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