88-Keys on meeting Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) for the first time

Sampling is a conversation between artists.

We’ve brought that conversation to life with “Fantastic Loops,” the companion pack series to “The Fantastic Sounds of Jay Dee aka J Dilla.” We invited some of today’s greats to take sounds from the pack and make them their own. A legend in his own right, 88-Keys speaks to us about meeting Jay Dee for the first time, creating his companion pack, and more.

Tell us about hearing the Jay Dee pack for the first time. What kinds of sounds did it inspire? Walk us through the process of creating this companion pack. What direction you went in, what formulating ideas for it was like – give us an insight on crafting this work.

Listening to the Jay Dee pack for the first time brought me back to a time when I used to make five beats a day from the moment I woke up (usually around seven o’clock in the morning) to the moment I called it a night (usually around three o’clock in the morning). Those snares, kicks, and closed hi hats brought back a lot of fond memories.

I basically started with creating a simple 1-2 drum pattern, and tapped out my tempo as I’ve grown accustomed to having my tempos with at least two additional numbers after the decimal point. From there I worked on the groove. I tried to find some interesting chords with an acoustic piano. Then I’d do the bassline, then switch the acoustic piano out for something a bit more interesting. Then I’d just tighten things up, but didn’t want to go overboard and do too much because I realized I had to keep it somewhat ‘open’ for the music producer who’d use my companion pack.

Lastly, regarding my direction, I wanted to make each of my ten beats have different feels to them whilst all using the same sounds from Jay Dee’s sample pack, just to show the diversity as to what can be done using these sounds. I think I nailed it.

Walk us through your personal history with Jay Dee’s music. What was the first record of his that you remember hearing? In what ways did his work influence yours?

My personal history with Jay Dee was funny because we met at the close of a studio session for A Tribe Called Quest. We were both wearing Ralph Lauren Polos and we didn’t say much to each other at first until he shared his chicken fingers with me. We had an entire somewhat lengthy conversation but he never mentioned to me that he made beats. I had given him a beat tape I made intended for ‘Tribe. Only had one on me but something told me to give it to him instead. He called me three days later and we’d been calling each other playing beats over the phone fairly often since then, all the way until he blew up. Then we started sending tapes and shipping CDs via FedEx.

I think the very first record I heard with Jay Dee’s production might’ve been either the “One Little Indian” by Little Indian remix or “It’s Goin’ Down” by Mad Skillz. However, I heard a bunch of his stuff prior from being Busta Rhymes’s assistant engineer on most of his debut album, but I didn’t know Jay Dee produced what I was hearing.

Jay Dee’s work influenced mine in a way because we were on the same wavelength and frequencies when it came to choosing our samples, but then he started stepping outside of the box (sample-wise) which prompted me to expand my sample pool and begin to look elsewhere outside of jazz and some soul samples.

Where do you think Jay Dee’s influence fits within the current landscape of music? In what ways have you seen his legacy live on through new artists today?

In the current landscape of music, Jay Dee’s influence is prevalent in the grooves we hear. Soft melodic beds with striking and hard-hitting drums. I just think most people nowadays lost their “drum shuffle” as I call it, but it’s about time for it to resurface and I’m down to lead the charge or just be a part of it.

Jay Dee’s legacy is highly revered and all for good reason. One doesn’t have to even go as far as look his music up at this point… One can just Google “J Dilla tattoo” and the search engine would answer, as a single picture can speak a thousand words. But pretty much everyone takes their hat off to Jay Dee for pushing all boundaries of music – not just for hip hop but for the sake of innovative music as a whole.

November 8, 2018