In anticipation of Tuesday’s (June 2nd) release of the 28-track assemblage of unreleased J Dilla tracks Jay Stay Paid [click for album contest], HipHopDX spoke with the mother of the legendary Detroit-based producer (who passed due to complications from Lupus and the rare blood disease TTP in 2006) to explain just how her son’s latest posthumous release came to be rightfully overseen by “Ma Dukes,” and why Raekwon, Busta Rhymes and other artists who loved her son and his work can now get those much sought after Dilla beats hassle-free.
Artists who wanted to use Jay Dee productions prior to now were held up from formally doing so, trapped in legal limbo created by the executors of Dilla’s estate: J’s accountant Arty Erk, and his attorney Micheline Levine. The sad saga of artists being sued for using Dilla beats and profits earned by the estate not trickling down to Dilla’s two daughters and mother was for the first time fully documented for the world to see in the February 2009 issue of VIBE magazine in an article penned by Kelley Louise Carter entitled “Dollars To Donuts” [click here].
“Oh, it’s in a much better place thanks to the VIBE article,” a very relieved-sounding Maureen Yancey (b.k.a. James “J Dilla” Yancey’s mother, a.k.a. “Ma Dukes”) revealed to DX this weekend regarding the status of her battle with Erk and Levine. “That was a groundbreaking point for us. I think because of the viewer audience for that magazine, it made all the difference in the world.”
While there have been several other press pieces that too made the masses aware of struggles Mrs. Yancey had encountered in dealing with her son’s estate [click to read], Ma Dukes believes previous attempts in interviews and articles to shine a light on the mishandling of Dilla’s estate were unfortunately not widespread enough and thus taken lightly by its executors until the Vibe expose.
“It was [only] a matter of weeks after that [article was published] that things began to turn around,” explained Mrs. Yancey. “I think it just got under the [skin] of those that were in charge and they decided they didn’t want that kind of publicity… The estate, it has different executors now because [Erk and Levine] backed out of it when the fire got a little too hot.”
Jay Dee’s estate is now officially overseen by a California probate attorney working on behalf of Dilla’s family to put the producer’s financial matters (including reported debt to the IRS) and other legal entanglements in order. Ma Dukes believes by the end of ‘09 everything should finally be straightened out, which should lead to Dilla’s daughters (nine-year-old Paige, and seven-year-old Ja’Mya) receiving the long-overdue residuals from the estate their dad intended for them per his 2005 will.
“Oh yes indeed, as soon as things are straightened out,” Mrs. Yancey replied when asked if the new estate executors will see to it that Paige and Ja’Mya are financially taken care of. “I think that they have to untangle whatever web that the old estate had [created]. And they have not been cooperative, as far as sending stuff over like they should have – they could’ve turned stuff over right away. They’ve been dragging [their feet] and taking their time [in] the course of doing things. But eventually they have to answer to the courts… [We’ll] get it [all] straight eventually and the family will be good.”
Now legally possessing the right to use Dilla’s name and likeness (which will allow her to finally launch the long-planned J Dilla Foundation for kids stricken with Lupus), Ma Dukes can also see to it that artists who encountered interference from Erk and Levine when attempting to procure previously unreleased Dilla productions for use on their respective releases no longer run into ridiculous red tape. Mrs. Yancey confirmed to DX that Raekwon is now free and clear to use the track he was given by Dilla prior to his passing for “House of Flying Daggers” (“He called to get my blessing,” she noted), which is slated for inclusion on Rae’s forthcoming Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II.
Unfortunately, one artist as of now it looks like Ma Dukes can’t make wrong right by is Dilla friend and longtime collaborator Busta Rhymes, who was inexplicably sued by the former executors of Jay’s estate for releasing (in conjunction with Mick Boogie) the free 2007 mixtape Dillagence [click to listen], which featured Busta and others rhyming over previously unreleased Dilla tracks.
“That [lawsuit] was not from the family,” Mrs. Yancey quickly clarified. “The family had nothing to do with that. That was Micheline and Arty. And what can I say, the only word that I can think [of] in my own mind is greed that would cause [them to do] something like that. And of course, Busta never took a track from anybody. Busta always took care of his stuff up front. That’s how he rolled with Dilla. They had a very close and very personal relationship.”
Apparently soured over the whole experience, Busta broke a longstanding pledge to always include Dilla productions on his solo releases with his latest offering, Back On My B.S.
“I haven’t talked to [Busta] in some months,” revealed Mrs. Yancey. “It was heartbreaking for me that communication was lost. And it was specifically because of that, because I’m sure that [the old estate executors] made it seem like the family was after him for [money]. And the family had no knowledge of [the lawsuit] until after the fact. And [it] definitely was against the [family’s wishes]. We all love him personally. We all know him personally. And it just really did something to me because he’s looked out for me since Dilla’s passing, as if he was my son. And so it hurt me to no end. I’ve tried to reach him, but I haven’t had a response. And I could certainly understand why, but I don’t stop trying [to reach him]. I always send messages through everybody and anybody that would have contact [with him]. I just keep it out there and send the love regardless.”
While sadly the relationship with Busta has become strained, many artists who worked with and became friends of Dilla have kept their connection to him by keeping in routine contact with his Ma Dukes.
“I just [got] a text from Common this morning,” she noted. “We keep in touch… And [Q-Tip] checks in every once and awhile. Everybody [stays in touch]. My mother’s day is like off the hook [Laughs] – I’m getting texts and voicemails and calls all day…Everybody, they just wanna make sure I’m good and [that] my health is getting better.”
In a twist of tragic irony, the 60-year-old was herself diagnosed with the disease that claimed the life of her son shortly before Dilla passed.
“I’m doing great,” she revealed to DX of her current condition. “I’m doing better. I haven’t had any flare-ups from the Lupus… The only struggle I’ve had with [my treatment] is the steroids. I didn’t realize that you could get addicted to steroids… My doctor’s [weaned] me off. I said, ‘Well I wanna be off these steroids [anyway] because I don’t like this football neck that steroids give you.’ [Laughs]”
Even with having to ingest up to 18 pills a day, Ma Dukes has maintained her good spirits, motivated to stand strong in the face of her illness so that she can continue working to keep her son’s memory alive.
“That’s what I’m living for now,” she said. “I just got a new lease on life, and I just feel like that’s my purpose now.”
The first step in executing that purpose as the new de facto executor of her son’s estate is seeing to it that her son’s music continues to reach the ears of adoring fans. And after having to endure countless difficulties in negotiating with the old estate executors, Nature Sounds is finally able to release Jay Stay Paid to the world.
“This was something that was done when Dilla was still alive,” Mrs. Yancey explained of her son’s latest posthumous collection. “This is part of… This is like remnants of the Jay Love Japan stuff – all that was like part of the same project. Jay Love Japan never did do like it was supposed to because of the interference from the estate.”
Unsure as of the moment if more unearthed Dilla material will be released in the future via Nature Sounds, or via any other label, including MCA/Geffen, who are rumored to still be in possession of unreleased Dilla tracks for Jay’s onetime planned solo album for the label (“I don’t know the status of [that],” Mrs. Yancey clarified), Ma Dukes is currently completely focused on seeing to it that fans of her son’s work are as excited about Jay Stay Paid as she is, as she noted to DX, “I’m just geeked about it myself [Laughs]. I’m just happy, ‘cause to me it’s a tribute from the heart. It’s a gift back to Dilla by it being [mixed and musically supervised] by Pete [Rock], who meant so much to Dilla. That was Dilla’s idol. And [Pete] always felt that same way [about Dilla]. So to me, it’s like a gift back to Dilla by Pete working on this project and putting his heart into it. It’s just like a thank you back to Dilla, giving some of his stuff back to him. That’s what I’m feeling [it is]. It’s a heartfelt thing. I enjoy the music, but it’s so much more than that for me.”
Jay Stay Paid is in stores June 2nd from Nature Sounds.