In some way, shape, or form J Dilla has been involved with the creation of most of my favorite music. Some of these names should ring a bell.
The Pharcyde. A Tribe Called Quest. Busta Rhymes. De La Soul. The Roots. Mos Def. Talib Kweli. Ghostface Killah.
And that’s just scratching the surface of his resumé.
Dilla was so much more than just a producer. He nurtured Hip-Hop, blazed his own unique trail and brought it along for the ride. But it was a two-way street. As the years went by, Hip-Hop helped him grow and he too helped to raise and nurture Hip-Hop. The alternative movement breathes his influence with every record, and just as much, Dilla’s own work was impacted by the music he helped shape. The relationship was very much mutual, almost symbiotic if you will.
And while most artists limit themselves to a small subcategory of the music, calling it their niche, J. Dilla was expansive. Limitless.
Throughout his career, he worked with almost every kind of rapper. And if his posthumous music is included in the discussion, then it wouldn’t be too far off to say that every limb of rap has felt his influence. Additionally, Dilla’s work wasn’t even just limited to Hip-Hop. By creating music with artists like Erykah Badu and Janet Jackson, he successfully branched out to other genres like Soul and R&B.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that J. Dilla impacted music. Not just Hip-Hop. But rather, music as an entity has shifted because of him.
To say Dilla made beats is an injustice. Even saying he was one of the greatest producers isn’t completely accurate. His music lacked nothing. Vocals weren’t necessary. His “beats” were complete, standalone masterpieces of music by themselves. You doubt me? Go back and throw on Donuts and tell me I’m wrong. There has not been a single other producer who can say the same about their product. Not in Hip-Hop, not in any other genre of music. And there will never be another one.
In fact, there are only two other musicians I can think of who possessed that distinguishing quality and they were completely unrelated to rap. And they were just composers who died hundreds of years ago. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
And just like their pieces, J Dilla’s music is immortal.
Unfortunately, his prolific career was cut short by the autoimmune diseases, Moschcowitz syndrome and Lupus. Slowly the lethal combination depleted his health enough to decrease his music output, before Dilla eventually succumbed to cardiac arrest on February 10, 2006, leaving behind a pristine legacy that cannot be matched. By anyone.
And so five years later, a trio of NYU students calling themselves Stray Phases – Storm Siegel on drums, Dave Mainella on piano and Evan Crane on bass – performed a rendition of Donuts, to a small crowd of locals at a NYC bar on Sunday October 17, 2010. It goes from cover to cover, precisely recreating his music with a jazz twist, as an ode to the late musician.
It’s just another small flicker in the eternal flame that is the music of James Dewitt Yancey. Jay Dee. J Dilla.
Props: Metal Lungies