Tag Archives: J Dilla


King Heroin” came on the shuffle today and I felt a distinct stirring in my soul that I was sure I’d felt before.

James Brown – King Heroin

Of course Madlib, Dilla, and Knxwledge in their compulsive soul music chopping have processed the original through their respective beatmaking apparatus, but that’s way too easy an explanation and true of almost any James Brown song ever recorded.  BJ the Chicago Kid pulled off a much more listen-worthy reinterpretation last year, but if that was it I would have remembered at least because of its recency if not its quality.

BJ the Chicago Kid – Real Love Never Dies

Levert has a boring-ass tribute song called “Tribue Song” that uses the same loop BJ does, is full of embarassing mispronunciations (“Art Blakely”, “Paul Roberson”, “Betsy Smith”), and fails to shout out James Brown in a song about paying tribute to black entertainers of the past, but that is obviously not what I had in mind as I took in the Godfather of Soul’s recitation of some midtown NY deli worker’s addiction poem.  What I was looking for wasn’t a direct sample, reference, or interpolation, but more a spiritual successor, some other somber spoken word piece over a mournful 6/8 groove.  FInally it dawned on me.

Cee-Lo – Sometimes

I’m not claiming that Cee-Lo was trying to evoke “King Heroin” here, I’m sure he’s heard it and maybe there was some subconscious influence but I think both he and James Brown are just working in the same timeless tradition of talking over music found on pulpits, back porches, strip club stages, and campfires since time immemorial that has only recently been given the designation “rap”.  They just both happened upon the a remarkably similar and very effective stylistic vehicle for kicking some major knowledge.  It’s a good thing “Sometimes” never got popular or it could have gotten all Blurred Lines“-ey in Cee-Lo’s world.

It should be noted that both “King Heroin” and “Sometimes” are much better experienced in the contexts of the albums they’re on (even though “King Heroin” was originally conceived as a single and was only later placed on a full-length), on their own I must admit their power is a bit diminished.  On …Is The Soul Machine, “Sometimes” it is sandwiched between two of Cee-Lo’s best solo works, and the tragedy of “King Heroin” is all the more potent when you’re just coming off the high of the opening (and title) track of There It IsAdmittedly, jolting into the the rude awakening of “I’m a Greedy Man” afterward feels a bit clumsy at first but if you don’t like sharp juxtapositions of emotional torment and light-hearted innuendo, what are you doing reading a rap blog?

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I didn’t expect to come back from India with fresh material for my rap blog, but

Kalyanji Anandji – Dharmatma Theme

Jaylib – Champion Sound

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Fans of this post will appreciate this recent update:

J Dilla – Anthem (feat. Frank-N-Dank)

I originally knew this song as “We F’d Up” from the lost Dilla MCA album (thanks again to Tim for hookin’ me up with that) with a beat by Kanye that was alright, but to me always stuck out a little bit from the rest of the production on the album, and honestly sounded like a recycled version of “Takeover” in a lot of ways (also produced by Kanye around the same time).  This new beat, which is actually an old beat crafted by Dilla himself, makes the track even more enjoyable and lively to me, I think it’s a welcome addition to the now heaping catalog of posthumous Dilla releases.

As a bonus, here’s a link to the B-Side of this version of “Anthem” Rappcats is putting out, also from the lost MCA album (now being referred to as The Diary?), and definitely the funniest Dilla song of all time.  If you need some extra motivation to click that link, just imagine Dilla in this scene and that’s pretty much what “Trucks” is like.

Gary Numan – Cars

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It’s been while since I heard anything from Kanye where it was in any way apparent that J Dilla was one of his foundational influences.

Kanye West – Mercy (feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, & 2 Chainz)

You gotta hand it to Kanye, regardless of how you feel about his music, he’s put out some really cool-looking videos lately.  It was real crazy to hear sounds that I’m used to experiencing in the outro of this track on mainstream rap radio.

Jaylib – Champion Sound

Bonus track:

Kalyanji Anandji – Dharmatma Theme Music (Sad)

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I’ve had the idea for this post bouncing around in my head for a couple weeks now, and I last night I had a real good conversation with my good friend Arsenios about our mutual awe of Jaylib, so I figured now would be a good time to get this one out there since it features one of my favorite songs of theirs.

The idea first came to me when I first heard this MJG (of 8Ball & MJG fame) solo track that features one of the most lyrical bass drum parts I’ve ever heard, and the best part is that MJG raps right in time with it every time it gets to that signature pattern in the third bar of the phrase.

MJG – Good Damn Man

When I listen to that song, it completely captures my full attention because every time a new phrase starts, I’m just giddy with anticipation for when it gets to that third bar to see what words he’s going to fit into that rhythmic pattern this time!  First it’s

Sent. three. tricks-up; to backwoods river.


Kick. the. shit-out; yo’ ass quite nicely.

And he just goes on and on, perfectly sculpting every turn of phrase to fit into that beautifully unusual but captivating kick drum.  The only song I can think of that possibly surpasses that level of rhythmic matching is in this track during J Dilla’s verses.

Jaylib – McNasty Filth (feat. Frank-N-Dank)

In this song, Dilla is rapping in rhythmic unison with a much longer and more complex pattern: the extremely syncopated high hat part that Madlib no doubt tapped out by hand on the pads of his sampler when he composed this beat.  Frank and Dank both rap in that in-your-face Detroit style they always do, which is no complaint, but Dilla really takes it to the next level when it’s his turn, making it probably the most technically impressive feat of rapping of his entire career.  I find myself waiting with the same anticipation I had for every third bar of “Good Damn Man” for the next time Dilla’s verse comes around.

Frank Dank Dilla, chasin’ paper, blazin up in this bitch to raise up the stakes a little

bit and shut.  shit.  down.

And so forth.  It’s a shame that the musicality of these examples is probably completely ignored by most of the people that would appreciate it just because of the content of the lyrics.  I won’t go into another tirade about policing “explicit” language in our music or the stereotypes put on black musicians in our culture, but I do feel like there are a lot of people who would sit in awe of a guitar solo or orchestra performance that wouldn’t give a moment’s time to hearing these MJG or Jaylib songs with any kind of respect or appreciation.

This song brings up another point with respect to J Dilla and how he is perceived today that I’d like to touch on for just a moment.  A lot of what I love about this song is what I love about J Dilla in general, and I think it’s something about him that gets glossed over a lot.  Dilla’s legacy, like so many hip hop artists of his time, rarely exists outside the shadow cast by his untimely death.  In our culture, when people die, especially when people die young, there’s this feeling that is pumped through us that persuades us to imagine this lost person in a kind of slow motion montage with clouds floating by and rays of light shining around them with wind sounds and distant harps strumming in the background.  It’s an understandable feeling, we feel the loss of a valuable person, the fear of our own mortality, and possibly the feeling that maybe we didn’t value these people enough when they were around, and as a result this reverence culture forms around their legacy and those bright, sunshiny moments of their life and career become amplified while the less innocent traits they have are downplayed.  I’m not trying to say anyone is dumb for feeling this way and doing this, and in many ways I do the same thing with people like Dilla, and he has a lot of sweet, heartfelt, honest music that really tugs on your heart, especially when you know he made it in his hospital bed while dying of Lupus.

But to only remember these moments of his career would be doing him a disservice because one of the greatest things about him was his ability to balance the light and the dark sides of the world in his music.  He wasn’t a new age artist, he was a rap artist, and in the midst of all the “J Dilla Changed My Life” (and he did) prostrating we forget that he rapped about jewelry, money, drugs, cars, promiscuity, violence, and everything else that the textbook J Dilla fan would say is “wrong with hip-hop today”.  I’m glad people appreciate Dilla’s legacy and are making his music more well known, but I wish we had a more balanced view of it.  We shouldn’t forget those times when he shot videos in strip clubs, or spit lines like “It’s plain to see you can’t change me cuz I’mma be this nigga wit ice”.  He wasn’t an angel, and just because he’s dead now doesn’t mean we have to see him as one now.  He wasn’t amazing because he abstained from talking about anything negative or taboo, he was amazing because he could talk about those things with the kind of honesty and virtuosity that makes any speaker of words compelling.

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Rap producers constantly amaze me with how much they can do with so little.  I remember in music school, professors always professed that “economy of materials” was one of the most admirable traits of a good composition.  In western classical music, it’s important to constantly develop and vary these basic materials, but the core of the idea is starting with something very minute and creating a constantly interesting piece of music from those ultra-simple materials.  Hip-hop producers aren’t generally interested in development in the classical sense, but they definitely share a respect for starting out with an extremely limited set of materials and creating a constantly engaging, interesting composition with it.  Those professors mentioned above would probably look down on music that didn’t vary and develop those ideas in the course of the composition, but to me, finding a tiny piece of musical material that you can just loop over and over again and it still is interesting four minutes in — that’s just as impressive in my mind.

Here’s what got me thinkin’ about this idea, I heard this song today and it reminded me of a couple other songs that I love that use the same kind of single-guitar-note-repeated-constantly technique to great effect.

The Alchemist – Flight Confirmation (feat. Danny Brown & Schoolboy Q)

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Thuggin’

Jaylib – The Red

There’s such an unshakable determination in beats like these, that single unrelenting note just drills into your very being, getting deeper and deeper in your brain the more you listen.  There’s a trance-like quality to tunes like these, and I’m constantly amazed that these dudes can make such an absurdly simple musical figure so captivating for a full song.  Let me know of any other songs with the same shit goin’ on, I love these kinda beats.

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As I mentioned in the most recent REDLite email update (hit me up at REDLiteDJ (at) gmail (dot) com to join!), I recently went through all my old posts on this blog and did some updating.  I used to not label all the embedded videos that I post, and then one day Reeve hit me up to let me know that one of the links I’d posted was dead, and suggested that I start labeling them.  So now I do that.  But there were a few months there where I wasn’t, so I spent a couple days recently going through all of those early posts and labeling every video and fixing every broken link I could, and I’ll encourage you all like I encouraged my email subscribers to peruse the back entries of the blog now, it’d be the perfect time for it!

The cool thing about doing that, and possibly the only thing that made me not give up on that tedious task 5 minutes into it, was that there’s a bunch of stuff I’d written about that I’d forgotten!  There were all kinds of songs and videos I’d forgotten existed, samples I’d uncovered or been shown that I didn’t remember, all kinds of stuff, so it was cool to revisit a lot of that old stuff and be reminded about some cool stuff that I once knew but lost track of.  Perhaps the coolest thing that happened was rediscovering this original song and finding a video of the Soul Train performance of it; this one had slipped my mind completely somehow.

Sylvia – Sweet Stuff

Normally, I wouldn’t take up a whole blog post just to rehash some stuff I’d already said, but I thought that in light of my new Drive Slow mixtape that contains a song that is very dear to my heart that uses this Sylvia Robinson track as its basis, and the fact that I didn’t originally post the Soul Train video the first go round, it was relevant enough to bring back out, and I thought maybe it’d motivate you to check out the archives yourself, maybe you’ll find a gem you lost track of too!  Here’s the original version of the track that uses “Sweet Stuff” so beautifully, you’ll have to get a copy of Drive Slow from me to hear the chopped & screwed version though.  Shout out to Amber for showing me this sample in the first place.

J Dilla – Crushin’

Dilla is a bit more explicit about the sexual overtones of this track, but Sylvia’s not holding back much either if you really listen.  Notice that the line I pulled for the title of this post is from the Sylvia version, even though when it’s written out it looks more like a rap lyric to me.

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If you watched that documentary about Dudley Perkins/Declaime I suggested a few days ago, then you might be wondering about an interesting lady that popped up kinda late in the film named Georgia Anne Muldrow.  Well, I just happened to stumble across this little interview the other day that I found very interesting.  You don’t get to see her make ghetto spaghetti like in Interplanetary Peace Talks, but she does make some cool points about music production that I’ve felt for a long time but haven’t heard many people say quite the way she does.

Georgia Anne Muldrow Dubspot Interview

I love how she talks about shaping synthesizer sounds so they sound like you, I totally agree with that thinking.  A producer can really say a lot just with the sounds they choose and sculpt, and a lot of work goes into making those sounds sound just right.  With a little bit of a trained ear, you can hear about 2 seconds of a Timbaland beat, or a RZA beat, or an Oh No beat, or a Dilla beat, or a Lex Luger beat, and you can know it’s them just by the kind of sounds they use.  You can really say a lot with the shapes of sounds you use in your music, and I like how Georgia talks about that.  And I also love it when she talks about how she claps late, and sings late, and always has, because I’ve always responded so strongly to music that is a little bit off kilter like hers is, it’s a very captivating element when it’s there.  I heard from somebody that one of the main goals that ?uestlove had when producing D’Angelo‘s absolutely perfect album Voodoo was to play as late as possible, and I think that’s a big part of why I love that album, the rhythmic looseness and drama is just incredible, and you don’t hear a lot of people talk about stuff like that, so props to Georgia for bringing that up, I love that shit!

And even though it’s not the most relevant song given what I’ve been talking about, I wanted to post possibly my favorite song of hers on here, “Show Me the Way to Go“, but I couldn’t find it on the internet anywhere, so instead, I found this really great song I’d never heard before that’s got a video that’s got a little bit of the stuff I was talkin’ about in this post in it!  Even Better!  Thanks, Georgia!

Georgia Anne Muldrow – More & More (feat. Bilal)

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Damn, Mike just took that last Rap Journey one step further.  To quote the man himself: “this isn’t the only time Dilla and the Detroit Emeralds have crossed paths.”  Indeed.

The Detroit Emeralds – Whatcha GonnaWear Tomorrow?

J Dilla – The New

Thanks for schoolin’ me again, Mike.

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I just wanna say right off the bat that Amber hooked me up with every step of this journey, I did some very sparse research to hook it all together, but the real work was all done for me.  So  hats off to her for this, it’s a good one.

It started with her gettin’ curious about this Monica jam from back in ’95, when she was only 14 years old!

Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)

She did some lookin’ around and found out that it used some elements from a couple songs, one a little more recent than the other.

LL Cool J – Back Seat

The Detroit Emeralds – You’re Getting A Little Too Smart

Now if you listen close to the drum beat in that Detroit Emeralds song, you might just recognize it from more than a couple other tunes from around that same time as the Monica song.

Raekwon – Incarcerated Scarfaces

Common – The Light

The Light” isn’t the only place Dilla used that drum beat in his production, it’s in this Slum Village track as well.

Slum Village – Climax

Just like that Minnie Ripperton eye-opener from a little while back, this is another good example of a bunch of songs that I’ve listened to bunches of times but somehow I never put together that they shared some common ancestry until I heard the song that they were all pulled from.  It’s especially surprising that I never noticed this because “The Light” has probably one of my favorite drum loops of all time, it just totally takes me over the second it starts.  But I needed somebody to walk me through realizing that all these other songs that I listen to all the time use those same drums.  Thanks for the illumination, as always, Amber.

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