The Estate of James Yancey has revived J Dilla’s longstanding company PayJay as a functioning imprint to release Dilla’s long lost vocal album, The Diary on April 15th, in conjunction with Mass Appeal Records.
Initially intended for release in 2002, The Diary is the final batch of unissued material that Dilla had assembled for release during his lifetime, lending crucial insight into the producer’s prowess and thought process in the period leading up to his break with the major label system and the extremely fertile period that followed (which encompassed the making of the canonical classics Ruff Draft, Jaylib, and Donuts). The Diary features vocal performances by J Dilla, Snoop Dogg, Bilal, Kokane, Frank and Dank, Nottz and Boogie, over production by Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock, Hi-tek, Nottz, House Shoes, Supa Dave West, Bink! and Karriem Riggins. The album was announced in an interview with Nas on Zane Lowe’s show on Beats1 with the never-before-heard song “The Introduction.”
The Diary was Dilla’s attempt to take advantage of the attention afforded him after his brightest period as a behind-the-scenes hit-maker and influencer. However, the project stalled and the album was literally shelved, the reels languishing in storage in Detroit as a relocated Dilla began a creative renaissance in Los Angeles. The Diary in this, its final form, was painstakingly assembled over a ten year period from two-track mixdowns and multi-track masters found in J Dilla’s archives after his death in 2006. The completion of The Diary was overseen by The Estate of James Yancey’s Creative Director Eothen Alapatt, long term general manager of Stones Throw Records and A&R for Donuts and Jaylib, whose previous archival Dilla work includes the expanded Ruff Draft issue from 2008. The Estate of James Yancey is overseen by California’s Probate Court on behalf of Yancey’s four heirs – his mother, Maureen “Madukes” Yancey, his brother John “Illa J” Yancey and his two daughters, Ja’Mya Yancey and Ty-monae Whitlow.
The musical landscape has shifted mightily in the wake of J Dilla’s final album. Donuts’ release and Dilla’s subsequent death forced a critical and fan-level reexamination of his work and importance on the global stage. J Dilla was marginalized in the years leading up to his death, as he, battling the rare blood disorder that would eventually take his life, eschewed the major label-led music industry where he created or aided some of the music industry’s brightest – D’angelo, Erykah Badu, Common – in the late 90s and early 00s, moved to California from his native Detroit and dug deep into the deepest recesses of his creative spirit to offer a new take on hip hop’s decades old art form of sampling. After Donuts, the likes of Kanye West and Pharrel Williams could be heard echoing words read on a fan’s shirt from one of J Dilla’s last European tours in 2005: J Dilla Changed My Life. They were not the only ones: Justin Timberlake opines openly that the world needs more Dilla. J Dilla became a critical signpost for these stars, and others: the archetype figure that birthed everything they loved and cared for in hip-hop.