If you’re on Beats, Rhymes & Lists reading about these hip hop facts, chances are likely that you already know J Dilla is one of the greatest hip hop producers to ever do it.
While the Detroit producer was a genius across a range of music instruments – he used the E-mu SP-1200, Boss SP-303, Minimoog Voyager and Korg Microkorg throughout his career – Dilla’s weapon of choice was the Akai MPC.
“I started with the SP-12 then moved to the SP-1200 and then shortly after that the MPC-60, then the MPC-62, then the MPC3000 and I’ve been on the MPC 3000 ever since then,” Dilla revealed in a 2006 interview with Scratch. “I’ve tried other samplers but the 3000 is best for me for what I like to do.”
In 1992, as a teenager making beats with a simple tape deck, Dilla met fellow Detroit musician, Amp Fiddler, a singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and record producer who worked with the band Enchantment, and as part of George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic groups. It was Amp Fiddler who introduced J Dilla to the Akai MPC.
“He showed me how he was making beats, cassette to cassette, looping the cassettes,” recalled Fiddler in a Red Bull Music Academy interview. “That’s how the whole thing started.”
“From the demo deal at PolyGram I had also bought an MPC60, one of the first ones, so I was sampling all the time. I had tons of records in the basement. I showed Dilla how to sample and how to use the machine. He was at my house all the time. He would come by on days that I wasn’t working and ask to work, and call me when he needed some help.”
It was on the Akai MPC that Dilla would craft some of his most timeless joints ever, including beats for Slum Village, The Roots, Common, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, and Busta Rhymes, just to name a few.
Amp Fiddler: The first beat he played for me he looped the whole track from cassette player to cassette player. There were a few drops — but for the most part it was pretty damn precise. So I told him he needs to go home and separate all the samples to load into the MPC, and he came back with all the samples separated and mapped out exactly how he wanted it. As time went on, he got better and better. He used to come by the crib to get on the MPC and (he’d) work on it for three or four hours at a time. He used to have a big smile on his face — because he was so excited — after finishing a beat.Spiritualized | Stones Throw Records
But introducing Dilla to the MPC wasn’t the only thing Amp Fiddler did for the Detroit producer’s recording career. While at Lollapalooza 1994, which featured a line-up that included George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars and A Tribe Called Quest, Amp introduced Q-Tip to J Dilla when the festival touched down in Detroit. After hearing Dilla’s tape, Tip became an instant fan.
“I started listening to it in the back,” Tip recalled in an interview. “I had my whole set-up in the back of the bus and we’re driving off to the next city. And at night I was listening to it and I was like, ‘Ahh, what the fuck is this shit?’ It was the Slum Village demo and I was like, ‘Damn, this shit is crushin’.’ And then I looked around to see if anyone was around and I was like, ‘This shit’s ill.'”
Shortly afterwards, Tip would introduce Dilla to The Pharcyde, and they would begin working on the L.A. group’s sophomore album, Labcabincalifornia, which would feature “Runnin’.” Released as the first single off the album, “Runnin'” was a hit, peaking at #55 on the Billboard Hot 100, and officially put J Dilla’s name on the map.
Amp Fiddler: I ended up helping him when I introduced him to Q-Tip, which catapulted his career. I really didn’t expect anything, because I did that out of the goodness of my heart. I just wanted to see Detroit get on the map of hip-hop. It was something that really hadn’t happened big for Detroit, especially in a way that represented that real shit.Interview: Amp Fiddler | Red Bull Music Academy