Meeting J Dilla (in Trucks)

2002-02-25

In early 2002, I had the opportunity to drive the Mercedes-Benz G500 for a story for Automobile Magazine. Given that the truck wasn’t out in the market yet, I figured it might be an interesting perspective for us to let a hip hop producer drive it for his thoughts. Naturally, I also figured this was a way for me to meet my hero and favorite producer, Jay Dee. I tracked down a number for his publicist, who told me that Jay wasn’t doing any interviews. Needless to say an hour later she called back, said she had talked to Jay, and he really wanted to drive the G500. I’d have to get out to his house that afternoon. I was excited, but had a short window to drive from Ann Arbor to the northeast side of Detroit’s suburbs (Dilla’s house was in Clinton Township). The publicist gave me Mrs. Yancey’s phone number for directions, so I called her. Ma Dukes was very nice, gave me directions, and answered a question I had: Should I call him Jay Dee or J Dilla? The name change was just going into effect around this time, so I didn’t want to call him by the wrong name. Oh, honey, it’s okay. Call him Dilla, but you’ll see he is pretty cool about it if you call him Jay Dee.” Mrs. Yancey was as sweet as can be.

A hour or two later I’m driving through a standard subdivision, a little late and wondering how I’ll ever locate Dilla’s house even though I had the address (it had about seven digits in it). Needless to say, once I saw the Dillalade in the driveway, I knew I had arrived. Dilla’s house — man, I was nervous.

I hit the buzzer on the door and a minute later Dank opens the door, looks me up and down, and then sees the G500 parked outside. Shoooot! Dilla come look at this!” Dank and Dilla came out, thanked me for bringing the G500, and walked around the G500 as if it was a Christmas present. They were both really cool, asked permission if they could even touch the car. We went for a ride, with Dilla driving, me riding shotgun, and Dank and photographer Glenn Paulina in the back. It was a bit surreal, and I can echo what everyone else who has ever said about Dilla–the man was one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet. Humble, respectful, and incredibly polite. Ma Dukes raised quite a man.

It was during this time when Dilla’s relationship with Slum was sort of on the outs and his record with MCA was in production. To that end I wanted to see if he had ever heard a record by a friend of mine, Tadd Mullinix, aka Dabrye, more or less to let him know I had some hip hop knowledge (I figured the tie and v neck sweater didn’t exactly communicate the fact that I had all of his records). Dilla thought and then said yeeeeeahhhh” and asked me (I still can’t believe he was asking me this) if I could put him in touch with him. Dilla even gave me his cell phone number to give to him. That night I called my longtime friend and Ghostly founder Sam Valenti, told him this was a no bullshit offer, and a few weeks later Sam, Dabrye, Dilla, and Phat Kat were putting together the Game Over deal.

That afternoon, when we were parting ways, I had the opportunity to get a photo with Dilla and Dank. We were just standing around, but when the photographer put the camera up to his face, Dilla and Dank got in a different position, posed rugged, like they’d done this before. How I was standing next to one of these legends, posing for the camera man like we’re at a photo shoot? I laughed out loud and Dilla was like that’s how you do it.”

Dilla and Dank thanked me over and over for bringing the G for them to ride in and Dilla gave me a Frank & Dank white label record. In case it wasn’t obvious from the photos, I don’t look like your typical hip hop fan, but Dilla and Dank didn’t treat me with anything but love.

This was one of the greatest days of my life and I’m thankful Glenn Paulina was there to capture it. RIP Dilla. Let’s go!