If Kanye West is correct, and George W. Bush really doesn’t care about Black people, then he damn sure doesn’t care about Detroit, Michigan, because Detroit is nothing but Black people. “Detroit is a real city—a Black city,” Waajeed explained to me from his Park Slope, Brooklyn, home last fall, and, having seen so for myself, I agree. The Platinum Pied Pipers architect was born and bred in what is respectfully referred to as the “D,” and is candid in his summation of the river city’s influence on him as both man and producer.
“It made everything.”
Devitalized by riots and Rust Belt recession, Detroit was a victim of neglect long before the aftermath of the devastation that inspired Kanye’s off-the-reservation diatribe. When you’re there, it’s hard to ignore multiple blocks spotted with abandoned housing, the stray dogs, the vacant, trash-strewn lots, or the majestic, gutted shell of the ninety-three-year-old Michigan Central Train Depot on the city’s southwest side. It is indeed an ugly place for some—many of whom are longtime residents who choose to stay simply because they know of nothing better. When Waajeed began producing in earnest five years ago, he, perhaps subconsciously, decided not to become one of them.
“This is definitely not just a job—it’s also a privilege,” he shared recently, coming off of a year in which his debut album, 2005’s Triple P, was met with critical acclaim, earning him and PPP partner Saadiq a nomination for the Radio 1 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Music Album of the Year Award. A student of the Juan Atkins–Derrick May–Kevin Saunderson school of first-generation Detroit techno, Waajeed was blessed to grow up in a vibrant household and benefited greatly from living in the music-rich region in and surrounding the Motor City area.
As a youngster, he also embarked on a twenty-year friendship with a crew that would later become Slum Village, and was integral to the three original members—producer Jay Dee, aka J Dilla, and MCs Baatin and T3—coming together and releasing the archetypal Fantastic, Vol. 1.
Ronnie Reese: We spoke before about your first European trip with Slum Village, and once you got back to the States, that’s when you and Dilla started digging heavily. What year was this?
Waajeed: That was like 1999 or something like that—’99, 2000.
Had you been buying records before then?
Yeah, I’d been an avid DJ since I was about fourteen. My dad had all these records sitting around the crib, and with me being a by-product of hip-hop music, it was just natural for me to start digging in his crates to check out what he had. I started collecting when I was about sixteen. I inherited the very first record that I own from Baatin.
What was it?
It was Public Enemy—that Yo! Bum Rush the Show album. His mom had gone on some religious retreat, and she came back home like, “Get all the devil’s music out of my house—the devil’s music and the devil’s video games.” His cousin got the video games, and guess what I got?
But I’m kind of glad—they’re probably somewhere playing PlayStation right now while I’m messing with music. That record taught me how to produce in a lot of ways—especially with layers—and also the importance of using music as a vehicle of change. Definitely a cornerstone of my beliefs.
How deep is your collection right now?
I think I got about twenty thousand records, but in comparison to some people I know, that’s not a lot at all. I don’t really consider myself a collector. I am a collector, but I’m not a head or a nut—like a Rich Medina or crazy-ass Spinna’s collection. I’ve never seen that many records in one building.
What do you do for space?
That’s part of my limitation. I had a lot of my collection when I moved out here, but I sold some of the prized joints. I hate to even think about what I sold—a lot of Cal Tjader, and some of my favorite records, but, shit, I did it to condense space.
What’s your approach to sampling?
You know, for the most part, there’s only so much you can do. If something’s dope, you kind of don’t want to change it anyway, but I’m not really one of those loop guys. If it sounds fresh, I can loop it and it’ll still sound fresh, but I’d rather earn my money and chop it up. I’m already borrowing somebody else’s shit—the least I can do is show some respect and rearrange it.
Alright, let’s get into these joints…
Slave Slave (Cotillion) 1977
I can remember my dad playing this record. The tunes are kind of written where the bass line is the lead. With Detroit cats, that’s a serious thing. Mr. Mark Adams, the guy who played bass on this, he was the lead as far as instrumentation. With hip-hop production or any of my productions, the bass line is like the lead for me, too. This is a monumental group, on a lot of levels.
Kraftwerk Electric Café (Elektra/Warner Brothers [WEA]) 1986
This is another record that was in my dad’s collection that I snatched up, and I always try to find a way to include it in anything that I do, whether it’s for noises or atmospheric-type shit. Its techno roots definitely have a serious connection, with me being from the D. These joints get spin, between “Musique Non Stop” and “The Telephone Call”—I’ve chopped that up and used it for several tracks.
Tomita Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (RCA) 1975
This record came out the year I was born, and he’s playing and doing shit on here that I’m not even fucking with now. This dude is a total genius in my opinion. He’s got volumes of records out, and they all kind of touch on the same experimental lines. He plays a lot of classical music, but it’s all done with ARPs and Moogs and crazy shit. Everybody’s taken from him—Dilla, Hi-Tek, everybody.
Jean-Claude T. Bicentennial Poet (Philadelphia) 1976
I just got off the phone with my man Rich Medina, and this record reminds me a lot of Rich. This dude is a spoken-word artist, and what he’s saying is incredible. It’s one of those joints where you have to know it in order to appreciate it—the musicianship; the fact that in 1976, somebody was saying the type of shit he was saying; just the whole package. It’s a strong record.
Queen Jazz (Elektra) 1978
The musicianship is bananas—the writing, the whole composition. As a producer, I have a lot of respect for Queen. Their performance settings kind of matched what they were doing musically, so it’s rock theater in a lot of ways. I’ve used this album several times—I won’t say in what.
The Electric Prunes The Electric Prunes (Reprise) 1967
This is rock, and the sound kind of reflects the late ’60s—this dense, hard, cymbal sound. As far as atmosphere and writing, it’s a heavy record. I used this for the first joint [“Intro 2”] on Slum’s album [Trinity].
Chuck Jackson Chuck Jackson Arrives! (Motown) 1968
One of my favorite joints on here is “I Like Everything About You.” Tribe used it for “Butter.” [badly sings the horn line] Cats like Brian Holland played on this, and almost every record, consistently, is a banger. This is another one I got from Pops. I would have had to pay a mint for this.
Milt Jackson Olinga (CTI) 1974
I’ve never used this joint. I have some records that I have so much respect for, that I like so much, I don’t touch them on the sampling tip. Not to mention that Tribe killed this [with the title track sampled on Midnight Marauder’s “Award Tour”], but, more important, there are certain records that are like Van Gogh paintings—they cannot be redone or made better. This is definitely one I pulled out of the plastic so I could read the info, and it’s going right back into the plastic when I’m done.
Kool and the Gang Wild and Peaceful (De Lite) 1973
This joint has “Jungle Boogie” on here, “Funky Stuff,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and was produced by Robert Bell, who’s a genius. This is from the days when my family was really into Kool and the Gang—they went hard on that shit.
Flora Purim Stories to Tell (Milestone/OJC) 1974
Her voice is amazing, and just the cats playing on this record are bananas, not to mention her. George Duke, Earl Klugh, Miroslav [Vitous]—some ill players. I remember going to the record store and dude suggesting this record, which was, like, nineteen bucks. I think I had, like, $25, and I was like, “Damn, I hope this shit is worth it.” When I got home, I was like, “Yo!”
Eugene McDaniels Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (Atlantic) 1971
I was at my crib, and this was way back in the day before I was even thinking about production. The crew was hanging out—the whole SV crew—and Dilla was like, “Yo, man, what’s this record right here?” I was like, “Man, this shit is bananas, you could really do some things with this.” He was the only one producing out of the group, and after we listened to it, he asked to borrow it to chop it up or whatever. I was kind of reluctant at first, then after he left, I thought about it and decided to let him hold it for a day. The next day, I called him and told him I’d leave the record in the bushes. He could come through and pick it up, but just make sure he comes through and gets it. There weren’t too many cats fucking with records, but shit’s still real in the hood, you know?
So, I walked home that day and the record wasn’t there. I assumed Dilla got it—he claims he never did. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but either way, the record was ghost.
When I came to New York for the very first time, I saw it in a store for $360. I was pissed because I had it, but needless to say, I found it again in Amsterdam and got it, and I’m not putting this motherfucker under the bushes for anybody. I’m still not sure if Dilla has my record or not. You know, that nigga probably does have it! That’s what my mom tells me. Moms is like, “I don’t know, he might have that record.”