During my visit to Toronto last summer, I had the opportunity to visit and talk with Dilla’s longtime friend Derrick Harvey a.k.a Dank. During our hour and a half long conversation about music and life, the late great Dilla’s name popped up quite a bit and what I got was one of the best raw & uncut stories about the world renown Detroit producer. Today (February 7th) marks what would have been Dilla’s 43rd Birthday and I would like to share some of Dank’s fondest memories of his childhood friend…..
1. Dilla loved his mother very much. According to Dank, Dilla always made sure she was straight financially.
2. Dank has known Dilla since the 3rd grade and remembers him being a very smart student. In fact, Dank says Dilla attended Davis Aerospace Technical High School which had a aviation curriculum certified by the FAA in addition to its standard academic program.
3. Dank says that he remembers Dilla used to make beats on a Erickson Turntable with a double cassette player. Dilla went inside the cassette player and took a piece out so one side could be kind of slower.
4. Derrick Harvey’s first rapping name was ” President Dankworth”. Dilla said no to the name and said let’s call him “Dank”. Not to mention every time Derrick would come around, he smelled like a certain potent green plant….
5. Dilla’s first group consisted of himself being the rapper with Frank Nitt and Derrick Harvey being the dancers. William “Weegee” Howard from the Dramatics signed them as a group, but nothing materialized.
6. Dilla put Frank n Dank together as a group because they always hung out together anyway. Dank says Dilla told him,” I told Frank the only way I’m doing this is if y’all two do it together. I told Frank that I’m not interested in just Frank. I’m not interested in some shit with just you. I’m doing it with both of ya’ll….”
7. Dilla had major support from his family when it came to music. Dilla’s mom Maureen Yancey had to educate Frank’s mother as well as Danks mom about the music business because they didn’t understand. Dank recalls his mom at first being like…..”Music”?! “No, you’re taking your ass to work!”
8. Dank paid his dues for a while sharpening his skills on the mic. While spitting verses in the booth, Dilla showed up unexpectedly as Dank exited the booth. Dilla witnessed greatness that night and was ready to pursue making music with him professionally. He told Dank, who was already holding down a 9 to 5, to “go home and tell your mom you got to quit that job…I’m ready”. Dank was like “for real”?! Dilla said, “yea,I’m ready. I already talked to Frank’s mom….”
9. Some may think that Dilla gave his beats for free to his friends but there were no hand outs. Frank n Dank paid for every Dilla beat they ever used…..
10. Dilla was very private. He didn’t like random people hanging at his crib.
11. Contrary to popular belief, Dilla didn’t teach a lot of cats how to make beats. Dank says the only person Dilla showed how to make beats was Young RJ, who is currently a member of Dilla’s former group Slum Village.
12. Dank recalls the Dilla produced Frank n Dank album,”48 hrs” costing $375,000 to record. The cost stemmed from 12 Dilla beats and the rest was mastering and mixing. Frank n Dank had artists such as Timbaland, Limp Bizkit,& Pharrell lined up to work on the album. Frank n Dank being loyal, decided not to use other the artist and just use Dilla’s production that way they can keep all the money “in-house”.
13. Dank remembers Dilla as always being a kind person. “Dilla gave,gave,gave….he never f***ed nobody and he always gave muthaf****’s respect….PERIOD”.
14. (Fun Fact) The girl on the cover of the “Welcome 2 Detroit” album is named Dominique which Dank knew from High School. That photo shoot came from the energy of going to the strip club every night. Dank says,”strip club ain’t always about chasin’ ass’s, it’s about good vibes”. He says Dilla would go to the strip club everyday of the week and would be pissed if one wasn’t opened on a particular night…
15. Even though Dilla wasn’t particularly happy with the “Xtended Play” album which he produced two tracks for, Dank says that this album took them to new levels with major help from places like Toronto, Canada.
16. Dank says eventhough a lot of people claimed to be down with Dilla, the only people that Dilla called to rock with him on his European tour were Frank n Dank, D.J.Rhettmatic, Phat Kat, Dave NewYork, & Ma Dukes. This tour would end up being Dilla’s last tour and was captured on DVD titled,”Frank n Dank & J. Dilla’s Euopean Vacation.”
17. On the last tour, Dank had no clue that his longtime friend Dilla was confined to a wheelchair due to difficulties from Lupus until he saw him in London. Dank recalls being very distraught seeing his friend & producer going through so much pain. He remembers one night in Paris when Dilla came through the crowd and it parted like the Red Sea. They picked him up with the wheelchair onstage and Dilla told the crowd,” I love ya’ll…. f**k it, I come to see my people!!”
18. One week after the European tour, we would lose one of the greatest to have ever done it. Dank, visibly saddened at this point in our interview, expressed his gratefulness to have been a part of Dilla’s life and being able to go on the last tour with his childhood friend. R.I.P. Dilla ( February 7,1974-February 10,2006)