Earlier this year, hip-hop sites began publishing reports that J Dilla (a.k.a. Jay Dee) was comatose and lying on his deathbed. Well, here’s a newsflash: The Detroit producer is alive and kicking. In fact, Dilla’s helping breathe life into Common’s career with production on the soon-to-be classic, Be. But this isn’t the first time Jay Dee’s been associated with superior material. Before his former group Slum Village released their 2000 debut, Fantastic, Vol. 2, Dilla was producing hits for artists like De La Soul (“ltzsoweezee”), Pharcyde (“Runnin”), and Q-Tip with Au Shaheed Muhammad under the group alias The Ummah (“Vivrant Thing”). In 2001, he released his first solo project, Welcome 2 Detroit. Two years later, he quietly dropped Champion Sound, a collaborative project with California MC-producer Madlib. With new tracks lined up for Busta Rhymes, Redman and Erykah Badu, Dilla’s on the verge of his own resurrection. But don’t call it a comeback; he’s been here for years.
Were you really in a coma?
Nah, man. The rumors were like, Jay Dee is dead and all that, but I was just in the hospital for like two months. I was in ICU, with all types of tubes, man. It was crazy. I was out of it for, like, most of January.
What exactly happened?
I went overseas for two weeks and was eatin’ all this crazy-ass food. As soon as I got back, had the flu or something, and I had to check myself into the hospital. Then they find out I had a ruptured kidney and was malnourished from not eatin’ the right kinda food. It was something real simple, but it ended with me being in the hospital.
Damn, that must’ve cut into your production time.
Oh, nah. My boy brought a sound system and some vinyl through, so I was in the hospital, making beats.
How was the creative process on “Be” different from what you did on Common’s last album?
On Electric Circus I was just giving Common what he wanted. Like I would give him some straightforward stuff and then some crazy joints just playing around and he was taking those. This time we was trying to get with the rugged, ghetto beats again.
Since you did most of the tracks on Electric Circus, was it difficult having Kanye in that role this time around?
It is kinda weird ’cause I was really looking forward to being all over this album, but I got sick right when we got to doing the third record. So I was out of it, and Common had to finish the album. But the stuff I was hearing [with Kanye] was incredible. So, I just sat back like, “Man, let them do that.” As long as I’m a part of it, it’s all good.
A lot of people are anticipating “Be”. How do you feel being a part of a potential classic?
I say it all the time-that I want a classic-so, it’s like a dream. I’m hoping this Common album leads to mad stuff. Hopefully the sound that I’m trying to get out there surfaces instead of being under the radar. ‘Cause people thought I was out the game, but I haven’t even reached my peak yet. So, I’m definitely back at it. – ANSLEM SAMUEL