It seems Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey has been in one battle after the other since her son, J. Dilla passed away from Lupus-related complications in 2006. The birth of the J. Dilla Foundation—which serves to develop and enhance urban music programs in inner-city academia—endured a contentious squabble over the legal rights to use Dilla’s name and likeness. The circus subsided in 2010 when Arthur Erik was replaced by Alex Borden as administrator in charge.
Simultaneously while mourning her son and fighting for control of his estate, Ma Dukes also battled her own Lupus-related health issues. With all of that in the background, Mrs. Yancey felt verbally disrespected by one of Dilla’s friends and collaborators, House Shoes. Shoes targeted Yancey Media Group CEO Jonathan Taylor and Ma Dukes for posthumous release, Rebirth of Detroit in an interview with HipHopDX.
“Basically the cat that put that shit together, Jonathan Taylor, is a joker,” he told DX in 2012. “My mother knows I make music, but she don’t know a damn thing else besides that. If I leave this earth tomorrow, I don’t want her in charge of any of that shit, I want all my boys who I fucked with on a regular basis and my core circle to be in charge, because they have a strong knowledge of the music that I have on deck. They know how I would like that shit to be presented to the world.” He also disparaged Mrs. Yancey in a series of tweets over the years, most of which have since been deleted (though some of the reactionary tweets are included in this article). After what she describes as three years of disrespect, for the first time, Ma Dukes tells the complete story of her fallout with House Shoes.
House Shoes’ Friendship With J. Dilla
“The rockiness began around 2011. It was before my first release from the record label I started in Detroit. I was working on [Rebirth of Detroit] with different artists from the city, trying to get those that maybe had worked with Dilla. Some of them never made it out the gate and never got a chance to record or tour. Knowing my son and who he was when he wasn’t pressured, he would’ve wanted them to get a chance to get out the gate. He never took time to work with anybody at all if he thought you had no potential. Even people that might’ve been in our church family, he didn’t care if you were the pastor, if he didn’t feel like you had potential he didn’t have the time of day for you. [Laughs] That’s how he was as an individual. He didn’t bite his tongue. He just told it like it was. I had to respect him because he never changed. That’s simply how he was. When it came to his music and his time, he didn’t waste any.
“House Shoes was supposed to be a part of the Rebirth of Detroit project initially. He was in California. I was working with Jonathan Taylor. He was a friend of House Shoes. They had history that I wasn’t aware of going back some years. Dilla had made acquaintance with him during the time that House Shoes resided at Mr. Taylor’s home at some point prior to Dilla’s passing. He was going to be the [Rebirth of Detroit] tour representative. The plan was to do this collaboration then get the artists ready to tour. Some of the artists that were on the collaboration still travel and never stopped traveling. House Shoes was supposed to be the tour director. I had no problem with Shoes at that time. It was all good to me.
“He started off helping the J Dilla Foundation when it was first organized. When I was in Los Angeles, Karriem Riggins’ manager Jae Barber helped me to establish the Foundation in 2006. The same month that Dilla passed away we filed for the rights to do that and we had attorneys set it up California. When I came back to Detroit, I was very ill. I really didn’t do anything for the first year. I had neglected my health when I was in California taking care of Dilla. House Shoes came by the home to see about me just like everyone in the community. My first year meeting House Shoes was the last year of Dilla’s life. I had never met him before. I had never made acquaintance with him. I knew it was some guy at a record shop that they would see and exchange records with, but I had never met him face-to-face and had only heard his name a couple times. That’s neither here nor there because parents don’t always know everything. [Laughs] I had no qualms with him.
Control Over J. Dilla’s Legacy
“Dilla signed with Stones Throw when he came to California. His collaboration with Madlib was long distance except when he came to California for the video shoot. But he was still in Detroit when Champion Sound was laid down. When he moved to California in late 2004, he was quite ill. I think he was there maybe a month before he had another setback and I had to rush to California overnight to see about him. I got there and he was already hospitalized. It happened really fast and took a long period of time. Shoes had gave the impression that he was Dilla’s best friend. That’s not harmful to anyone. The problem came about when, if you’re someone’s best friend, the first question is if your mom’s never met him and she’s who you lived with and handled your business even when traveling. I was his personal assistant by his request because he didn’t trust anyone else but his mom. That’s one thing.
“I met him at Dilla’s hospital bed side that last year. It was the week of his birthday. Shoes showed up at the hospital. He came in the room with a bunch of balloons blown up. I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Karriem asked the question, ‘What is he doing here?’ He was talking with other people in the room. Dave New York was there. The room was always filled with people, either [people from] Stones Throw or guys from Cali or anyone who came to town. It was like that everyday. I had no questions at that time. My concern was whether my son would make it another day. All the trivial things didn’t matter anyway. I think on the backside of Shoes moving to Cali and me being there with Dilla and Common for the two years, people made an assumption. Then when Illa J called me right after Dilla passed and said he wanted to talk. He wanted to talk about moving to Cali. He had finished two years of college and wanted to move to Cali to pursue music. Before Dilla had passed I would’ve told him to stay for his third year. But after Dilla passed I thought ‘No one’s promised tomorrow’ so I told him if that’s what he really wants to do, of course.
“Shoes befriended Illa J and they got close. They spent lots of time together. They were closer than Shoes and Dilla ever were. Dilla didn’t spend that kind of time with no one. If you weren’t cutting a record or picking up something, your time was limited with him anyway. The only person he had time for without question was Questlove. Frank-N-Dank were by far the only best friends that he’d ever had. That’s how it was. The descension came not because he fashioned himself as Dilla’s best friend. Stones Throw didn’t know any better because they were new to Dilla. He came to Cali because Common wanted to find a different view of living for him because he was so ill and back-and-forth in the hospital in Detroit and becoming more depressed and his production was dwindling. More people were coming for work but deadlines had to be pushed back a couple of times. He wasn’t taking any new requests from anybody. He was so sick that he couldn’t take a request that Eminem had for some production. He wanted to do something with Dilla and begged for it. That drove a wedge between their relationship. Eminem had no knowledge that Dilla was that ill because Dilla didn’t want anyone to know.
“House Shoes, as tour manager, it was cool for him to be in charge of the calendar. But then he wanted to be in charge of who made the cut for the Rebirth of Detroit project and the tour. I was like, ‘No, it’s not happening.’ I didn’t want just anyone to take over. I was coming into who I was and I totally wanted control. My son had prepared me while he was sick, even though I wouldn’t listen. My desire was to beat this. He had an idea of how he wanted things to run [after he passed]. During the Rebirth, I’m trying to grow into what I needed to. I’m trying to grow up as an adult black woman who’s carrying this thing for his son. I had a lot of people try to tell me they were going to do this or that and not to worry about it. When people say ‘They got you,’ they usually do. If you’re not wise enough and you don’t pay enough attention, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in. I was trying to keep hold of this legacy moving forward. Shoes wanted control of Rebirth. Mr. Taylor and Shoes, I don’t know how the relationship was with them, but I guess it was rocky. Neither seemed to respect the other too much even though they had been friends at one time. I wasn’t giving up control to anyone especially someone of a different culture. There were no blacks controlling anything so I felt it was time for me to step up and do what I needed to do and to come into my own.
“What upset me was for three years, there was a lot of language going on online that I wasn’t aware of. The dissension between Mr. Taylor and Shoes [played out on Twitter]. The only time I went on Twitter was to greet my people every morning and give them advice or something beautiful about the day or something positive to look forward to from the universe. That was all I did. I didn’t go on there otherwise unless it was to Direct Message someone. Other than that you don’t see me on Twitter. So I’d heard about the back-and-forth, but I’d never check because that was something I didn’t indulge in. I’d been Christian for over 60 years. I’m at peace. I’m doing what I have to do within the emotional space right now. That’s not to try to stir up anything negative. That seems be the only direction [House Shoes] would go. There were lewd remarks about me and even remarks and suggestions about me with my own son that he would say. A few people did keep the texts because they wondered when I was going to say something. But I had no knowledge up until 2014 of the language and what was said. Even though Mr. Taylor doesn’t work for me anymore and I had let him go because I felt he was not a bright enough man to represent my son and his legacy because of how he carried himself and the way that he spoke to women in general. Sometimes his language was disrespectful to others. He could not represent my son because that’s not the kind of people that we are. He did not comply with that. He wanted to be who he was so I did not need him on my team anymore. I was beginning to be the subject of the language that he and [House Shoes] used and saying horrible things that I can’t repeat. This went on for three years.
“When I was asked finally to say something, I went on Facebook and made a statement that I don’t wish him any ill. I just prayed that he’d be a better person because he has children. I hoped no one would disrespect his children’s mother in a manner that I have been disrespected. That was how I had to leave it because I can’t have people thinking that I’m changing who I am. I’m not going to stoop to his level to communicate. He texted me after a lot of people jumped on him offended by what he said. How can you call yourself a friend of someone or care about someone and their legacy and speak such rottenness about another human being—unfounded and total lies. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t come from any human at all. I still have the text where he said he was sorry and that he didn’t know why he said those things. He asked what he could do to make it better, but, after three years, I wanted nothing to do with it. My husband could not believe that I had not addressed it.
The Final Straw
ONCE AGAIN. The shit I said the other day was completely out of line. I want, need and am trying to make amends.
— Uncle Shoes (@HouseShoes) August 6, 2014
“I moved last year to ask people that had hired him to represent my son overseas and different places to not use him for Dilla events. They’d text me and say, ‘We’re gonna do another Dilla event. We’re trying to get x-y-and-z to perform, do you have any suggestions?’ My only request was that they not retain [House Shoes] for any tributes to my son because of his disrespect. With that understanding, I didn’t have problems in Australia. He did the event for Spin Doctors who’d been strong supporters of the foundation each year. He’d already acquired his services a year earlier. I understood but I told them that I would not support the event online and I would not attend the UK event.
“[House Shoes disrespected me publicly] totally because of control. That’s what men do. I wasn’t willing to relinquish my authority to anyone. It didn’t matter if it was him or anyone else. It was me simply trying to move to where Dilla wanted me. It was not about him. I hadn’t spoken to him about it. If I had wanted a deejay, J. Rocc would’ve been the first one because he was closer to Dilla and at the home everyday. I knew him well. I don’t like putting negatives out and if I can avoid it, I’ll just let it slide. Now it’s reached a point that I have said if it happens again, I’m going to walk down the street to the courthouse and file suit against him. It takes a hardened heart to do that kind of thing. I just felt like he would stop the ridiculousness when he saw that a couple of jobs were rescinded. He has children and I’d never wish to take things out of his children’s mouth. But I could not continue to have him run rampant in my son’s name.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I found out about the event that they had at the BET Awards. I was in LA that week because I had to speak with the estate about the upcoming 2015/2016 expectations. We try to stay on one accord and work side-by-side until we get this thing ironed out. I called a meeting and flew out there. There was no mention of the BET Awards. No one said anything. We were not contacted. What hurt was the deejay that was representing my son was House Shoes. It was enough that we were not invited, but to hire the one person that totally disrespected our family was another thing. I represent my family in everything that I do. That’s what I live for. But to have someone abuse me in any manner possible publicly and say such horrible things about me to the public [is inexcusable]. If someone wants to pay homage to my son, they shouldn’t use the person that tried to hurt the family. That’s how I felt. For House Shoes to fashion himself as my son’s friend and to talk about his mom, you’re definitely not a friend in any context and you’re definitely my enemy. That’s where that stands.”
House Shoes declined to comment for this story.