When Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 was released in 1996, few people familiar with the fickle nature of the music industry could have predicted the impact it would make. Twelve years later, the album serves as a major milestone in the legacy of one of Hip Hop's most heralded producers, J Dilla. After his death in 2006, the man born James Yancey left behind a catalogue which cemented him in the pantheon of great producers. He also left behind what the executor of estate says is a "six-figure IRS debt and few tangible assets." While the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Dilla's death are not unique to the Hip Hop world, the mounting problems trying to fix them are.
"The problem is that Dilla was friendly with a lot of people," Arthur Erk tells LA Weekly. Erk, who serves as the executor of Dilla's estate, says copyright infringement is the number one threat to the estate. "There have been dozens of bootleg situations we’ve had to expend estate cash on to shut stuff down. If we don’t, it cheapens the value of his brand. We’re trying to protect his legacy and his heirs."
One of the projects Erk is in mediation on is the recently released Dillagence [click to listen]. The mixtape was put together by Mick Boogie and Busta Rhymes, who was an early and ardent Dilla supporter. The mixtape even features an intro by Dilla's mother Maureen Yancey [click to read]. However, Erk asserts that projects such as Dillagence, and, more specifically, the selling of outright bootlegs of unreleased Dilla material create the problem of untraceable assets. Additionally, bootlegs drain cash from the estate which would be better served elsewhere.
"We’re not sure how many Dilla beats are floating around," says Dilla's former lawyer Micheline Levine. "It’s been an absolute nightmare. [Erk] and I have been working without fees, and neither of us dreamed that copyright infringement would be so extensive and harmful to the estate. We’re trying to get the message out to third parties, who may in some convoluted way think they’re helping out the heirs but are really depriving them of income."
In the meantime, Erk has taken out a full-page ad in Billboard to inform others in the industry that he is the only person authorized to make decisions regarding Dilla's catalogue, image and name. As lawsuits against various copyright infringers continue, an official Dilla tribute has also been planned.
To read Jeff Weiss' complete LA Weekly article about the mounting troubles facing J Dilla's estate click here.