Questlove Shares Candid Footage Of J Dilla Playing Drums In Session w/ Common + The Soulquarians ca. 2002

Today, February 10th is Dilla Day to musicians, vinyl junkies, drumheads and beat connoisseurs worldwide–commemorating cold-hearted L.A. that day we lost one of the GOAT, just a few short days after his 32nd birthday. This week DJs have made mixtapes in J Dilla’s honor and the brilliant Robert Glasper unveils the third installment of his “Dillalude” suite (listen to it here — via OKP premiere!). But sadly, we are not beatmakers, players of instrument or virtuoso pianists ourselves. We blog. So to pay our own humble respects at the well-adornded shrine of Dilla, we dug in the archives and came back with this candid footage of one James Yancey, contributing drums to a country-fried reggae rhythm during a Soulquarians session.

We contacted the videographer (you may know him better as drummer, bandleader and master of records Questlove) who graciously shared not just the video footage but also his reminiscences of the vibes, circumstances and historical context surrounding that particular session. Read on, and scroll down to watch the clip in full:

so here are the facts as i remember them, of June 27th 2002.

The Roots & Common were midway recording followup albums to their breakthrough Things Fall Apart & Like Water For Chocolate projects. two unapologetic “Neo Soul” joints.

having formed an unofficial collation sometime in 96, using the Native Tongue blueprint. The Soulquarians were born.

i guess you can say it “officially” started with “Otherside Of The Game” on Erykah’s Baduism lp. 3 weeks later D’angelo came to Philadelphia to put the finishing touches on “The Hypnotic” for The Roots 3rd album Illadelph Halflife (the last song recorded) realizing we had 4 hours to kill we told the engineer to put more tape up and lets jam. little did we know that Illadelph’s last day wound up being the first day of recording for Voodoo an album that will take us 4 years to record (a walk in the park, when you consider Voodoo‘s followup will take 4 years to make as well…..—-sorry pardon me i meant FOURTEEN (14) years to make)

in that time period, his friends will meet my friends and then they will be friends and introduce other friends and so on and so on and so on.

the time between 1996 and 2002 will spawn a lot of landmark albums created by the Soulquarian collective.

but sometime in 2001 something occurred…….or snapped depending on who you ask.

we are no longer the underdog. now we were the belle of the ball, when previously we were not even invited to be the help staff of such a prestigious affair. but soon our sound became universal and it was everywhere.

to which Jdilla responded without hesitation “we gotta switch it up” if cats wanna “neo” it up let em do it. but since we leaders, lets lead and go places never seen before.

Common and Dilla said we gotta go “Kraftwerk”, go electronic. leave our comfort zone. ill admit i thought that was way extreme, having got into The White Stripes via my pal dream hampton that year, i thought maybe rock would be a cooler departure point. but since The Roots were really in the recording zone with Phrenology i didn’t wanna make a twinsie album for Com.

so we went electronic for the Electric Circus album.

although you can’t tell from this particular clip.

this is how a majority of the jams we make get started: you jam and jam and jam and jam. then you go back and listen and listen and listen then suddenly something hits you like “there is the magic!” soon when developed, that process becomes a song.

40 mins after this clip we will have discovered the blueprint that will be the album’s 3rd song “Aquarius”

5 mins after that Pino Pallidino will discover that he will inherit the bass kingdom keys from the just passed John Entwistle.

he has 6 days to study 43 Who songs. and they pretty much chartered a flight for him to fly to London that in 3 hours.

this will be the last time this particular jamming ensemble will play in this configuration again.

for this album (more than anything I’ve done previously) Dilla will show me that ANY rhythm is acceptable. even if you don’t hit the drums. his “Think Twice” drum sticks were mallets hitting drums that had more toilet paper and tape than on the drum heads. why? why hit something so muted and dry? welp, *shrug* to try something different. (i used this trick recently on Black Messiah’s “1000 Deaths” normal now for 2015 but back in 2002 this was risk at its best)

i believe for this morning we worked on “Drive Me Wild” for the unfinished MCA/McNasty project

btw- we is: Frank “Philly Frank” Knuckles on percussion. James Poyser on synth/clav/organ. future Who-er Pino Pallidino on bass. the late awesome Jef Lee Johnson on guitar (one of the most colorful, VIOLENT guitar soloists EVER—he was a Soultronic with D’angelo since 96) and Dilla on drums (that unorthodox rhythm method is classic Dilla btw a great “less is more” trust method of just kick and stick clicks)

although i was deep in the session i had an emergency on my hands, i had about 3 weeks to solve the “Break You Off” fiasco (we’d gone through about 9 singers with no luck)—so occasionally i’d pop my head inside to see what they came up with in between The Roots looking for a Plan B. so i grabbed the camera while they were in the zone:


  • Soni Liston

    sincerely enough with the necrophilia from D and Quest about JDILLA. No disrespect He was a good producer, but i never found him that impressing ( the last Tribe album, nah! Fantastic Vol. II? nah? His instrumentals album are pretty forgettable) . The fact they are almost saying that the guy reinvented modern hip hop, just sound really corny. Just saying

    • Eddie STATS

      Dilla is pretty clearly on the shortlist (Dre, Premier, RZA, Pete Rock, Timbaland etc) of ‘best that ever did it’ and we remember him the same way we remember Biggie. Even if u don’t subjectively rate his productions that highly, he undeniably expanded the range of techniques people use on sample-based music with the way he micro-chopped, replayed and layered harmonies in unexpected ways. So for that reason alone he is an important composer and pivotal figure in the evolution of hip-hop the same way Monk and Coltrane are for jazz. (Kanye, FlyLo & Pharrell–just to name 3 of the most important producers making music today–def wd not sound the same if not for Dilla).

    • Eddie STATS

      It’s also misleading to judge his contribution by naming the 2 LPs you heard of–Dilla put down a vast catalog of amazing music that is spread across albums w/ Tribe & a host of Soulquarian artists, his own LPs, his Detroit stable (Phat Kat, Frank n Dank etc), remixes, beat tapes, singles for groups like the Pharcyde, collabos w/ Madlib and the list goes on…

      On a dif. note, whether u agree or not, he was a personal friend of D & Ahmir who passed away far too young, so pls fall back w/ the “necrophilia”–that is both foul and disrespectful to Dilla and those who do treasure his art & memory

    • orangedoorhinge

      thank you – agree with everything you said. the “necrophilia” aspect is especially distasteful, can’t believe the above poster wrote that. i hope it’s not “necrophilic” of me to mourn and celebrate my deceased friends.

  • Soni Liston

    necrophilia isnt the matter, dont drag the debate here. Yeah it was a personal friend of Quest and D. And i clearly said “no disrespect”. But what i say is that friendship tend to cloud his judgement as a musical critic i deeply admire. I quote only 4 albums as an example, i listened his whole catalog to find this “greatness”. For me the man isnt even among my 20 best hip hop producers. . What is distateful is this kind of revisionism tending to make the guy look like the Pinterruchio of the genre. Remember him like Biggie??? (another overrated guy by the way), Monk, Coltrane??? damn!! everyone is entitled to his tastes whatever.

    • Eddie STATS

      I was not a personal friend but me and 1000s upon 1000s of others agree w/ Quest & D’s assessment. Again, whether he’s in your *personal* top 20 or not, he elevated the game of making beats as surely as if he had welded extra keys on the piano. You can like a dancer or not but u can’t deny their contribution when they’ve introduced new steps and dances into the artform. In short, there’s a reason people study the way this man chopped samples and made them communicate his innervisions, made them say what he wanted to say. *playerrrrrr*

    • Alex O’Dea

      ima go ahead and jump in Soni’s corner here. i do love some of dilla’s work. it’s very tasteful and he has a good grasp on what he wants his sound to sound like and picks tasty samples accordingly. i grew up on ATCQ, my gran died the day i bought beats rhymes & life and that album will always have a special place in me. the thing that bugs me and Soni (im guessing) is that nobody mentioned dilla anywhere near being the GOAT until he passed. sadly its the way the world works. artists get glorified when they die. the other problem is that dilla is a hipster go-to staple as an accepted hip-hop love. usually the donuts album (which is nowhere near his best work). so youve got a bunch of muhfuckas that never bumped him before he died, plus a bunch of uneducated hipsters who dont really know what theyre listening to, or much about hip-hop in general, all raving about dilla being the GOAT. it gets tiresome to true heads

    • prideofNY

      Saying “no disrespect” doesn’t clear you from being disrespectful. And far more people than Questlove regard him as the greatest. Most producers have said something to that effect.

  • Soni Liston

    Seriously? Just because many people are saying a thing do not mean it is true or right. History does teach us that. I dont have to bow down in front of the statute yall worship. Maybe, i am too blind ( for his innervisions) or just ignorant or too mature to assess an overrated phenomenon, but i just don”t see his major contribution to the genre, sorry guys!

    • seangevity

      It’s unfortunate that you don’t see it. Hopefully one day you will.

    • The fact that near every major producer in the last decade credits Dilla for their existence is credit enough for his legacy regardless of your ignorance.

  • Marlon L. Morgan

    It amazes me how many people “strongly” dismiss J-Dilla’s greatness. I respect other opinions! But what hat drives someone to say Dilla was overrated? Have they listened to his Catalog and those who he influenced? There is a new Genre called “Future sounds” which is greatly influenced by his works. Soulection and Souletiquette are two up and coming Podcast stations that play a lot of “Dilla-esque” music. One would argue that EDM is also “touched by Dilla”! Timbaland was my favorite producer at one point, but there was this other sound I was feeling just as much. I just didnt do the research and took it for granted. It wasn’t until Slum Village went through it’s changes which made me pay more attention and “connect the dots. Most of my favorite groups had been produced or co produced by Dilla (Pharcyde, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, etc!) So, it was a no brainer to admire this guy!

  • Soni Liston

    Like I said, I listenend the whole Dilla Catalogue from Tribe Called Quest( their two worst albums by the way) to Donuts and all the post-portem releasse, so drop the ignorance bs. I shall say it gain: “I don’t see it”. I remember be baffled how boring was Fantastic Vol.II which was lauded by a lot of critics and okp people. It is sad that today, you have to say to (apparentluà grown people that just because you like something does not mean it is good (the contrary is true, but i happenend to be more balanced than may people here). It is quite of reflecition of nowadays narcissism which led to intolerance in our society.
    PS: About the credits of major producers, it does not cost them anbything, but when the guy was alive i don’t remember them saying such things.