The life and career of J Dilla (a/k/a Jay Dee) has become something of a legend. The Detroit, Michigan producer/MC made an indelible impact on music in a 10-year run between Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1 and Donuts. With a thumping sound, a steadfast lyrical bravado, and a penchant for looking beyond the traditional sources of music, James Yancey left the Hip-Hop landscape differently than he found it.
Often more celebrated for his beats than his rhymes, a new Cuepoint article examines a jewel within the Jay Dee catalog. “Fuck The Police” would be central to the artistic transitions Yancey was making at the top of the 2000s. Fresh off of 2000’s Fantastic, Vol. 2 (and alias J-88’s Best Kept Secret), the Slum Villa front man plugged away at his solo introduction to the masses.
Cuepoint’s Pizzo researches James Yancey’s interesting relationship with law enforcement. The article addresses the fact that when N.W.A. recorded their controversial cult-hit of the same title, a teen-aged Yancey was a junior cadet for the Detroit Police Department. However, unlike the fictional 1980s character Axel Foley (who traveled from the D.P.D. to 90210 for the Beverly Hills Cop franchise), Dilla learned that many of Detroit’s Finest weren’t so fine—to young Black men living in his neighborhood. Pulling quotes from Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, Dilla’s mom, the young musician was harassed by local law enforcement for being a successful hometown kid with material riches, and no criminal past. Ma Duke’s actually consoled her son after one run-in (accompanied by the late Proof of D12), and urged him to channel his anger to song.
“It’s real, yeah! It’s like you can go through life and act like it’s not but I deal with it everyday, for real, just riding in a nice car they’ll fuck with you,” said Dilla less than three years before his death, of the then two-year-old single. “[You are harassed for] just being a Black person in Detroit, it’s so stupid.”
By the time he’d garnered cars, jewelry and a comfortable lifestyle beyond the traditional norms, Jay Dee took his anger at the oppression and recorded the pungent diatribe. However, he hit some roadblocks along the way.
With an MCA Records now backing him, Dilla reportedly recorded the song with every intent to place it on his The Diary major label debut. The label, finding its Rap success du jour through The Roots, Common, and GZA, did not back the song, and as time would prove, the album at all. Perhaps the label had good reason, as the single released just one week after 9/11. First responders were viewed differently in the wake of the thousands of deaths in Manhattan. Jay Dee still wanted the message of his experience, in urban Detroit, to permeate the conversation. The former junior cadet altered the intro to his song, and teamed with fledgling California-based indie label Up Above Records to release “Fuck The Police.”
The revised intro began: “Disclaimer: The views expressed on this recording are solely those of the artist and by no means do we encourage or condone violence against law officials,” before adding “We can lose a few of ‘em, we got enough of ‘em.”
“As strong as the message of the record was, he wanted to add something to it?—?not to soften it?—?but just to respect the law enforcement people that had to go through what they did during 9/11,” said Up Above’s Key Cool, who also designed the record jacket—featuring images of Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, along with a speared pig’s head on the backside. “It was interesting, because he was very conscientious about that.” Respectful of the tensions, Dilla told the label he did not want to be pictured on what would be one of his most revered solo works.
Pizzo points out that Jay Dee’s “Fuck The Police,” while not an overt cover, is in the same key as N.W.A.’s 1980s outcry. He also probes the current fate of The Diary which has since left the MCA Records vaults to a revealing fate via Dilla’s Pay Jay Productions. The feature probes the future of the release from one of the most important people to the release of Donuts, Egon (formerly of Stones Throw Records fame).
One single can change the game. J Dilla was well on his way to the top of the class prior to “Fuck The Police.” However one small song (which has been repeatedly reissued) took anger, racial profiling, and street ills, and made an Underground Hip-Hop hit that endures—in part, tragically due to its social resonance in 2015.