Today marks 10 years since the untimely death of J.Dilla, one of the greatest and most influential hip hop producers of our time.
James “J Dilla” Yancey, who died on February 10, 2006 had just celebrated his birthday 3 days earlier as well as releasing ‘Donuts’, arguably the greatest instrumental hip-hop album ever. Before his final album James Yancey had a prolific career in the underground scene and had a huge influence on some of the best hip hop songs at the time.
J Dilla was born in Detroit and it was there where he developed his musical knowledge (through his former opera singer mother and jazz bassist father). Alongside jazz, rock and blues he developed a passion for Hip Hop, and it’s after meeting his mates T3 and Baatin that he continued his development within Hip Hop. Together with his mates they formed the legendary Slum Village in 1996 and he recorded their debut album Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1). The Album garnered a lot of attention among the Detroit hip hop scene as well as Q-Tip who tipped (pun intended) them for success.
Around the same time as the release of Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1), J Dilla (who was still known as Jay Dee at the time) joined a production team called The Ummah. This production group consisted of Jay Dee, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammed from A Tribe Called Quest.
His inclusion into The Ummah became a stepping stone to further his career and get his name out there.
This in turn led him to produce tracks for ‘Labcabincalifornia‘, legendary album by The Pharcyde. The most popular track on the album produced by Jay Dee was Runnin’, which is the perfect example of his unique sound, sampling and producing.
After his success with The Pharcyde, there were plenty of requests for Jay Dee to produce and to remix . One of his more famous productions was Janet Jackson’s ‘Got Til It’s Gone’, which unfortunately he never got credited for. The track sampled Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and went on to be a huge hit. Despite the controversy, it’s more proof of his ability to sample and combine different genres into a hip hop production.
Jay Dee finally got commercial recognition when his work on Erykah Badu’s ‘Didn’t Cha Know’ was nominated for a Grammy as R&B Song Of The Year in 2001. A second Grammy nomination came about through his work on Common’s album ‘Like Water For Chocolate’. Jay Dee had direct influence on 10 out of the 21 tracks including ‘The Light’, which is also considered one of Common’s greatest hits of his career.
Due to his levels of success he stepped out of Slum Village but continued to produce their next two albums (Including Fantastic Vol 2.). Yancey then went solo and released his first album ‘Welcome 2 Detroit’ under the name J Dilla. The album was a chance for J Dilla to showcase his rapping and singing alongside his already famous production style.
Two years later, a rapper/DJ known as Madlib got his hands on some Dilla beats and rapped over one of them. Dilla had heard this on Madlib’s B-Side and invited him to work together. The pair (who go by the name of Jaylib) went on to create ‘Champion Sound’ an evenly split album with Madlib on the mic, J Dilla on production and vice versa.
Shortly after the release of their album, J Dilla’s health began to decline but his work rate did not. Still touring with Madlib around the states, continuing to produce and forever developing his sound.
Eventually his health worsened to a point where he was admitted to hospital, but it didn’t stop Dilla from continuing what he loved to do. His mother, and friends would come round and bring him records to listen to.
It was in the hospital where J Dilla chopped, sampled and produced ‘Donuts’, the only instrumental album in the top 50 Hip Hop albums of all time! Widely considered as one of the most influential albums, he released ‘Donuts’ on his 32nd birthday, and passed away 3 days later (10 years ago today).
James Yancey, Jay Dee, J Dilla… One man, hundreds of productions, immeasurable influence. There is no discussion regarding his genius, from his early work with Slum Village to his final master piece ‘Donuts’. His work will forever be held in high regard and he will always be an inspiration to anyone aspiring to be the best they can be.
Rest In Beats James Yancey A.K.A J Dilla