James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974. What he was able to achieve in terms of musical progression in the 32 years that he was allotted on this earth was quite simply amazing. From original compositions and remixes in the mid to late 90’s to jaw dropping, mind-boggling soundscapes of the early 00’s, Dilla’s penchant for pushing boundaries is that something that is still lauded and awe-inspiring to this day, even 12 years after his death.
As as a youngster discovering sounds and more importantly Hip-Hop for the first time, I was introduced to J Dilla’s work long before I knew who he was. Listening to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots and D’Angelo I had no idea that many of the songs that I loved from these artists were in fact produced by him. It wasn’t until early in my college career that I discovered the man behind many of the songs that I deemed classics. If it wasn’t for “J.J.” I seriously doubt that I would have made those connections when I did, so for that I’m forever grateful.
Once that light bulb went on however, I did my Due DILLAgence and began searching, scouring the net, the brick and mortar stores and iTunes at the time for all things Jay Dee related. From there I really got into Madlib and Nujabes, the former is one who I strongly consider to be a direct contemporary. It was no coincidence that right after I had that thought, I came across “Champion Sound” which was sadly Jaylib’s lone collaborative project. It is a technical marvel in terms of sound and is rightfully considered an underground classic.
Slum Village was another important pickup for me while I was “digging” so to speak. “Fan-tas-tic Vol. 1” was the one that I gravitated toward, falling in love with the minimalist approach to crafting songs. “Welcome To Detroit” was yet another album that I have a ton of respect for. For me it sounded like more of what I was accustomed to in terms of the Slum sound and was a great addition to an already stellar catalog. While listening to Slum Village, I was introduced to Elzhi and Black Milk.
Even though most of Elzhi’s work was on subsequent Slum Village albums after Jay Dee’s departure from the group, there was still a bevy of material to sift through with Elzhi tearing apart Dilla Beats. “Villa Manifesto” was the last time all four members of Slum Village were featured on a single project…Rest In Peace Baatin. Even with the album pictured above that was released on February 23rd, 2018 the legacy lives on with Elzhi sounding as sharp as ever while Khrysis crafts beats that are reminiscent of Dilla’s early work.
When “Headnod Suite” dropped on February 24th 2017, I declared then that if J Dilla were alive today and dropped “Donuts 2”, It would sound exactly like this. From the chopped up loops, to abrupt breaks or “perfect mistakes” as I call them, It is abundantly clear that Mr. Riggins has studied the techniques very closely and has arguably perfected the sound altogether. It’s also no coincidence that Karriem Riggins was entrusted with completing “The Shining” which was unfortunately only 75% completed at the time of Dilla’s passing.
As mentioned earlier, while listening to Slum Village I discovered Black Milk while reading through the liner notes. Determined not to make the same mistake I did with J Dilla, I immediately bought “Popular Demand” and was blown away. Any album that he has dropped since Dilla has passed has felt like he picked up the mantle of pushing boundaries musically. Every album sounds and feels different sonically. The “Fever” album also dropped on February 23rd, 2018 and I implore all of you to go give this album a spin, you will not be disappointed.
In ending, The words above summarizes my senitments on J Dilla entirely, to quote Black Thought’s heart-felt and soul stirring voicemail from the song “Can’t Stop This” he states:
“My man, JD, was a true hip hop artist
… I can’t explain the influence that
His mind and ear have had on my band
Myself and the careers of so many other
Artists. The most humble, modest, worthy
And gifted beatmaker I’ve known. And
Definitely the best producer on the mic
Never without that signature smile and head
Bouncin’ to the beat. JD had a passion for
Life and music, and will never be forgotten
He’s a brother that was loved by me, and I
Love what he’s done for us. And though I’m
Happy he’s no longer in the pain he’d been
Recently feelin’, I’m crushed by the pain of
His absence. Name’s Dilla Dog and I can only
Rep the real and raw. My man, Dilla, rest in
As I sit here 12 years after J Dilla’s passing, I can’t help but wonder where he would have taken music had he still been with us. What new technique would he have invented that would have changed the landscape entirely. J Dilla did indeed change my life, he changed the way I heard and understood music. He made me study music theory just so I could have a better appreciation of 3 second sample from an obscure record placed at an unconventional section that would normally destroy the structure of a song. A practice that if done by anybody else during that time, I’m not sure that it would have been executed with such precision. James Dewitt Yancey was born on February 7th 1974. He was truly a one of one the likes of which we will most likely never see again…Maybe in our next lifetime.