Chicago-bred writer Ronnie Reese has had the unique opportunity to pen a number of Stones Throw on-site press releases – including Mayer Hawthorne, WHITE BOIZ, Myron & E, and Tony Cook – J Dilla's online biography, countless pieces for Wax Poetics, a number of Blue Note re-issues, and Dilla's posthumous 2007 Ruff Draft EP re-issue; although, Reese very well may have just written the single most important pieces of his career... the expansive liner notes for Now-Again's recently assembled compilation of Dilla's long-lost "MCA album," now re-titled THE DIARY. J Dilla's nixed MCA album, otherwise formerly known as "Pay Jay," would have featured outsourced production work from the likes of House Shoes, Nottz, Karriem Riggins, Hi-Tek, Madlib, and Pete Rock and is arguable, as coveted by Hip-Hop heads as a beat-laden version of The Beach Boys' long-fabled and heavily bootlegged SMiLE. I've recently been in contact with Ronnie Reese, whose name I found attached to Stones Throw's wonderfully well-written Ruff Draft re-issue, ahead of Now-Again's THE DIARY, which will be released Saturday, April 16th in conjunction with Nas-helmed Mass Appeal Records coinciding with this year's Record Store Day festivities. Following our initial transmission, I emailed THE DIARY liner notes writer and esteemed J Dilla historian a batch of questions including, but not limited to, the ones below; attached underneath that are two paragraphs Reese sent back this week – extensively answering my previously sent questions. I'm rather ecstatic to be able to add this particular Ronnie Reese interview to The Witzard's ever-growing cannon, as yet another piece to the monstrous puzzle that was the life and times of the late great Slum Village rapper-producer, James "J Dilla" Yancey.
The Witzard: I. How exactly did you manage to position yourself to become an on-site press releases for Stones Throw and ultimately, end up writing the liner notes for both J Dilla's 2007 Ruff Draft EP re-issue and recently unearthed "MCA Album," THE DIARY?
II. Who of Dilla's friends, family, long-time collaborators, etc. were you able to get ahold of when compiling your expansive THE DIARY liner notes?
III. Now, I'm assuming if you weren't a Dilla fan before all of this, you've surely become one now. Have you heard Egon's completed THE DIARY album, which I'm led to believe was a very painstaking process? Does it live up to your expected standards?
IV. How would you compare Egon's newly re-mixed and re-mastered rendition of THE DIARY against the previously leaked "Pay Jay" bootleg of the album, which I'm sure, the vast majority of die-hard Dilla disciples are very familiar with by now?
V. Through your research, when can you best estimate the bulk of the tracks included on THE DIARY/Pay Jay were recorded? Why do you assume MCA seemingly barred Dilla (or anyone) from releasing them all these years?
VI. What do you personally believe Dilla was ultimately trying to accomplish sonically with THE DIARY; more or less, a mainstream producer-driven album which you previously described as "an intentional freak of the industry?"
Ronnie Reese: "I started working with Stones Throw back in late 2005, early 2006 while planning a story on Dilla for Wax Poetics magazine. This was shortly before his death. After he passed away, that story turned into an oral history of his life, and the magazine and I worked closely with the label in pulling everything together. I continued to write for Stones Throw in the years after that. For THE DIARY notes, I spoke to Dilla's mother, Maureen "Ma Dukes" Yancey, Waajeed, DJ House Shoes, Supa Dave West, Hi-Tek and Karriem Riggins. I've been a fan of Dilla's for more than 20 years, so to me, it was an honor to write for the project—as it has been for any Dilla-related endeavor—and I was glad Eothen [Egon] trusted me with telling this story. As for the album itself, its release fits well with what I've come to learn about Jay, which was that he was an exacting perfectionist, and that no creation of his should see the light of day until he decided the time was right. This is what made him a great artist, and this is also what separates THE DIARY from the leaked, bootlegged versions of the album. Dilla was the type of cat who ironed creases in his jeans, so needless to say, sh*t had to be right. Not just done, but done right..."
"The bulk of the album was recorded in 2001 and 2002. Once the label, MCA, folded into Geffen, it threw a lot of albums (and careers) into limbo. This was just one of them. As [House] Shoes said, when the label goes away, relationships with that label tend to go away, too, which is unfortunate. Dilla's "voice" was heard mostly in his production, but with the exception of his work for Slum Village and the Welcome 2 Detroit album for BBE, there weren't too many other places to check for his raps. This album would have accomplished three things: First, it would showcase his skills as an MC. Second, it was [a] chance for him to challenge himself and work with other producers he respected by rapping over their beats. Third, it would further set him apart from his peers as both a rapper and an MC."