J Dilla’s Mom on the New ‘Dillatronic’ Album and Why She Thought Her Son Was an Alien

You're not the only one who thinks J Dilla was an alien.

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Complex Original

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Ma Dukes has held the title of Coolest Hip-Hop Mom for quite some time. Since her sonJ Dilla passed in 2006 from complications brought on by Lupus, she and the rest of J.D.'s family have done their best to keep his name alive. The influential producer's work ethic can only be compared to 2Pac. Both artists lived in the studio and loved to create. And fans have benefited from their many posthumous releases throughout the years. As you will read in the interview below, Dilla was a night owl who stayed up well into the morning pushing the boundaries of hip-hop's sound. His drums have yet to be replicated, and his unique flips of common samples still baffle even the greatest producers of the day.

Tomorrow the Dilla family will be releasing his most futuristic project to date. Dillatronic is a collection of 40 rare instrumentals that highlight Dilla's electronic influences. With Detroit being the birthplace of techno, the legendary producer being influenced by the sound shouldn't come as a surprise. It sounds very different from his previous work. We talked to Ma Dukes about how unique Dillatronic is, her son being an alien, and what they have planned for the future.

What’s up, Ma Dukes? How you doin’?
I’m doing pretty good.

You guys are gearing up to release another album?
Oh yeah.

So what’s gonna be different about the Dillatronic, compared to the other releases?
It’s a little bit of everything that he likes, you know, it’s a mix of everything. There’s something special for everybody in it. I listened to all of it and I’m amazed and thrilled with every beat. It’s something different that his fans haven't gotten yet.

The electronic sound is popular these days.
Yeah, I think we just didn’t appreciate it as much. They don’t know how to take it when they don’t understand. It’s always been around. You kinda get scared 'cause you think it’s a mix of something you don’t understand. It’s like a misunderstanding of gangsta rap with hip-hop, you know, that kind of misconception because you’re not really into the music to understand it. 

Detroit is one of the birthplaces of Techno.


How much music are you sittin’ on still?
Oh my God [Laughs.]The boy never slept, what can I say? That’s what he was about, that was his make up and his purpose for being here. He always understood this about himself and always told me that I didn’t know who he was. So now I’m gonna know who he was. He had that gift for a purpose and I think that’s why his aura and his spirit is global. We played every genre of music in the crib, so it was nothing foreign to him. It was just something that was everyday.

What were some of your favorite records?
When nobody else was there I’d play opera.

You used to play opera?
Yeah. that’s what I studied as a young lady, as a kid. So when nobody else was around I played it, because everybody else hated it with a passion. It was normal as far as my upbringing, but nobody wanted to hear that. When my mother came over we played country music because that's what she liked. James Brown was the exception [Laughs.] We had that and jazz, of course, because his dad was a jazz artist. You know men, how they reign over their remote control, so he got to play jazz more than we got play our music [Laughs.] So it was like that. We played everything. We were also all in church and everybody sang in choirs. It was nothing new, it was something that you just did.

I see you guys put a song up on the Soundcloud page. It’s very futuristic. He was ahead of his time.
He's been referred to as an alien [Laughs.] He always used to talk about being an alien. There was a lot about him that was out of the norm.

When was the first time that you noticed that he was different?
When he was a couple of months old [Laughs.] He had perfect pitch and harmony at a couple months old; he couldn’t talk, of course, it was just something that he did. It didn't matter how intricate a song or sound was, he remembered. I don’t care if he did eight or 10 bars, he could do it, mimic it perfect—harmony, pitch, without any flaws. And I’m a very strong critic of anybody that goes away from where the melody goes from the way my ear was trained. It was amazing.

We thought it was funny because he was too young to know what he was doing. That’s the concept of a rational person, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. How did he follow those notes? And how is it such perfect pitch? We just laughed about it. We never dreamed that he was going to be a musician. You don’t think about things like that when a child hasn’t experienced anything yet. But he had that uncanny sense. Music is what moved him. He spent every waking moment with music and that kind of bothered me. I wanted him to broaden his mind. I wanted him to do something in engineering or something like that. I wanted him to be able to fall back on something in case his dream got messed up.

I could imagine. He probably used to lock himself in a room and make beats all day.
Oh, yeah. All day, all night; and get caught up late [Laughs.] It was kinda like a struggle. I wanted him to rest. He never learned to rest. As an infant he never slept at night. And I didn't know he was that kind of a spirit during that time. I just thought that he was sick or something like that.

When did you finally give in and let him do the music thing?
Well, he was always DJing in school, always doing parties, always doing weddings as a teenager. So, I guess around that time I had accepted it. He let me know that this is what he wanted to do, but he was barely a teenager when he told me that. I forbid him to go to Amp Fiddler's house because he needed to study for a lab week. He never had to study—none of my children had to study—they always were excellent in school. I just wanted him to spend time on schoolwork. You never knew when something new was gonna come along and you couldn't ace it. They were doing stuff in school that I didn't know, so I couldn't help [Laughs.]

I have a bunch of Dilla albums and this project sounds very different.
Exactly. And that's what's brilliant. You never tire of Dilla. So it's exciting to have something new. And it's exciting to see what else was going on in that mind.

Dillatronic is 40 beats long. Is there a lot more to come from Dilla's vault?
Oh, heck yeah. Yup [Laughs.] There are many things to come.

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