Thursday, February 05, 2009
Egon met with J Dilla in New York in early 2001 as he was working on a cover story for URB Magazine on Questlove. Dilla joined Quest, Erykah Badu, James Pouyser, engineer Russ Elevado and ex James Brown road manager Alan Leeds as the crew attempted to record backing tracks for Common's "Electric Circus" album at Electric Ladyland studios in New York. Dilla, though not producing, brought the funk in the form of various cassettes that he would play throughout the session. The following are some of the raw interview with Dilla and an excerpt from the resulting piece in URB.
DILLA: I met Ahmir back in '97, I actually met him in '96 during a Tribe session, like "What up, what up," but we actually hooked up at a D'Angelo session in late '97. It was actually for the "Voodoo" album. Yup. Common was the first guy that was checkin' for people in Detroit. He put Ahmir up on me. Ahmir had heard my stuff before, but he didn't know who I was. Iw was an immediate connection. The same Music, the same goals in life you could say. Especially with this music thing. We have this innovation thing in our blood, we can't get away from it. We all got together on that. Me, him, D'Angelo and James Poyser. We can be in the same room, not even say anything to each other and come up with some joints, ya know what i'm sayin?
EGON: Like rocking the Silver Apples "Oscilllations" off of a cassette in a recording session with Common.
DILLA: Right. We usually just get together and vibe. This was the one time that we had a specific thing to do for Common. I always bring the tapes. They always count on me to bring the loops. I pick out loops, or old groups that I dig on. I have some crazy stuff, on like Steve Miller. I mean, everybody uses Steve Miller, but it's like listening to the album, or how the album was put together. We'll switch up. I'm haven't went to school to play, but I can play by ear. All of those guys are like crazy musicians. I just put in my little two cents when I can.
Tell me about the Soulquarians.
DILLA:We didn't even know we were all Aquarians. That was bugged out. Ahmir came up with the name.
Is he an anchor?
DILLA:Ahmir, believe it or not, people don't know he can do damn near everything you ask him to. He can play like a drum machine, or he can play free. I like my shit like that, he can get that down to a science. He got a couple of joints he did - basically I thought it was a drum machine. Doing some drum 'n bass style shit. I'm like "Maaaan. Crazy. Crazy!" He's always gonna be the one to figure me out. Everything I did. I go to him for an album sequence, or I'll ask him who is the best person to mix. He records at different studios, gets different sounds from the drums, he's crazy with it.
So you have a lot of respect for him?
DILLA:Oh yeah, oh yeah. We got some things up the sleeve, we doing our own thing but working together as well.
So even though you're separated by many miles, when you come together you fall into place?
DILLA:Oh yeah, immediate. It's time to get down. Everybody's ready to work.
Excerpt from URB:
June 6th, 2001. 2 AM. Electric Lady's Studio A in the western-most reaches of New York City's Greenwich Village. From outside, she appears to be any Manhattan apartment complex. But down the steps, past the plaques reminding vistors of Jimi Hendrix's pilgrimage to Electric Ladyland, beyond the swirling murals the decorate the dimly lit walls, open two expansive recording suites. Tonight MCA foots the bill in the hopes of snagging instrumental tracks for Common's forthcoming album. It's a Soulquarian affair. Engineer Russ Elevado, who's been on board since the fledgling stages of D'Angelo's "Voodoo" album in 1997, chain smokes behind the mixing board. James Poyser sits behind a gauntlet of vintage keyboards, barely visible through the misted glass the separates the control console from the opaque recording area. Common, sporting a fez-like cap and bulbous beard, quietly maintains the session through gentle prodding and open-ended suggestions. ?uestlove and Jay Dee converse in the recording room. Unaware that the monitors broadcast the proceedings, ?uest proves reaps the dividends of his life-long record obsession. "Now that hi hat you used," he asks with a deliberate pause. "Is it the same as the snare, but sped up?" The reply comes in the affirmative; the pair burst into laughter. "You always figure me out!" Jay Dilla shouts. "Crazy, man, crazy!"
Moments later ?uest rumbles into the control room.. Over six feet tall and large, his presence is formidable. His trademark afro juts over his forehead, consuming the placemark picks hidden within. ?uest walks over to a waiting MPC 2000 and gleefully taps out his proof. Common smiles, "I don't how you do it, Ahmir."
Jay Dee saunters into the control area, tape in hand. "I always bring the tapes," he offers. "They always count on me to bring the loops. I pick out loops, or old groups that I dig on. I have some crazy stuff!" Tonight he's digging "Oscillations," the first and only 7" single released by late 60s avante garde rockers Silver Apples. The song is utter chaos, Dan Taylor's New Orleans influenced polyrhythms jab Simeon Coxe's homemade-moog noodlings. Sensing he may have gone a bit over the top, Jay informs Common, "There's mad beats on that tape." "But I like that," the sensible one replies. "Bring that shit back."
Energized by Jay's well-placed input, it isn't long until the session is back in full swing. Poyser vamps on an acoustic piano. Jay Dee compliments with a repeated riff on a nearby synthesizer. Pino Paladino sits in the far left corner, holding the groove with a steady bass line and a cigarette between clenched lips. ?uest is an anchor nestled behind plexiglass baffling boards. Heeding advice bestowed upon him by legendary sessioner (and family friend) Bernard Purdie - "Stay on the 2 and the 4. Let them be the stars, hold the time and let everybody play" - ?uest levels the riotous buildup. Though he plays the sides, he never loses the backbeat. Ten minutes into the fray the analog recording tape spins from its reel near the mixing board, much to Elevado's surprise. No one tells this to the juggernaut that's building in the recording room - it'll have to cool off at its own pace. Common shakes his head and mutters, "I don't know how I'm gonna write to that shit." Near the door to the control room, a wiry 50-something white guy observes. He's walked over from Studio B, where he's mixing D'Angelo's upcoming live project. He's Alan Leeds, James Brown's tour manager during the highwater mark of the funk movement, Parliament/Funkadelic's tour manager through the late 70s, Prince's manager in the 1980s. An obsessed funk archvist, he's been there, done that. Seen it all. A quick conversation about ?uest leads to the assessment, "Guys like him brought funk back. They gave it the props it deserved.