Pete Rock: “He was a great guy. We had a great relationship. Very humble and quiet. But when something intrigued him, that’s when you’d see him start to sprout. When we met it was like , ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow!’ Like, back and forth. Q-Tip came and played me a cassette of his beats. Then I arranged my own meeting.
Someone from the Detroit side of things, I forget who, I got their number. I bought a plane ticket to Detroit and hung out with Dilla for a whole week. I spent the night at his house, he told me I could sleep down in his lab, make beats if I want, and use his records. Who does that? I wouldn’t do that with [someone I didn’t know personally that well].
“His Moms told me that [he was a big fan of mine]. He kept it pretty composed, but little spurts would come out, in his smile or his giggle. But his Moms was the one who told me the whole truth. She was like, ‘Look, my son wanted to be just like you.’ I said, ‘Wow, are you serious? Well, he learned very well! He actually took it a level higher than me!’
“And that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re the new person. Stand in your own light, and take it steps higher than the current person that’s [on top]. I felt at the time that was what he was doing. I loved it. Immediately, he became my favorite producer. [If he was still alive] he would own it right now. He would own the title of ‘Number One Hip-Hop Producer.’ Everyone gotta get a turn at that. [My turn started] after ‘Reminisce.’ [Laughs.] After my first album I felt like I was on top. I had a silent ego. My ego spoke through the music.
“Just the way [Dilla] did his music, the way he did his beats, the way he chopped samples, the way he played live instruments, and the way he thought of bass lines. We shared a lot of that stuff, talking about how we made beats. I would play him some of my beats, he would play his, and we would make beats. It was just fun. It was a great experience knowing him. I never knew he was sick at all. I never knew until it started to really get detrimental. It was a shock to me man. It was crazy.
“I played that ‘Remember’ beat from the SP-1200. He had it hooked up in his basement, so I brought discs with me from New York. He used the SP too. That’s what I used my whole career, so after people heard I was fucking with the SP hard body like that, everyone started using it. I was playing beats on the discs, and when he heard that beat, he fell in love with it. He was like, ‘Yo, I wanna rhyme to that.’ So I laid it down right there in his house and I let him do whatever he wanted to do with it. I loved his beats more of course, but I loved the way J Dilla rapped.
“I met that cat in 1994. Actually, there’s a videotape out there of him picking me up from the airport and I’m getting in his Navigator and he’s blasting Mecca and the Soul Brother as I’m walking to the car. He’s winding the window down playing ‘For Pete’s Sake’ really loud. That’s from the first time I met him. I’m playing my beats for him in his truck and he’s bugging out. [The video is] not out there, but I’m trying to get it. Not to put on YouTube or anything, just for my own personal [collection].”