Soul Under Control

  • Datwon Thomas
  • Platform
  • May 07, 2001

KING magazine Editor-In-Chief Datwon Thomas conducted the following interview with Jay Dee back in February of 2001 for Platform.net.

Finding your way in a world so lost can lead one to believe that the future is only lived for the here and now. When no clear-cut path to greatness, success and righteousness is available where do we turn in the end? To our heart.

That's what rising star producer, Jay Dee is doing. The Detroit, Michigan native has had his bouts with despair, uncertainty and direction. Known first as the "real" fourth member of A Tribe Called Quest in their tail end period, Jay Dee mysteriously joined forces with the trio and snuck his groove monster tracks into the ATCQ formula, which some view as the demise of the great hip-hop triumvirate.

But the newly turned soloist, with the BBE – Beat Generation, release Welcome to Detroit, has group problems of his own. He and band mates from Slum Village aren't seeing eye-to-eye creatively, so the Tribe like turn has begun. The Ummah production fam, which he was apart of, is on its last legs. So what is this soul brother to do? Executive produce Erykah Badu's hit album Mama's Gun and work on upcoming albums by Busta Rhymes and Common, to name a few. Sheeit…he just listening to his heart.

P4M: SOME CRITICS SAY THAT YOUR STYLE OF PRODUCTION TOOK AWAY THE ORIGINAL A TRIBE CALLED QUEST SOUND. HAVE YOU HEARD THIS TYPE OF STATEMENT BEFORE?

JD: Yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I heard it, "Since I came in, whole Tribe fell apart." People don't know, Tribe fell apart cus it was going to fall apart regardless. They weren't together. They didn't know each other, that's what it was. I seen the making and the breaking of that shit.

HOW DID YOU KEEP A LEVEL HEAD DURING THAT HECTIC BREAK-UP DRAMA?

It was really, really frustrating. I remember times it broke me down. I was just in the crib like, "Yo, what can I do, what gives?" Cuz when you do what you feel, you put your heart into this shit. Like the new Tip album (Amplified), people didn't really know what to say. They were just mad because he had females in the video. He's growing, trying to step into something else. Certain things, I won't say break you, but it can set you back. Diehard Tribe fans, that was loving Tip on the Midnight Marauders album wasn't feel it. And I couldn't understand that cus I'm a Tribe fan. You got to have some blockbuster artists, Busta or Erykah Badu to have people listen to you now and have a name.

DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO TAKE MORE OF YOUR MUSIC TO THOSE TYPE OF ARTISTS?

Already in the works. Matter of fact, I'll be 8 songs in on this new Busta album, The Genesis, the title track and everything. It's on. I'm feeling good now. You know about Erykah Badu. I got an N'Sync collabo lined up.

DO YOU FOCUS YOUR MUSIC NOW ON SPECIFIC MARKETS AND HOW THEY ARE GOING TO EFFECT SALES?

Yeah, you have to. I'm still an underdog. Like, when you just getting into the game they scared of you. It's like you can't do what you want to do basically. I did Pharcyde's "Running" they told me that there were too many kick drums in the beat. You wouldn't believe, I had to water down a lot of my shit. Going through that and then, in my career, working and no recognition.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY ONLY TO ENTER INTO DRAMA?

Right. I mean you dealing with a lot of anger. I'm still a Tribe fan to the heart and soul. I used to buy albums cus the record cover was dope. You got to think about the people that do that. There are people that don't know anything about the making of a song and just hear what they hear, and like what they like.

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH SOUL MUSIC'S HOTTEST STARS?

We all had a hunger or drive to kinda change music or bring something to the table. I was fortunate to hook up with guys like Q-Tip, and Amir from The Roots, D'Angelo…and (them) seeing this raw talent. The game was getting watered down, everybody doing the same thing and that's how this Ummah thing came into play. Tip wanted to do a production team, and TrackMasters was out at the time –which was running the radio- we needed a crew. We kinda just went into it, not really planning it out, and that's kinda the mistake. If we would've planned it out and focus on certain markets it would have been a lot bigger.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE GAME PROFESSIONALLY?

I've been in the game professionally since '95. Now it's 2001, and I'm to the point where it's like, "Go head and give us what you gonna do." It's just now getting there. But back to the Ummah thing, which was me, Tip, Ali (Shaheed Muhammed of Lucy Pearl), and just last year Raphael Siddiq joined.

HAVE YOU BUMPED INTO PEOPLE THAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW KNEW OF YOU AND YOUR WORK?

Yeah, oh goodness. What shocked me was we were in the House of Blues and Janet Jackson and her boyfriend at the time both came up. They were like, "We were in Barbados at this party and they were playing your Brand New Heavies remix and we listened to it all night and didn't know it was you." That's how we got the hook up on the next album, did the remix and all that.

WHAT WAS YOUR MIND STATE WHEN YOU WERE MAKING THE FANTASTIC VOL. 1 ALBUM?

That album, most of the material was done in '96, some in '97. At that time there was a lot of rough shit out. We wanted a real female friendly album. I really can't listen to it now, cus the stuff I'm trying to do now is really not like that. Like whatever I do I can't get around it, I try to do things in 1/16 rhythms.

WHAT WERE THE PERSONAL ISSUES SURROUNDING YOU AT THAT TIME?

Everything man. The label thing, that was one thing that just killed me. We went through three labels, A&M, Source/Virgin and Interscope. Not getting paid for the album, still to this day. They were really on some slick shit, and we were really anxious to do it.

WHAT WAS THE DEAL LIKE WITH THE INTERNET RECORD LABEL GOOD VIBE?

The album was bootlegged so many times that we just need to put it out and move on. At the time Public Enemy was doing it. I was reading a lot about it and we hooked up with the cat from Good Vibe and they just put us up on the internet business.

YOUR NEW ALBUM IS ON AN OVERSEAS LABEL, BBE. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

This cat Peter from the label BBE (Barely Breaking Even) called me to do a break beat album. Well that's what it's supposed to be, cus it's in the beat generation series. Instead of doing a break beat album, there were some cats from the D(etroit) that are unsigned and give them the opportunity to shine. With the interludes and a few other instrumentals, I just wanted a little bit of everything. Something for DJs and the people that dig it. Just something to have for the collection.

THERE IS SOME LIVE PRODUCTION ON THE ALBUM. ARE YOU WRITING MUSIC AS WELL?

Yeah. I'm writing and playing instruments. Everything. I'm really getting into other areas of music. It's just taking me somewhere else. Like this new Common album that I'm working on, a lot of the stuff on there is probably going to be live instrument joints. But we trying to get it to sound like samples of course, but some new shhhh…sounds.

INSPIRATION?

A Reflection Eternal album, even Lootpack. They remind of Slum. The same drive they got, and the beats. Just stuff like that. Plus I know them cats out there working, that's what keeps me working. I know that Hi-Tek be in the basement working, Pete Rock is in the basement. These cats live for it, we all live for it. It's hard to get that inspiration. Like sometimes I go through them droughts with beats.

YOU ARE IN A SPECIAL FIELD BY BEING AN MC/PRODUCER. HOW MANY CUTS ARE YOU RHYMING ON?

About 4 or 5. I used to just go into the studio freestyling. I was MCing before I was doing beats. I'm getting back into that. I got an official solo album coming on my new label. McNasty/MCA. We got a group called Frank and Dank coming out first, then me, that all that's signed.

IS SLUM VILLAGE COMING WITH ANOTHER ALBUM?

Actually, there will be another Slum album, I'm not rhyming no where on it. The group Slum Village will consist of T3 and Baatan now. Just by seeing movies like Jay-Z’s Backstage, I know how it is. Like, being around people you don't know, you on the road and people fighting. I just didn't want to be…not that it went there, I didn't want it to go there. It was on the tip there, right on the edge. I was at the crib, they were always gone and that distance built up something, and creatively we were on different pages. What I want to do lyrically, where I want to go with my career, I'm not sure if they want to go there or not but I know I have this vision in my head and I got to do it. I don't do the shows, but we still talk. The album is still coming and I'm going to put my all into it.

IS THE UMMAH STILL TOGETHER?

No more Ummah. We still work on projects but we had to get rid of the company. No more Ummah. It had something to do with, it was a lil' bit of everybody. Tip wants to get into movies, directing. He's one of them cats, when he feeling it he want to do it all the way. Raphael Siddiq had the Lucy Pearl thing with Ali and they got plans for that. That leaves me to say, "I got to do something." That's what started the label deal and I had to get my own production company, Pay Jay Productions, and start over.

DID YOU EVER HEAR TALK OF A POSSIBLE TRIBE REUNION?

Yep. The only thing though, they really got to talk. That's what it is man, to be flat out.

WHAT ARE YOUR BUGGED OUT PRODUCING HABITS?

If I'm working on something, like a drum pattern, it might take me two hours to just sit and listen to that same thing, over and over. And for what ever reason I can't move until I figure out what I want to do with the shit. People be hearing the beats, cus they be so simple, thinking I be done in like five minutes. But it's really well thought out. If I hear something, I have to make sure it's that or I'll just shut the machine off.