Friday, March 5th, 2010 at 12:07 pm
The brand once synonymous with California’s surf scene before fading into branding obscurity in the 1990s, Stussy, recently unveiled its latest project dedicated to Detroit’s most influential producer, J Dilla. No, the project isn’t a graphic tee, although there are several that Stussy made in honor of his legacy; rather the creative forces behind the brand and Stones Throw Records decided to create a documentary chronicling Dilla’s rise to stardom and later career in Los Angeles.
Opening with sepia tone interviews from Detroit’s DJ House Shoes and label head, Peanut Butter Wolf, the viewer finds out that House Shoes actually gave Dilla his first big break by passing along a cassette of his recordings to a Japanese record store representative. This move would prove influential in the States, as artists such as DJ Rhettmatic found Slum Village imports while on tour in Japan and quickly spread word of their unique sound backed by Dilla’s production. This caused what Jay Dee collaborator, J.Rocc describes as the start of underground communities of “Dilla heads” dating back to 1995.
Oddly enough this is when I was introduced to the man’s work. The first time I heard James Yancey, I was unaware that I was listening to a legend in the making. Recalling the first time I heard The Pharcyde’s “Runnin,’” I was still in elementary school. Amusingly, not knowing much about the culture I would grow to love, I actually searched the “F” section of my local record shop unsuccessfully before a store owner pointed me to correct spelling of the group, where I found the classically backpack Labcabincalifornia. However the documentary skips beyond Dilla’s ’90s production credits and focuses on the budding relationship between him and Madlib years later. Around the same time, Dilla’s house flooded which Peanut Butter Wolf suggests is one of the main reasons that Dilla decided to move to L.A. despite strongly representing Detroit. According to those within Jay Dee’s inner-circle, his move to California represented a different stage in his career. Abandoning instruments in exchange for drum brakes and samples, Dilla took a minimalist approach to creating his music in the early 2000s. The dominance of samples as opposed to original compositions didn’t reduce the quality of Jay Dee’s work, as photographer Brian Cross attests, that while recording with Erykah Badu, Dilla told her to pick any record from a crate and he would craft a beat from it. Those who witnessed J Dilla make a beat all remarked they were amazed, as he had a blueprint for every sound in his head and most of his well-known beats took less than twenty minutes to put together. Thus J Dilla was a visionary in his own right.
J Dilla has worked with everyone from Busta Rhymes to Janet Jackson. The Stussy produced-documentary is a well edited piece of interviews ranging with label mates and affiliates. However, the documentary lacks in contributions from some of Dilla’s closest musical collaborators such as Madlib and Common. Yet, this short documentary does justice for the passed producer without saturating the content in an attempt to make it a feature-length film. Stussy’s J Dilla documentary is interesting and informative and definitely well worth the thirty minutes of play time.