I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been talking about J.Dilla since PFG began. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about my favourite sample flips, or breaking down a beloved Tribe Called Quest song, or just musing on hip-hop in general, the man born James Yancey always seems to cast his inimitable shadow over my musings.
That’s one reason why I’m somewhat hesitant to talk too much about what his music meant to me while he was alive, and what it has grown to mean in the years since his death from complications of Lupus in 2006; I feel like you’ve heard it all before, to a certain extent. Here’s what I wrote in 2009 in a brief Facebook note marking the occasion of his passing:
I remember reading about it in Detroit weekly The Metro Times, and was stunned, not even knowing he was sick.
It was a major deal in Detroit. The D’s been conspicuously absent on the national hip-hop stage, with the exception of MC Breed, no one made their mark like Dilla and Slum Village. His work with the Ummah and Soulquarian collectives was one of the few oases of hip-hop as I was in my Britpop/shoegazer phase.
The thing about Dilla is he was the last of the great beat constructors, chopping and rearranging his samples into new creations. Think DJ Premier or Pete Rock.
And Jordan…well, Jordan likes that in his hip-hop.
There’s not a lot more I can say that wouldn’t be already add to that. Dilla was unrivaled as a beatmaker. He discovered an entire new language of hip-hop, and what he didn’t discover he invented. The best producers before him might have found the hottest samples or tweaked loops masterfully, but Dilla was on a whole nother level: the guy made a beat out of 32 half-second samples lifted from a Roy Ayers record and made it sound like an 8-bar loop just because he could!
There are no words.
Anyway, there are lots of people out there saying much more eloquent things about the man and his legacy than I ever could, so I’ve collected a few of them here for you.
The always essential Complex Magazine has a trio of articles worth your time: an interview with Dilla’s mother Ma Dukes, following up on the complicated details of Dilla’s estate, mired in disputes with various lawyers and accountants since his passing; an interview with Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf on the likelihood of future posthumous Dilla releases; and an essential breakdown of Dilla’s 50 Best Songs, in the fine Complex tradition. Hard to argue with #1.
Earlier this afternoon, Roots bandleader and Dilla friend and mentee Questlove stopped by New York’s Hot97 radio station to guest on Mister Cee’s Throwback mix, spinning over an hour of Dilla classics both familiar and underground. Worth hearing just to think of the young’uns on the block screwfacing as Stan Getz played on the Tri-State area’s number one hip-hop station.
Fellow Detroiter and one of the rappers of the moment Big Sean celebrated Dilla’s legacy by laying a slick verse over one of the classic and beloved ‘Donuts’ beats.
Finally, two years ago the streetwear brand Stussy put out a fantastic short documentary on Dilla’s late phase, after he moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s.
Rest in Peace, James Yancey. Your music remains timeless.