Lost in translation? The globe-spanning journey of a J Dilla toy

After we originally wrote about the release of a J Dilla toy this month that Detroit artist Sintex worked on, a number of readers pointed out that a similar toy by an artist named “Phil Young Song” surfaced back in 2012 — leading readers to draw the conclusion that Sintex must have ripped off the design.

The toy's packaging (and press release) states that it is an official licensed product of the late producer J Dilla's estate, “conceived and rendered by Sintex; designed and sculpted by P2PL.” Digging deeper, we found that "P2PL" and "Phil Young Song" are in fact the same person, a 33-year-old artist and hip-hop head who lives in Seoul, South Korea. We found him on Facebook, where his name is "Pilyoung Song."

(Song, who doesn't speak English, communicated with us using Google Translate. All of his quotes appear here as originally rendered, with minimal editing. Of the discrepancy with the spelling of his name, he says, “Spell on my passport is ‘Pilyoung Song’. I know ‘Phil’ is right spell but amend the passport is impossible in my country. So I write my name ‘Pilyoung Song.’”)

Song confirms that the project was a collaboration between him and Sintex, but says that it was he who originally conceived it. He shows us a 2009 blog post with photos of an early version of the toy. It's similar to the final version released this month, but features a crown instead of a baseball cap. 

"I had envisioned, designed, and sculpted that as a fan of J Dilla in Korea I would like to express my thanks to J Dilla," Song says. "People who saw this figure want to buy has been increased. I thought if it would sold the sales revenue will use for J Dilla Foundation and I need approval of the J Dilla Foundation officially."

Song says he began sending out emails, trying to find someone who could help him get the approval of the J Dilla estate. In 2011, he stumbled on the website for a J Dilla art contest sponsored the previous year by the 323East Gallery (now the Inner State Gallery), and emailed his pitch.

After a number of back and forth emails, the 323East Gallery connected Song with Sintex in 2012. Sintex had connections to J Dilla's mother, Ma Dukes, and could get the toy prototype in front of her for approval. 

Sintex and Song moved forward on the project without 323East, and Sintex helped make changes to the toy necessary for mass production — such as swapping the Detroit Tigers' Old English "D" on the baseball cap with a modified, infringement-free version, as well as securing the "Stüssy" logo for use on the toy's T-shirt.

"His help was very important because I live in South Korea and don't speak English. I had not connection in Detroit," Song says of Sintex.

He adds, "He gave me a great help in this work It is a fact. But It's me who designed and sculpted J Dilla figure." 

Sintex declined to comment on the record, but said that many hands went into the creation of the toy. He also sent us a photo showing that both his and Song's logos (Song as "P2PL") appear on the packaging, along with other credits. Emails to the J Dilla estate on Tuesday requesting a clarification of the packaging's choice of words went unanswered. 

The two artists plan on collaborating again on a Danny Brown toy, sketched by Sintex and sculpted by Song. Both toys can be viewed as works in progress on Sintex's website — though Song's name does not appear there.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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