Image taken from @DillaTracks instagram.

Meet the 19 year old that’s helping to keep Dilla’s legacy alive…

A chat with Sebastian Matsalla

Tell the readers a bit about yourself in a couple of sentences.
I’m 19 years old and currently living in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. I study Business in Victoria, B.C. I will be starting an exchange program in just under two months, where I will be studying marketing in The Netherlands for about a year.

Interesting. So why an Instagram page dedicated to Dilla?

I started the page around the time I was changing the way I thought about music and art. As a matter of fact, this page is actually what helped me decide that I wanted to study marketing and follow my creative passions in school, where I can use that to work with my other passions of photography, design, video creation, and of course music. When I was 15, I started to pay more attention to what went behind the music. The effort that went into rhyme schemes, sampling, hardware restrictions that each era had to deal with. I view production almost like a unique composition…one that an emcee may or may not follow the direction of. It’s a different piece of art in itself. I looked first at emotion in production and then at the lyrics. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Piñata came out a couple months before my first post…I was also really into Shades of Blue and Madvillainy. I couldn’t stop listening to DOOM, Madlib, and Dilla so I created a page called @BeatsForTheSoul where I could post their instrumentals and others I enjoyed. The first five posts were mostly from Dilla’s unreleased catalogue so I decided to go with @Dillatracks instead.

What particularly do you love about his music?

“Inconceivable control and unfathomable imagination to do whatever he wanted to do. Nothing was impossible. That’s why I love Dilla’s music so much”.

Something about his music just had that pull to me and I couldn’t let go. He was the artist that really introduced me to music and the the way that it should be consumed. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t have the connection I have with art today if I had not found Dilla’s beat tapes. J Dilla’s catalogue of released music alone is enough to consider him as one of the greatest of all time. Once I found his practice beats, the ones where the producer does not need to conform to the idea of not letting their flip become more interesting than the emcee’s lyrics, I was sold. With all things considered, the elites of Hip-Hop production are all musical geniuses, but I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to Kanye’s, Madlib’s, Oddisee’s or whoever’s practice beats. However, I did have the opportunity to delve into a massive library that gave me insight to an uncontrolled flow of creativity from James Yancey. He did not need to wash out the samples and let the drums ride for somebody to write to these beats, instead he stretched samples and other sources further in these personal tapes further than I had ever thought was possible. He introduced me to the idea that no record is ‘unflippable’ and that your art will go as far as you can imagine it.

I love that. So…and I get this might be quite a hard one but what is your favourite Dilla track?
Easy.  In Space.

Oh, not so hard then! Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve answered that one.

Yeah, In Space was actually the first unreleased Dilla beat that I had ever heard. It introduced me to Jazz Fusion through Perigeo. I found Dilla’s music at a very experimental point in my life. I was no longer interested in just hearing the beat as the samples also intrigued me. I was now open to trying new genres and saw Jazz wasn’t limited to Davis and Coltrane. I never knew this is what Jazz could be.

Interesting. I feel some type of way hearing music that I like. This usually means I like it a lot haha. It takes me places. 

Yes, I agree and discovering Perigeo helped cement my breakthrough to appreciating different kinds of art. There is plenty of sentimental value within this song for me. Whether it is your very first time or 10,000th time listening to it, it can teleport you to wherever you want to be. It sparks your imagination. I feel like I’m 6 years old whenever I hear this song. I feel like Calvin and Hobbes sitting under the stars pretending they’re travelling through space. I get that excited and that inspired whenever I hear it. The instrumentation excellent. The snare lacks a strong mid-range presence, but perfectly pops in the back of your eardrum. The hi-hats are loud, yet hit you soft enough to be an afterthought if needed. The kick fits like a glove into the bassline. Actually, I didn’t even notice the fact that the entire beat is riddled with very quick double kicks for my first 100 or so times listening to it. That’s how easily I got lost in the song. The sample source is full of background sound and ever-present noise. It seems as if James isolated every single aspect of Perigeo’s composition and reorganised it into his own way. I don’t even know how to describe the sound coming from the MOOG, but the “dripping” sound coming from the very back of the mix is controlled and very clean in Dilla’s In Space. Yet, I found the same task seemingly impossible to do by myself, to the lengths that he took it. Honestly, how do you even think of a beat so complex when you hear the small section from Via Beato Angelico that this was sampled from? Absolute madness. The bassline is distorted, which is not something I initially would have thought of doing to such a clear and precise sample.  But, it really drives the beat home and reminds me of the Clouded Nebulae I can travel through when I close my eyes whilst listening to it. The truth is, I could go so much further into explaining this beat…but there’s only so much time in a day.

Honestly, I really loved that description. Do you have any more favourites?

There are just so many tracks that I could say are my “favourites”. My next favourite Dilla beat is called C.I. Master, while my favourite Slum Village track is Things You Do (The version that made Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1) followed by Ooh Wee (which was released on Nov. 15th, 2016). I feel like I’m doing them an injustice by not mentioning them. If I were to recommend any more of Dilla’s beats I’d say:

  1. Ma Dukes (the very first version – Track 39 on Da 1st Installment)
  2. Go it Up
  3. Derailment (slowed down and slightly altered version of the Intro to Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 2)
  4. Sexy Ways
  5. Triple Layer
  6. Climax (somebody actually uploaded an “Instrumental + Hook” version on YouTube that creates a totally unique outlook on the beat)
  7. Bittersweet

Thank you for that. There’s definitely a lot to chose from. Man I love Slum Village, I was hoping you would mention them too! My birthday is on 15th November so Ooh Wee was definitely a nice birthday present. Name some other musical inspirations from that era. 

Due to the length this would take up, I think I’ll stick to close to Hip-Hop for this era…

Madlib is the first that comes to mind. He’s the only producer that I honestly see as an equal to Dilla. Never, ever disappoints. I find that a lot of people bump Stakes is High as a single, but not Stakes is High as an album. Those people are what I like to believe to be wrong. This album is incredible and is a small era of De La’s music that really resonates with me. So, I’ve gotta put De La Soul in the mix too. Definitely A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots… I actually think Black Thought is the greatest emcee of all time. I would also like to include Guru, D’angelo and Kanye. You know, I actually stumbled across an interview where Dilla said that Kanye was the first producer to ever flip a sample in a way that was better than any way that he thought of flipping it. The song was Marvin Gaye’s Distant Lover used in Ye’s Spaceship.

Nice. Okay, I’m gonna allow you to let loose a bit here and name me some more inspirations (not era-restricted this time)…

Oh yeah, Capital STEEZ for one, Barney Kessel, Stan Getz, Joey Bada$$, Quincy Jones, Tyler, The Creator (for his mindset and attitude towards art and the importance of creative thinking) and Myself. I said myself only because I need to push myself somehow, haha. I am inspired by my progression and where I imagine myself being in the future.

Nice! Yonkers is definitely my favourite track by Tyler. I really like the way you think. So, as I’m sure you know Nas said hip-hop is dead and you got rappers like Joe Budden not excepting trap music…people claiming that trap is destroying hip-hop…or simply that it has just lost it’s thrill. What is your opinion on the state of Hip-Hop today? 

Honestly, I love it. I used to be one of those people who completely disregarded anything that was new. When I was becoming more open to music, I always said that every piece (or genre, sub-genre, etc…) has its shine and subsequent shadow. I even started listening to country records for isolated drum samples because of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s advice. However, one area I wasn’t tolerant in was new Hip-Hop. Once I realised how much of a hypocrite I was being, it was extremely easy to get swept away by some of the incredible music that has been released. You’ll find plenty of people to be extraordinary when you assumed they were trash before. I actually thought Joey Bada$$ would be garbage due to the braggadocios nature of it plus the “$$” instead of “ss” in an era where kids only did that to be cool. Today, he’s one of my biggest idols. I also love that Kendrick can make an album like To Pimp a Butterfly and not be shunned for expressing his thoughts and emotions and be seen as weak or corny. Hip-Hop today embodies a society of acceptance.

Beautifully put. Like, I actually couldn’t have said it better myself.

However, I don’t unconditionally love anything that’s new and different though. Young Thug can prance around on stage in a skirt all he wants while being bold and unique, but it still won’t get me to listen to his albums.

Haha, I get you but I quite like Young Thug so I gotta disagree there. Beautiful Thugger Girls has some great content. Then again I like specific trap artists. I’m not one to ride the culture wave and say I ‘stan’ for them all.

I do believe there’s an immense amount of ways to express yourself as an artist.  If somebody does that another way that you don’t like, that’s okay. The good artists get filtered out from the bad in a couple years anyway. There’s a reason that you can still hear The Pharcyde on the radio but haven’t heard anybody say Chingy’s name in a decade. Think about it.

Good point. We’re coming to the end of the interview now…so are there anymore songs or artists you listen to today that you would recommend the readers to listen to?

I’ll try my best to keep this short. Let me start by saying if you have time, go on Youtube and watch Sean Cee’s review of Amerikkkan Korruption. You will not be disappointed. His song Black Petunia got me through High School. Other favourites I would recommend are: 135, Clear the Air, Vibe Ratings, Doggybag and 47 Elements and about Joey Bada$$… do not let the name fool you. Dilla’s In Space is my favourite song of all time, but Joey’s Piece of Mind is a close second.  Like Me, (Dilla beat!) Unorthodox, Righteous Minds, FromDaTomb and Y U Don’t Love Me? are also favourites. Honestly, I could go on and on with his music. Just listen to his entire discography. Best digested cover-to-cover. I also recommend Isaiah Rashad. Dude is mad talented and is living proof that TDE isn’t just ScHoolboy and Kendrick. Take a listen to Warm Winds ft. SZA and 4r Da Squaw. Then there’s Oddisee whose definitely the most underrated on this list.

Finally, any last words or comments about any experiences you have had?

Well, you could order random records from Dilla’s personal collection on eBay a couple years back, from a storage locker. You get a certificate signed by Ma Dukes and everything. I ended up getting Dilla’s copy of The Brand New Heavies’ single for Sometimes. It featured a Dilla remix plus the instrumental. I find it unbelievable that I got his copy of his own remix. I recorded it out from my turntable and listened to it whenever I wanted to hear a piece of history. I also got to talk to Phife a couple times before he passed. He once commented “Haaaah!!” and tagged Tribe’s Manager (not Chris Lighty) on one of my posts. I asked him what was up since I thought he was making fun of me. He said back in The Ummah sessions when Dilla played them beats and it was just too crazy or too good, they just started to howl and laugh. It’s the little things like that which I love. I used to clown him all the time about his New York Knicks and would remind him over and over that they lost last night. Lmao.

Wow. That’s an interesting fact. I’m sure many people wish they had the chance to talk with Phife before he passed.

Yeah of course! Affion Crockett hit me up a couple of times. Dude is really nice. Every Christmas, I post a picture of Dilla depicted as Charlie Brown next to a Christmas tree and Snoopy playing his MPC because of him. I posted it for the first time in 2014 and he reposted it, getting me like 500-600 followers when I had a really small following.

Oh, that’s very safe of him! Social media is a wonderful thing. I think people sometimes forget how accessible our favourite musicians and entertainers are to us.

True. All of the people I’m connected to in regards to art and music, I’ve met through this page. I know none of my collaborators in person. My town is small and nobody is on the same wavelength as me. This page has been a godsend for meeting incredible people. Everybody does something different and isn’t just connected through music.  I’ve created my best friends through it.

 “I’m currently making music and art, but I refuse to promote myself through posts on Dillatracks. I’m a marketing student and I know by all means that I should. It’s an excellent platform full of likeminded people. I just can’t disrespect his legacy like that. I’ll find a way to make it on my own”.

De La Soul came through town as part of a small festival thing. I messaged them through my account and got backstage. Well I got on the guest list and one person wouldn’t let me in the back. Ten minutes later…Pos walks out of the tent and I was so starstruck, babbling but somehow in 10 seconds I managed to tell him that I had talked to Trugoy on Instagram. The manager came over and was giving me sh*t, then Pos was like “Nah hold up, he was talking to Dave!!” The manager stopped for a second then laughed and invited me into their tent. Maseo gave me a beer and I got some stuff signed, best night of my life.

Thanks for that. What a great interview. Really enjoyed it and I hope the readers do too…