“Thank you J Dilla” (Feb.7, 1974 – Feb. 10, 2006)
This contest has been inspired by the many b-boys (and girls) who have asked me about getting music bits from the songs that I was so lucky/honored to have done with the late J Dilla RIP. It represents the very last part of what I called my “Free Music Campaign”. A campaign where all I did was record music. Tons of it. For the love of creating music, not for the money; and to put in much work in improving, developing further, and diversifying my recorded vocal performance.
J Dilla (left), Baatin (right) RIP my young, gifted, and black b-boys. I love this photo. Taken in happier days.
The idea for this campaign arrived at a time in my life when I had finally been successful, at removing the “money” from the “music.” From the moment that I signed with Virgin Records/Beverly Hills (now-defunct) and Universal Publishing/London, I embarked on this mission to become a recording artist. But one where I would only make/create the type of music which I dug. My decision to commit to this mission stemmed from a conversation which I had had with one of the shrewdest b-boys I’d ever met: Dr. Octagon (”Kool Keith” from Ultramagnetic MCs).
As he had, over the years, also become a good friend of mine, I’d abandoned the “one-day interview” style, and went for a more in-depth look at Keith, both as a person and an artist.
We’d done the interview over the span of three weeks, and one of these interview sessions happened while we were on our way to record the title track for my first-ever project, an EP titled Return of the B-Girl (”ROTB“). It was during this time that he’d expressed that I was the first female who he had ever collaborated with. As I drove Keith and I, up and up, the winding mountains of Topanga Canyon, California, to the house of Music Man Miles‘ (founder of The Breakestra), “Poppa Large” expressed to me, the problem which he had with many recording artists in the music industry:
“I am a recording artist, whether I am getting paid at it, or not. My profession is to record, as much as possible. That is what I do. Whether I am earning money or not. Half of these people are not really artists , but just there to get the money. The moment the record label stops paying them, they no longer record… Record. Just record. Record all the time. Never stop recording. Sometimes you get money for the songs, and sometimes you don’t. Chalk the freebies up to what EVERY true artist needs anyway: Development, practice, knowledge of equipment , lessons in technical matters, and the time to refresh or hone his skills.”
A couple of days later, I recorded my final vocals for me and Keith’s duet, and despite having worked on the EP almost a year, the vocals on “Return of the B-Girl” marked the first time that I was inspired to record. At the time, I was a music editor for Raymond Roker’s URB Magazine. But just months later, URB ’s managing editor, Todd Roberts, would become the A&R for the miserable nightmare Virgin project called “T-Love.” And my co-worker, music editor Tamara Palmer would eventually go onto introduce me to her good friend and music enthusiast, Andy Shih. These three connections, combined with befriending Universal/London A&R rep, Thad Baron, changed my entire life. How I lived, looked at it, and how I was going to earn it. But the feat of transitioning from the business/marketing-side of the industry, to that of the “recording artist” was going to be a rougher than I’d ever imagined, especially taking into account that , according to Kool Keith’s definition, I was not really a recording artist.
No. I was a music editor, journalist and Marketing/PR specialist , and then towards the end of my “showbiz business career”, I added artist management (Cut Chemist, Cut Chemist’s and DJ NuMark’s instrumental group, Less Than 6)–and marketing/business strategy consultant (Jurassic 5, Rawkus Records, Company Flow). And by the time, in 1997, that I was having this inspiring dialogue with Keith, this was all I had been doing to earn my living, for more than five years. Most of the folks I knew in the music industry didn’t even know that I rhymed because it was just something I did on the side. And at the time, I was more busy calculating just how much the EP would push my marketing+journalism prices UP, than worrying about things like glitzy strolls down the red-carpet, Grammy trophies, recording a music video, working on a live-show, or hobb-knobbing with the industry’s rich & famous.
Long Way Back LP (Pickininny/Virgin--2003)
But all that calculating came to end, the day Virgin acquiesced to my retaining the ownership of the masters, for both ROTB and the album that would eventually become known as Long Way Back (Pickininny/Virgin–2003). I decided to leave my hustles in the industry behind, invest the monies advance to me, and pursue the music instead. And then suddenly, there I was, thrown into a world that I really didn’t know, but thought I had. At a press conference, conducting an interview, or drafting a marketing/business plan, I shined. But in the studio, in front the microphone, I was completely lost. But I decided I would take a shot at it anyway, despite there being so much I still had to learn about recording, vocals, rhyming, singing, music, etc. But as fate (and hopefully good karma) would have it, one of the world’s most notorious beatmakers to ever dig in a crate, would eventually become my professor: Jay Dee, “n.k.a. J Dilla”.
I knew that I wasn’t ready. And after I had spoke to him for the first time, it had finally kinda sunk in that “this” (working with my all-time favorite beatmaker) was about to happen: Whether I was ready or not! I’d be cursing daily, the bad timing of it all. He really laid into my ass for my lazy and shitty-ass vocal takes. The vocal performances in the songs which I did with him, show well the “friction marks” and “stress” from all that re-recording. But J Dilla had done something for me that nobody had ever done: He took the time out his busy, hectic life to develop me. I would learn later that he was doing much of his schooling from a hospital bed.
Our first conversation was just more than an hour. I came out of it realizing just how much I needed to learn, in such a little window of time. I was going to struggle and J Dilla knew this more than me. But instead of just abandoning me like all beatmakers before him had done, he took time the time to teach me some things. For well he knew that I had no clue. And I never lied, or tried to play-it-off like I did. And I will always believe that this was part of what moved him to help me out.
So per his request, I sent to Detroit, a 3-pound box filled with “about T-Love” shit. By the time that we had actually had our first conversation, I was actually amazed at how familiar he was with me. He’d actually took the time to listen to my ROTB project. He fully examined my vocals, rhymes, style, delivery, voice range. I sat silently on the phone, as he pointed out what he liked and didn’t like about this entire EP, rhymes/vocal performance, including priceless production critiques on Music Man Miles’ music production. Stuff which, despite my listening to this project many times, I had never-ever before remarked. He’d also requested tear-sheets, my bio, photos, interviews I had written. I would later learn (in fact, just recently) that the reason why he needed to know about me, was because, other than with the Pharcyde, he had never worked with artists outside of his crew. And when I later learned the prices he’d charge others, for remixes–it became apparent that both he and I knew, that he had cut me a deal, as far as his rates were concerned. He was earning less, yet that never stopped him from taking the time to tell me things, school me.
He was a patient and humble teacher. I am honored that the first-ever true professor I would truly have, in the music-recording game, just happened to also be a music legend. Not bad for this music journalist-turned PR lady, right? For years, I beat myself up, because I knew I had let him down. Despite all his help, immense talent and Detroit’s efforts, the songs just didn’t bump they would they should have. And then when T-Love, herself (no manager or lawyer) began to go toe-to-toe with Virgin/USA’s Legal Affairs department, the songs also became of course some of J Dilla’s least successful work, in terms of sales.
I used to let it all get me down that I had let him down. And then I realized that I STILL had all that he had taught me–in my head. And since J Dilla gave more, despite earning less, I realized that this exchange wasn’t only about the “money”, or to “blow me up”–it was meant to be about the “knowledge”. And all which happened were just building blocks to my becoming a recording artist, as so brilliantly defined by my good friend, Kool Keith. So from that spring day, in 2000, when J Dilla gently chided me for my horrible vocals, I made a promise to not let his precious tutelage go to waste. It was too late to save the album, but not too late to save my recording artist career. And it was definitely my mission to come with some vocal heat on the next album, and go back to him, one day, be like: “See? I heard everything you said Dilla, thank you.”
But that day would never come. He passed away before I ever had the chance to redeem myself. However, I never gave up my intent or determination to continue honing my skills, as a recording artist, partly to prove that he was right to take the risk to develop me. So sparked by Kool Keith’s definition of “recording artist”, and J Dilla’s big heart, I embarked on my “Free Music Campaign“. Recording music for free, in order to develop and learn. I did this in order to established what I had never managed to, during all my years of “rhyming”–and that was to establish a distinguishable style that I was comfortable with rocking for the rest of my natural life; styles/themes/lyrics that reeked of “me”. The cushion/blessings from my investments allowed me to really be able to take my time. It also allowed me to install a studio in my home. From here, I will always record, write and perform for free, it’s just the campaign which ends here. And I couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate both the campaign’s termination and J Dilla, than with a “non-profit-oriented” contest, where his fans can work with the same parts which he did, when he produced my song, “When You’re Older“. Any/all beatmakers who desire to participate need to realize: This competition is “friendly” and has absolutely nothing to do with money. The prize? Free copies of my new compilation, Taura Love’s Picki People Volume ONE. So if you’re going to do it, do it for the love. It seems that’s what J Dilla did.