So as I was basking in the glow of my newly born forum today, I began thinking about all the youtube videos I've wanted to share with my friends, family, and colleagues over the years. One that kept nagging me was this recreation of J Dilla's production for "Players" by Slum Village.
This is a very simple and extremely elegant demonstration of how hip hop is made; at least the instrumental aspect. For the uninitiated, J Dilla a.k.a. Jay Dee a.k.a. James Yancy was a hip hop producer from Detroit, MI. There are those in the hip hop community, including myself, who would consider J Dilla one of the greatest, most expressive, and most influential hip hop producers ever. His work included projects with numerous premier artists such as Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, Common, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Sadly he passed away in 2006 of a blood disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or TTP.
Whenever I come across videos like this, I try to imagine what kind of story could have possibly lead to the discovery and creation of what I know to be the final product. I wonder what it sounded like in the room, what sights and smells where among the observers and/or participants, what time of day, what season. It's well known that J Dilla's studio was in the basement of his mother's house. I envision the other two members of Slum Village, T3 and Baatin, arriving at Dilla's, perhaps around 4:30 in the afternoon, and walking in not through the front door but the kitchen or even the carport. I wonder if Dilla's mom cooked for them; maybe they even helped. I'm sure she was happy they were into something that was keeping them occupied and away from more unfortunate influences. Judging from the feel of Slum's music back then, it seems they had space to breathe and room to stretch in such an environment. They could easily be in their own skin.
Perhaps this is a little naive or utopic of me. But I like to think that at least some of this were true.
The other aspect I can't escape is how much musical knowledge these guys must have acquired throughout their experiences working together. There has always been a dismissal of hip hop music in regards to the usage of sampling. But consider how long it must have taken Dilla to discover this record, how many records he may have listened to before stumbling upon this song, even how many trips to record stores, thrift shops, and garage sales it took before he even had the physcial vinyl in his hand. The sheer dedication and persistence required to make this discovery, and the vision to shape the discovery into a such a brilliant piece of musical expression, is phenomenal.
In a 2004 interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Mos Def (If you don't know who he is, don't worry. I'm sure we'll get to him soon.) had this to say about the practice of sampling:
It created connoisseurs. It created these young people who would become knowledgeable about music via the advent of sampling...I know guys with thousands of records from everywhere of every stripe and variation that you can imagine because they're all, as Afrika Bambaataa says, looking for the perfect beat wherever that may be. I've heard some of the most fantastic, exotic, obscure, amazing music in the basements and homes of hip hop producers.
You can hear the entire interview here.
I love these moments, these peeks behind the curtain. They continue to reinforce how imaginative and masterful these artists are and how difficult it is to be good at making hip hop music. These are marvelous times.