If you have never heard of J. Dilla and you call yourself a hip-hop head, you should read this and earn your title.Whether you know it or not, you have heard his music. If you are an avid listener of Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, or A Tribe Called Quest, then you have at some point enjoyed his production.

You may know him better as James Yancey, or even Jay Dee. Not J.D. like Jermaine Dupree, but Jay Dee as in J. Dilla: hip-hop producer who is credited by many with maintaining the hip-hop sound in Detroit. He was responsible for putting the classic sounds of samples and smooth instrumentation against the gritty, street-style lyricism of Detroit artists such as hiphop recording group Slum Village. J. Dilla easily became one of the most sought after producers in the hip-hop industry. He was also known as a “cratedigger”, a producer who digs through crates of vintage vinyl recordings, no matter the genre, to use portions, or samples, of the recording for creating and arranging sounds in their own production. The art of sampling, one of the key components of hip-hop, is what is responsible for the soulful flavor that is presented in hip-hop music. J. Dilla had a unique sound. He used an unorthodox way of arranging original samples over classic hip hop drum patterns in his production. This sound attracted recording artists like Common, for whom J. Dilla produced much of his album “Like Water for Chocolate”.

J. Dilla worked with many producers such as Madlib, Pete Rock, and Questlove, with whom he was a member of the musical collective theSoulquarians. He has also received several production credits. One of the most notable credits he received was for producing Janet Jackson’s Grammy award-winning single “Got Till it’s Gone” which was featured on her albumTheVelvet Rope. In addition to being a talented producer, J. Dilla was also known to spit bars for the hip-hop heads. One of his most famous verses was featured on a controversial song “F*ck The Police”, the single launching his career as a solo artist. In this song he lashed out on local authorities for their mistreatment of the African-American community. In the verse he listed many of
the illegal activities of police from the viewpoint of a victimized citizen. He discussed issues of integrity within the police department. He also discussed how they are not subject to the same trials and convictions as regular citizens when they commit similar crimes. He also made mention of violent arrest procedures and accidental shootings of unarmed civilians. He was viewed by many as an artist “for the people”.

J. Dilla died unexpectedly due to complications with a rare blood disease in early 2006, leaving much of his unreleased music to be distributed by his mother under Pay Jay Productions. An independent label, Stones Throw Records rereleased his solo instrumental albumDonuts as well as Jaylib, an instrumental collaboration with producer Madlib. Though we no longer have him here to give us new music, J. Dilla left his mark by gracing us with timeless instrumentals and legendary albums from some of our favorite hip hop artists.

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