Nick Speed, Detroit, MI
Producer who's worked with 50 Cent, Eminem, Lloyd Banks, Danny Brown, Talib Kweli and more.
HNHH: How did J Dilla influence your career?
Nick Speed: He was so original. He just blew my mind. I had never heard anything like J Dilla. I remember when he was first coming out in Detroit. Somehow, someway I came across his music. There wasn't internet then, so I don't know how I really first heard him. But I knew heard him like real real early. I had no idea who he was. I don't really remember how I first heard him. But later on I found out about The Hip-Hop Shop. I was in high school and I had this assignment to write a news story on whatever my interest was. So I was thinking this would be an incredible opportunity to meet this guy Proof that I had been hearing on the radio. He was supposed to be like the next big thing out of Detroit or something. So I was thinking that maybe I could use this assignment as an excuse to meet him. So I called The Hip-Hop Shop and I set it up. So I interviewed Proof. And from there I would go to The Hip Hop Shop more and more and hear J Dilla music. I'd just buy whatever tapes they had of Detroit shit. I just couldn't believe how good Dilla sounded. And I was like "Omg. He's from Detroit!?" It was music I could relate to in a Detroit kinda way. It was really inspiring. On Fantastic Vol. 1 they did everything in like one take. Like all of them had one microphone and they were all rapping together. So when I got a karaoke machine, that's how me and my friends would record. So in a way I was almost mocking Slum Village because we would just do one take. We would just do the whole thing live. We learned that from Slum Village.
So I ended up meeting House Shoes when I was in high school. He worked at Street Corner Music, the record store. My dad knew the people at Street Corner. So I went up there and met Shoes and I was like "I heard of you. White Mike!" So he started putting me up on a lot of different Dilla music. That's his boy so he had stuff that nobody had. I was just in awe. I felt so fortunate to know Shoes and have the opportunity to listen to this music.
And then Dilla started producing for Tribe, Busta Rhymes, and Pharcyde. And those songs just reminded me of The Hip-Hop Shop and of Detroit. Like "Stakes Is High," “Worldplay,” and "Drop" because those sounded like the beats that I heard at the Hip-Hop Shop. It didn’t matter where you were located, Dilla’s beats worked coast to coast. They definitely had a Detroit sound. And I couldn’t believe that he [Dilla] was able to touch the world with this Detroit sound. I was like “Wow.” That was amazing cause it’s like at that point in time it was bigger than I thought it could be. I just knew I liked it because I’m from Detroit. I didn’t know that the world would actually like it. I just liked it because it was good music and I felt cool because nobody in school had any idea about it.
So after we graduated high school, my friends and I decided to start making beats. We were rapping, and people were just charging a whole lot of money for beats at that time. We did one real studio session at RJ Rice’s studio, which is where Dilla recorded at too. Anyway, that session cost us so many hundreds of dollars that I figured, “Man, I need to buy a beat machine and learn how to do all this stuff myself.” So I got my own equipment and started making tracks, but I’ll always remember how good that J Dilla music sounded -- How original it was, and how it made me feel. So when I started making tracks I wanted my music to have an effect similar to that. But I still wanted to do my original music cause I felt like if I came across J Dilla and my music sounded like his, I don’t think he would respect that. So I wanted to still have my own originality. And I stuck to my guns because when Elzhi first joined Slum Village, J Dilla had just left. So they were trying to get that J Dilla sound back without J Dilla. It seemed like if I wanted to get a place in Slum Village, I would have to basically copy J Dilla’s music for them. But I wouldn’t do that. You can’t duplicate J Dilla. You can’t even try. Even if I totally copied his style, I still don’t think my beats could ever sound like his. So I stuck to my guns. Dilla influenced my music, but I kept my originality as well. I wanted to do something for Slum Village cause they were my main connection to the industry. I eventually came up with a track that they liked. It was called “Haters,” and it ended up coming out on Elzhi’s CD, Witness My Growth. It had a bunch of J Dilla productions. Actually, the song that we recorded with Dilla was on there. It was my first project that I put together. It was my chance to get production credit, put my name right next to J Dilla, and Alchemist, and Waajeed and all of them. I was able to attach my name to what they did.
J Dilla’s music taught me to be original, soulful, and stick to my guns. I wanted to have the effect that he did. I wanted to have the same wow factor in my music that he did in his. I think I came up with my own style through trying to figure out how he made his beats. Even now. I listen to J Dilla’s music and it always reminds me to think creative and be original and to keep going. He could take bagpipes and make it sound hip-hop. So one thing he showed us was that you could make a track out of anything. I would hang out at St. Andrews when House Shoes would be spinning and I can’t explain the excitement that everyone would have when he played Dilla’s music.
HNHH: What are some of your favorite Dilla beats to play at shows or to listen to?
Nick Speed: My favorite to listen to I would say… I always loved the remix he did for “Eve” by Spacek. It features Frank N Dank. And that beat is just… Oh my God. Like it’s just some magic. It just sounds so alive.
When I'm spinning I actually like to play J Dilla music that never came out if I can. Super exclusive. Something I can just blow the crowd’s mind with. I like the songs that everybody knows, but I still wanna hit you with something you’ve never heard. Like “Oh my God! Wait a minute. That’s J Dilla? And I never heard it?! What is that??” So that’s what I wanna do when I spin. But as far as listening, I love this Motown beat tape he did where he sampled all Motown. He has a beat where he sampled “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson. I love that. He has so many incredible productions. He has this song called “The Diary,” which was supposed to be on his solo album on MCA. That never even came out, but I love that. “Dynamite” by the Roots on Things Fall Apart.
“Wordplay” by Tribe. I heard that on a local mixtape a year before it came out (On Beats, Rhymes, and Life). That was one of his first Tribe Called Quest productions.
Also The Love Movement. I love "Find A Way."
"Drop" by Pharcyde.
“Let’s” by Slum Village. That’s where he started going like really electronic.
The intro on Welcome 2 Detroit.
“Ma Dukes” by Frank N Dank.
“Enjoy The Ride” by Busta Rhymes.
HNHH: Do you have any stories or memories you would like to share about Dilla?
Nick Speed: Absolutely. I actually met J Dilla before. I was in the studio with him one time, in 2001. He was working with Elzhi. And you know, me and Elz are like the best of friends. So El needed a ride to the studio. He called and he was like "Look, J Dilla just called and he said meet him up at the studio. You're driving. Come on!" So I just dropped what I was doing, got El, and took him to the studio. So like we're sitting there waiting, and Dilla arrives in a limousine. Like, who comes to the studio in a limo! So that was just like incredible to me, first of all. So then he had the little guy, the driver, had the white gloves on. He set up his MP and shit. Dilla sat down and started making a beat. After like 10 minutes, he was done. He made this super sweet fucking beat in like no time. Before I realized what was going on, he was done with it. I didn't even tell him I did beats or anything. I was just being real cool and quiet. I didn't even want to let him know that I made beats. I figured he might kick me out of the studio. I hardly said anything to him at all. So he went to smoke, and after he was finished, he came back and he added like two extra little parts to the beat and that shit just made like all the difference in the world. It was like super minimal, but it sounded so fucking sweet.
So then we came up with this one part. Like I used to listen to Mobb Deep and all that. So like on Mobb Deep albums they used to have a part where it sounded like their whole hood was there. Like "Yo Yo Yo!" Ya know? Like all of that in the background. We ended up coming up with a part like that where it's like the whole hood is out on the street corner. But it was only me, J Dilla, and Elzhi. So the three of us were standing at the mic together and we were yelling like "Yo Yo Yo. Hey Hey." Like some Marvin Gaye type shit. Like "What's Going On?"