Around the World with Jay Dee: Part 1 – South America

Illustration: Jeremy Leung

“It’s a fusion with Dilla, with whatever he would do, and he evolved from one type of music to another. It was like he was just traveling the globe, because it was always a change in something he was doing.” – Ma Dukes, mother of Jay Dee

Jay Dee (aka J Dilla)’s crate-digging was not unlike the great globetrotters of our time – plucking sounds and flavors from all types of music across the globe. This week, we explore Jay Dee’s world of sample choices in “Around the World with Jay Dee,” starting with South America and his love for Brazilian jazz.

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“I fell in love with Brazilian music the day I listened to a Sérgio Mendes album,” Jay Dee recalled on the liner notes for his debut album, Welcome 2 Detroit. “We used to have jam sessions in the studio after work was done, and one day my man Karriem Riggins came through. I asked him for ‘bossa nova’. He gave me exactly what I needed.”

Known for its rhythmic sophistication, it’s no surprise that Brazilian music has lent itself so abundantly to Jay Dee’s sampling. He was one of the greatest proponents of this cultural exchange, circling back to the sounds of Rio, São Paulo, and Bahia. The South American polyrhythms and tranquil textures beyond Brazil have made their way into some of Jay Dee’s most beloved works as well.

Mad Skillz’ “It’s Going Down” samples “Boa Palavra” by Sergio Mendes.

Before the Detroit-born MC Mad Skillz allied himself with Missy Elliot, Timbaland, and The Neptunes, his debut LP on Atlantic enlisted the production skills of Jay Dee, perhaps most memorably on “It’s Goin Down.” The record’s bossa nova/boom-bap fusion is fueled by a Sergio Mendes sample. Mendes’ landmark 1968 LP, Favourite Things, was the source from which Jay Dee plucked the silky 2-bar loop of “Boa Palavra.”

The original sample from Mad Skillz’ “It’s Going Down.”

How the sample was used, played at 0:00 and throughout.

The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’” samples “Saudade Vem Correndo” by Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfá.

“We met Dilla through Q-Tip,” Slimkid 3, founding member of The Pharcyde, recalled. “He was this short guy from Detroit, always wore his Kangol hat or what have you. But Tip had brought us this cassette tape and on that tape was the loop from “Runnin” and from “Drop” and all that. And we were just sitting at Q-Tip’s apartment listening to all these loops and beats man, and the rest is history. If it wasn’t for Q-Tip, we would have never have met JD or had those beats.”

Perhaps the most iconic re-contextualization of the Brazilian sound by Jay Dee was his work on The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’.” This 1995 hit single borrowed its descending nylon-string chord progressions from Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfá’s 1975 track “Saudade Vem Correndo.”

The original sample on the Pharcyde’s “Runnin,” played at 0:55.

How the sample was used, played at 0:05 seconds and 2:53.

J Dilla’s “On a Single Note” and Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah” sample Sergio Mendes’ “One Note Samba / Spanish Flea” and “Ponteio.”

Mendes and his group, Brasil ‘66, were perhaps Brazil’s most commercially successful musical export to the US, introducing America to bossa nova sung in both Portuguese and English. His sunny arrangement of “One Note Samba / Spanish Flea” and “Ponteio” would appear on J Dilla’s “On a Single Note” and his remix of Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah” in ‘97, respectively.

The original sample on J Dilla’s “On a Single Note.”

How the sample was used, played at 0:00 and throughout.

The original sample on Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah” (Jay Dee Remix)

How the sample was used, played at 0:04 and throughout.

J Dilla’s “To the ZZ ZZ Ah You Don’t Stop” samples João Donato’s “Samba De Orfeu.”

João Donato is a Brazilian jazz artist who incorporates elements of bossa nova into his works. The warm brass of his 1965 recording “Samba De Orfeu” lent itself to Dilla’s What Up Doe Sessions, appearing on “To the ZZ ZZ Ah You Don’t Stop” from 1996.

The original sample on J Dilla’s “To the ZZ ZZ Ah You Don’t Stop.”

How the sample was used, played at 0:00 and throughout.

J Dilla’s “Carvel’s Milkshakes” samples Bola Sete’s “Bettina.”

Sourced from the same What Up Doe Sessions from 1996, Jay Dee samples Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete. The cinematic strings and warm strums of folky-, jazz guitar heard Bola Sete’s “Bettina” make their way onto Carvel’s Milkshakes, slowed down just a tad.

The original sample from J Dilla’s “Carvel’s Milkshakes.”

How the sample was used, played at 0:00 and throughout.


Common once recalled meeting Jay Dee. “I would make those trips to Detroit and it was a combination of just me watching the greatest at work, going to the strip club, and making beats,” he said. “We’d go to Korean BBQ, play games. That’s part of the culture in Detroit. Just to watch him pull out records and just work, just changed my life. It was incredible.”

Common’s “The Light” featuring Erykah Badu samples Lalo Schifrin’s “Middle of the Night.“

By the turn of the century, Jay Dee would achieve any Detroiter’s dream of releasing on Motown, in the form of a remix for Common featuring Erykah Badu. “The Light” finds Jay Dee pitching things down again, this time with Lalo Schifrin’s “Middle of the Night.” Schifrin’s Argentinian roots are imbued with American funk in the bouncy guitar hook of this smooth 1979 cut. Jay Dee takes a tiny fragment of the sample and chops it up – listen carefully for it.

The original sample from Common’s “The Light” featuring Erykah Badu (Jay Dee Remix).

How the sampled was used, played at 0:20.

The Pharcyde’s “She Said (Jay Dee Remix)” samples Gato Barbieri’s “El Arriero.”

The Pharcyde’s follow-up LP She Said from 1996 would also feature Jay Dee’s passion for the South American sound palette. His remix of the title track slows down the lo-fi piano of Argentinian composer Gato Barbieri’s “El Arriero,” and carries through a luscious, downtempo haze.

The original sample from The Pharcyde’s “She Said (Jay Dee Remix).”

How the sample was used, played at 0:00 and throughout.

Stay tuned for part two of “Around the World with Jay Dee,” where we travel east to explore his love affair with Japanese electronics and Indian classical music.

October 31, 2018