Around the World with Jay Dee: Part 2 – Asia

Illustration: Jeremy Leung

Part two of our “Around the World with Jay Dee” (aka J Dilla) series takes us towards Asia, namely Japan and India.

Uncanny was Jay Dee’s ability to take such a small fragment of a record and hear potential. On multiple occasions, Dilla sampled Isao Tomita, a pioneer of synthesizer and electronic music known for his renditions of classical and jazz pieces.

Waajeed, Jay Dee’s close friend, collaborator, and seminal part of his career from Slum Village onwards, recounts finding Tomita’s “Kosmos” while record shopping together. “This Tomita record [Kosmos] was one of the records we bought together, and we used to share notes like, ‘yeah I’d probably change the snare, I’d do this, that.’ Just sharing producer notes.” Jay Dee went on to sample Isao Tomita’s records on multiple occasions. In many ways, he was like Tomita – an avid consumer of music from all genres, flipping and reimagining works into his own sound. Let’s break down a few examples from Tomita and other Japanese artists, as well as his forays into Indian music, in this entry of our ongoing “Around the World with Jay Dee” series.

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J Dilla’s “Brand New Shit” (Unreleased) samples Isao Tomita’s “Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2.”

The troves of unreleased Jay Dee music has been compiled into a number of releases, both official and unofficial. “Brand New Shit” reimagines Tomita’s version of Ravel’s ”Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2.” The instrument here is unclear – is it a theremin? A synth lead playing around with pitch? A vocal? Regardless, it’s added here as wistful flavor on top of the beat.

The original sample from Isao Tomita’s rendition of “Daphnis et Chloé” (1979).

How the sample was used.

Jay Dee’s “Tomita” samples Isao Tomita’s “Aranjuez.”

In this track, a small riff on keys is chopped into the minor key melody that comprises the hook. The watery synths of Tomita’s track remain present as well, filling Jay Dee’s beat with a high frequency haze.

The original sample from Isao Tomita’s “Aranjuez ” (1978).

How the sample was used.

J Dilla’s “I’m So Glad You’re Dorothy (Unreleased)” samples Yutaka Yokokura’s “Evening Star.”

Why limit to Tomita? Another renowned jazz performer from Japan was Yutaka Yokokura, a pianist by trade who also performed the koto. Yokokura’s work gave a more overt Japanese flavor to his pieces, a quality Dilla admired enough to sample. Hear his cut up flips of the bright, plucky koto strings of Yokokura’s “Evening Star.”

The original sample from Yutaka Yokokura’s “Evening Star” (1978).

How the sample was used.


J Dilla’s “1 for the Treble and 2 for the Bass (Unreleased)” samples Ravi Shankar’s “Tala Rasa Ranga.”

Here, J Dilla flips Hindustani classical music legend Ravi Shankar’s “Tala Rasa Ranga.” It’s so subtle – a hit on what appears to be a tabla and additional percussive layers create the snap-snare rhythm of this unofficially released beat.

The original sample from Ravi Shankar’s “Tala Rasa Ranga” (1964).

How the sample was used.

Stay tuned for part three, where we’ll explore Jay Dee’s musical flirtations with French duo Daft Punk, his explorations with Belgian jazz, and his tinkering with tracks by Germany’s Kraftwerk.

November 1, 2018