I remember the late night epiphany so vividly – I am home, laying low, late at night, a day or so after New Years celebrations had commenced. I am listening to Petestrumentals all the way through for the first time and “Smooth Sailing” starts penetrating my lobes. Immediately, my brain becomes a mangled mess of surprise and confusion – I knew I knew the song…it did not seem new. Then, like the thrill of finally figuring out that one crossword puzzle clue that completely changes the course of the game, I realize what is going on. Scrambling over to J Dilla‘s Vol. 2 Vintage instrumental album, I recklessly shuffle through its contents like an addict trying to find his lost last pill. “On The 1“ was the one. A fuse of joy and, strangely, betrayal, inundate my body. Sure, I had solved the riddle, but I simultaneously felt duped; I knew Pete Rock was maybe Jay Dee’s biggest inspiration, but to seemingly recreate something he had already done seemed dishonest. My mindset 180’d fairly quickly, as I came to appreciate one incredible producer drawing from the same sample as another to create a similar, but contrasting and individual sound that truly brings out the essence of each artist’s musicality. “Smooth Sailing” is so damn Pete Rock and “On The 1” is so damn J Dilla. I love it. The J Dilla vs. 9th Wonder Beat Bout proved the same; hip hop is about bringing one’s own creativity to the turntable and creating something original and personal. Maybe that’s what’s truly lost in mainstream music. People are making other peoples’ music, not their own. Put on some headphones and tell me, which version do you like more?
The Sample: Thad Jones and Mel Lewis – “Quiet Lady“
Pete Rock – “Smooth Sailing”
J Dilla – “On The 1”