The LA Weekly has a pretty stunning piece about the posthumous career of J Dilla. He died just as he was about to take off under the Stones Throw label. No one did a better job of keeping his work, name, aura alive more than Stones Throw. Last year, the label held a show at the Black Cat. I can’t tell you how many times there were shout-outs and tributes to Jay Dee. He died more than two years ago, but Dilla’s music and memory are still very much a constant in indie hip-hop.
Best known for his spacious, weird beats, and deeply personal productions—-Donuts is sure to be a classic—-he became a legend and touchstone after his death. To have a Dilla-produced track on your album conferred almost holy status. It meant you knew him. A Dilla-connection quickly became a point of promotion.
Now, the LA Weekly is reporting that people have started ripping off the deceased rapper’s beats and inventing phony foundations in his name. Meanwhile, the family he left behind is suffering:
The budding Dilla empire has foundered, thanks to astronomical health bills, which forced Dilla to go into hock with the government and die with high six-figure IRS debt and few tangible assets — save for a few hard drives of beats and a publishing deal with Universal Music. Ironically, as Dilla’s stock is at an all-time high, the executors of his estate have been bedeviled by a one-two punch: scrambling to pay his tab while fighting rampant Internet piracy of his material, both aimed at the ultimate goal of providing an inheritance for his two young daughters. “It’s frustrating,” says Arthur Erk, the estate’s executor and Dilla’s former business manager. “People have been cropping up left and right, trying to make money off Dilla’s name and likeness. There was something called the Dilla Foundation, which doesn’t even exist legally, yet it was trying to host charity events, claiming authorization from the estate. If there weren’t young children involved, we’d give up. No one needs this type of aggravation.”
Enforcing copyright in the Internet age is a Sisyphean task, and trying to protect one of the first big names to die young in the RapidShare world, Dilla’s estate has been beset with a dilemma that figures to plague families of all prematurely deceased musicians henceforth.
Explains Erk: “The problem is that Dilla was friendly with a lot of people — many of whom I know, many of whom I don’t —— and there have been dozens of bootleg situations we’ve had to expend estate cash on to shut stuff down. If we don’t, it cheapens the value of his brand. We’re trying to protect his legacy and his heirs.
Very sad news.
The article goes on to state:
This April, the recording masters of Pay Jay, Dilla’s never-released MCA record, were illicitly leaked to the Internet, sabotaging an estate plan to rerelease them at a yet-to-be-determined date. In a last-ditch effort to assert control over the heavily pirated material, the estate recently took out a full-page ad in Billboard, informing the industry that the only person, including friends and family, legally authorized to execute transactions or make any decisions regarding the commercial use of Dilla’s name, music, merchandise, photographs, video appearances, artwork, etc., is Erk. “We’re not sure how many Dilla beats are floating around,” says Micheline Levine, Dilla’s former lawyer. “It’s been an absolute nightmare.”
Several lawsuits are in the works. And so are more Dilla tributes.