a bootleg project.