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Detroit Pt.4

February 4, 2009
Dilla diggin for beats

Dilla diggin for beats

The 4th and final part of the Detroit series sees me talk about arguably my favorite producer of all time; James Dewitt Yancey AKA Jay Dee AKA J-Dilla.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Dilla started his musical career in his group Slum Village with his class mates, T3 and Baatin. He started making beats using a tapedeck to record beats to play around with. Having met a local musician by the name of Amp Fiddler, Dilla was introduced to a new toy in the shape of a MPC drum machine, which was to become Dilla’s weapon of choice for making his music.

Dilla also worked with another Detroit MC called Phat Kat, and that was followed by working with a group that contained the late Detroit legend Proof. With the little momentum he had going he was being noticed by other artists and was called in to do remixes for people like A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde and Del la Soul amongst others. Although not having been credited with these remixes by his name, he was part of The Ummah who were named as the remixers, they were a trio of producers that Dilla was part of.

Through these times Dilla became friends with Q-Tip of a Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes, contributing at least one track to every Busta album to date, he also contributed many memorable songs to The Pharcyde’s classic album Labcabincalifornia, including the amazing Drop. Following this Dilla produced the track Got til it’s gone for Janet Jackson, although again he wasn’t credited for this even though it won a Grammy.

By the turn of the millenium, Slum Village were ready to release their first solo album, Fantastic,Vol.2. On this album Dilla could be heard rapping as well as producing, and not only was he good at making beats, his rhymes were also impressive. This album spawned the classic track Players.

2000 also seen Dilla formed the musical collective known as the Soulquarians with fellow artists ?uestlove (?uest names Dilla as his mentor) D’Angelo, James Poyser, Common (Dilla’s longtime friend and one time flatmate), Erykah Badu and more. Dilla went on to work with every member of the Soulquarians contributing beats and rhymes to their individual projects,. He produced many classics for Common on the albums Be and Like Water for Chocolate, and some classic Roots tracks like Dynamite.

Dilla MPC

Dilla on his MPC

Dilla then dropped his first solo track Fuck the police, which was produced by him with him rapping over the beat, a slight nod to NWA’s classic track perhaps, but this track was one of Dilla’s most memorable tracks, with its rugged beat, great flute sample and anti police lyrics. Dilla then released Welcome to Detroit on Barely Breaking Even (BBE) records.

While awaiting his album coming out on MCA, Dilla released Ruff Draft, which had the track Crushin, a personal favorite of mine. After this Dilla connected with Thestashbox favorite and the likeminded MPC wizard Madlib to form the group Jaylib. Together they toured and released the now classic Champion Sound, which featured Talib Kweli, Frank n Dank and Dilla’s friend Guilty Simpson.

It was around the 2003 time when Dilla became ill and his weight loss was evident. He was private about his illness and people were left to guess what was wrong, but in 2004-05 it was confirmed he had TTP and Lupus. This didn’t perturb him from touring and he performed across Europe from his wheelchair.

While Dilla was in hostpital in Los Angeles, he began making the album Donuts (Stones Throw), a classic album regardless of genre. It has been said he had his MPC, his records, a lap top and a turntable by his bed side as he lay ill in the hospital making beats till the day he passed on February 10th 2006. The album was released 3 days before his death and was greatly received by the public and critics alike. The album is made up of 31 intrumentals and remains one of my top 5 albums of all time.

A suit of posthumous releases followed in the shape of Jay Loves Japan, The Shining and the free Dillagence Mixtape continued his tradition of releasing quality music.

There is a whole lot more I could have wrote for this piece, but I simply will end it here by saying Dilla’s music has been a mainstay in my life for 3 years now with me knowingly playing his tracks, but his music has been in my life for much longer, way back when I was listening to the aforementioned Pharcyde album Labcabincalifornia, I fell in love with the tracks Drop and Runnin and also A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats Rhymes and Life album, the track 1nce Again was a regular track in my Sony Walkman.

I think I’m a fan because  I love soulful,  happy music, and this can be heard through Dilla’s music, from his motown samples to his trademark basslines driving each track whilst glueing the musical elements together, I’ve been a fan alot longer than I knew and I will continue to be for years.

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