For better or for worse, the name “J Dilla” has become a cultural zeitgeist; hip-hop’s biggest movers and shakers almost unanimously agree that he’s been the most influential producer of the last 20 years, that his sound is timeless, that he literally changed their lives. Common once rapped that Kanye was “the new Premo” but Kanye himself ranks Dilla, not, with all due respect, DJ Premier, in the upper echelon with Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, Biggie, and Tupac. So when bass god, Thundercat, and his musical partner, Flying Lotus, had studio time with jazz legend, Herbie Hancock, it was only natural that Dilla (who had sampled Hancock on several occasions) became a topic of conversation.
There are different levels of Dilla fandom, different entry points. Some people are lucky enough to be enlightened by a Dilla Jedi—someone who has spent years training and studying to bestow Dilla’s sounds unto new generations—while the case for most is that they had heard many Dilla compositions without realizing it. The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, D’Angelo, The Roots, and more had enlisted Dilla’s talents by the turn of the century.
Nearly 15 years later, Flying Lotus and Thundercat found themselves in a unique situation: sitting in a studio with the incomparable Herbie Hancock, who had no idea that Dilla had sampled Hancock’s “Come Running To Me” for “Get Dis Money” by Dilla’s own group, Slum Village. “Money” is considered to be the Detroit’s trio’s most revered song, and the Hancock sample features prominently.
Watch Thundercat tell me the story of how he and FlyLo played Dilla for Herbie:
Thundercat explains that new collaborations always give him a bit of hesitation, but Herbie had such a disarming personality that working together felt natural. Herbie told me the feeling was mutual; the three enjoyed a few days of grabbing food and politicking before really getting down to making music. FlyLo of course is no stranger to the jazz world—he’s the nephew of Alice and John Coltrane.
this interview was originally premiered on Okayplayer.