At first, they were just crates full of records, numbering in the thousands. But after digging through their contents, Jeff Bubeck learned he’d stumbled upon something special: what he says is the personal record collection of late Detroit hip-hop producer J Dilla.
Bubeck, one of the owners of Royal Oak record store UHF, is selling the records in his store. They come with yellow tags that identify them as part of Dilla’s personal stash.
“Is it even possible?” That was Bubeck’s first reaction when he learned the 7,000-8,000 records he acquired from an abandoned storage unit in Clinton Township last month may have belonged to Dilla, the celebrated producer and founding member of Slum Village who died in 2006 at age 32 due to complications from lupus.
When first digging through the crates, amid the mountains of 94-cent Earth, Wind & Fire LPs, Bubeck noticed a box of cassette tapes, labeled in black marker as “Jaydee Beats.” There were also lyric booklets, along with magazines and pieces of junk mail addressed to James Yancey, as well as to his parents, Beverly and Maureen Yancey.
The names didn’t ring a bell with Bubeck. But when he punched Yancey’s name into a Google search on a whim, two and two came together.
“It was pretty shocking,” says Bubeck, who has been buying and selling records for years. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Dilla was a notorious crate digger, scooping up albums by the caseload to scour for obscure beats and samples. So while many of the records in the collection are dollar-bin throwaways, there are some, including titles from 1970s Detroit jazz label Tribe Records, that have significant value, Bubeck says.
After his find, Bubeck reached out to Stones Throw Records, the Los Angeles-based record label that Dilla recorded for in his later years. He plans to share part of the proceeds from the sales of the records with the J Dilla Foundation, though Bubeck says his attempts to contact both Dilla’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, and the foundation have been unsuccessful.
Detroit News attempts to reach Maureen Yancey were unsuccessful, as well.
For now, Bubeck is still combing through the boxes of records, and UHF is putting them on sale several at a time. When Record Store Day was celebrated on Saturday, the first batch of Dilla records hit the shelves, and fans were excited to get their hands on them.
“A lot of people were saying, ‘I just want one record that was his,” says Scott Hagen, one of UHF’s owners. “They just want to own something that once belonged to Dilla.”