Hear the Lead Track From J Dilla’s Lost Vocal Album, ‘The Diary’
I’m sure MCA loved that song.
Exactly, right? That’s the kind of stuff I grappled with when I was trying to put this record together. What did Dilla actually want this record to sound like? Because the narrative doesn’t include “Fuck the Police” as part of the record, but “Fuck the Police” was part of this album’s files; and we went through these files empirically. We had to figure out exactly what records he nearly certainly wanted to include on this album and he did many revisions of tracks in the eight-month period of creating this record.
How did you guys wrestle control of this record from MCA? Usually when a rapper gets dropped the album is shelved and lost.
Dilla produced, recorded and oversaw this album himself, in Detroit, at his chosen studio, which was Studio A, and in his own home studio. The files, after he left Detroit, remained there. This wasn’t the type of record that was recorded for a major label … with master tapes being ferried back and forth to the A&R, to be put into a vault somewhere. Dilla did all this himself. So when we started talking about the record in the hospital, the first thing that we talked about was, where are the tapes? He knew exactly where the tapes were.
We got the tapes after he died and we started the process of piecing the album together. Now, as regards to legality of all of this, when he passed away, he had signed a will that had put into affect his executor, his old accountant, Arthur Erk. Now, Arthur hired his own attorney, Micheline Levine, to act as the transactional attorney for the estate. Micheline, when the documents were ratified by the state of California and Artie’s executorship was approved, contacted me and asked me to act as the creative director of the estate. This was in early 2007. Of course, the first set of questions I asked were about this album. He had been Dilla’s long time attorney and he told me immediately that there were release paperwork releasing Dilla and the ownership of his album.
So there was paperwork that he was legally free of MCA?
Yeah, legally free of any obligations, whatever the terms of the release were. To be 100 percent honest, I had never seen the release paperwork. I mean, at a certain point, a lot of that stuff is outside of my pay grade. My role is quite simple: Make sure that any project that comes out officially through the estate is done as creatively in line with Dilla’s vision as possible.
Why did it take nine years to come out from that moment?
Just unpacking the files, finding the software that he used, getting it again, because at that point it was already archaic, unpacking the files so that we can actually look at them, took years. Literally years. Bear in mind, we were able to get some low-hanging fruit earlier than we were able to get others, that’s how the Ruff Draft record with the instrumentals and unreleased tracks were able to come out. That was easy to find. It was really well labeled. The record had already come out, so we had a reference point, you know what I’m saying? It was quite simple. This record was a pain in the fucking ass.
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