Interview: Producer J-Dub Talks Aaliyah album, Being part of Diddy’s Hitmen, Working With Tamia and Tank
Known as one of the original members of P Diddy’s Hitmen production crew, Jeffrey Walker (also known as J-Dub) is no stranger to producing hits for artists. We had a chance to speak with J-Dub about some of the work he’s done throughout the years including Aaliyah’s final project. He also gave us some insight on the songs he did for Tamia and Tank.
YKIGS: Can you tell us the story about how you originally became part of the Hitmen production team?
JW: Back in 1995, I came down here straight out of school. My homeboy was doing music in Detroit, he hooked up with some cats down in Atlanta and he was like “Come on man, let’s go down here and do this album,” so I came down and did the album. And then I hooked up with Noontime who had a group called Absolute (signed to Def Soul). I did their demo. Noontime shopped that demo to everybody: Def Jam, Sony and of course Bad Boy. When Diddy heard the demo, he immediately flew to Atlanta on a Friday and that Sunday I was in New York, and like Monday or Tuesday I was signed. So my career took off literally overnight, like I was sleeping on floors and doing demos to producing everybody’s music from Biggie to Total. The rest is history.
YKIGS: Skipping ahead to some years, I want to ask you about an album that you worked on and that is the Aaliyah album. How did you get asked to work on that project?
JW: From 1995-2000, I moved out to LA, I hooked up with Barry Hankerson and he signed me to a management deal. And around the same time, Barry got the huge deal with Virgin where Babygirl was at. So basically, I was already at the camp when it came time to work on it because Barry basically assembled like another Bad Boy except on the West Coast. It was me, Bud’da and a few other producers. We already had our camp set up, so when it was time to do the album, she was doing a movie in Australia, so Virgin just flew every producer including myself over to Australia and we banged out the album for like a month. We had a ball.
YKIGS: Tell us about the songs you helped to create on that album like “What If” and “I Refuse” . What do you remember about those songs?
JW: Before we went to Australia, we were here working on music for her in the States too. A month before Australia, we all went to New York and booked up Sound King studio. I remember Babygirl coming into the studio and I was playing her some beats. Then she was like “What are you working on now?” and I was like “Well I’m not done with it yet,” but I played it and it was “What If” and she just went crazy. She was like “I love it” so she picked that and Tank actually wrote the song in the States and then we recorded it in Australia. And “I Refuse”, I don’t know where that came from. I was on one and I was just zoned out. While I was doing that track, I was working with Static Major and Static wrote the hell out of it. That’s the story on that one. *Laughs*
YKIGS: Glad you mentioned Static because we heard two other songs from the Aaliyah sessions that never made the happen: “Steady Ground” and “Questions”. What do you remember about those songs and were they ever close to making the happen?
JW: Actually “Steady Ground” was really the first single after “Rock The Boat”, but my engineer was mixing the record and somehow lost the vocals. So the vocals that you hear are really just the demo vocals. The final vocals got erased, so yeah. So that’s why it didn’t make the album. We did “Questions” in Australia and she was doing a movie and she was working a lot. We did that one late one night, she heard it and loved it but never got around to it.
YKIGS: Do you remember any other songs that you guys worked on that didn’t make the album?
JW: I got one in my vault, it’s one we did messing around. Nobody’s heard that one. I forget what it’s called, but it’s somewhere In the archives. I wrote that song.
YKIGS: What do you remember most about Aaliyah in the studio in the sessions and what was her spirit in there while making that album?
JW: She was an angel. She was the most down to earth, sweet spirit, no attitude, no ego, no ‘Yeah I’m Aaliyah.” She was like the home girl. It was surprising how sweet and humble she was. She was the best.
YKIGS: Got a few other songs that I want to ask you about that you worked on throughout the songs. You did a song with Tamia on her first album.
JW: “Show Me Love” was one of the first tracks that I sold when I first started getting work. I remember her manager, it was Lionel Richie’s ex wife. I didn’t like her, she didn’t like me. *Laughs* She was just over-barring. One of those manager’s that’s up in the sessions trying to do your job. I remember that part, I remember just getting the record done. It wasn’t one of my happiest sessions. *Laughs*
YKIGS: What about Tank’s “Slowly”?
JW: Oh man. I did that at Sound King in New York. I remember playing all instruments live. I remember playing the drum track and then the bass and the organ in the live room. I remember making that track, it was a lot of fun.