De La Soul on How J Dilla Invented The Modern Beat Tape

It may seem inconceivable at the current state of his influence and its study, but there was a point when J Dilla was truly — almost categorically — an enigma to even hip-hop’s most tapped-in boundary-pushers. Across the various ensembles built around him or with his association, the Detroit producer was best known by an inner circle kept as tidy as his studio space. As his work trickled out of the Midwest and into the hands of artists he studied, the collective expanded and contracted accordingly. But even among his most prestigious collaborators, few were fortunate enough to enter that space in his mother’s impeccably kept Conant Gardens basement, and witness the man and his machines in concert.

As one of the handful of Dilla’s peers to peak behind the curtain, De La Soul, the Long Island rap group who welcomed one of Dilla’s earliest major placements on their fourth studio album Stakes is High, has been an invaluable source for both dispelling and substantiating speculation surrounding the producer’s resumé. They also happen to be among the first non-Detroit ears to take in the mythical Slum Village demo that almost instantly evangelized an entire generation of hip-hop heavyweights. Many have either heard the story or of it. But The Plugs played a pivotal role in the initial push to get the producer heard beyond the walls of the Lollapalooza tour bus that hosted the fateful introduction of Q-Tip, and a young, bright-eyed and grinning Dilla (then known as Jay Dee).


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