James ‘J Dilla’ Yancey is perhaps one of the most revered Hip-Hop producers in the history of the genre. J Dilla, also known as Jay Dee, emerged from Detroit’s 1990s underground Hip-Hop scene. The son of an opera singer and jazz bassist, J Dilla took the industry by storm as a rapper and producer. In 1995 Jay Dee partnered with MC Phat Kat forming the pioneering Detroit rap duo 1st Down. 1st Down was the first Detroit rap group to sign with a major record label (Payday Records). Shortly thereafter, J Dilla formed the iconic rap group Slum Village with T3 and Baatin, and recorded the group’s debut, Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) in his home studio. The rest as they say, was history.
J Dilla went on to work with a myriad of underground and mainstream artists including Common, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, Q-Tip, Soulquarians, Madlib, Dwele, Guilty Simpson, Jay Electronica, J Rocc, Waajeed, Bilal, Busta Rhimes, Pete Rock, Guilty Simpson, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson, Black Milk, Mos Def, Kanye West, Nottz, Hi-Tek, Quebo Kuntry, Pharcyde, Frank n Dank and Supa Dave West. J Dilla was keen on collaborations, forming a number of influential collectives. He formed a production collective called The Ummah, which was made up of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and eventually Raphael Saadiq and The Soulquarians (with Questlove, D’Angelo and James Poyser and many others).
J Dilla’s cult status and tremendous success prompted him to eventually move from Detroit to Los Angeles in 2004. Sadly, J Dilla lost his battle with lupus just two years later. Born on February 7, 1974, J Dilla died at age 33 on February 10, 2006, leaving a seminal legacy of music behind.
J Dilla’s handprint is literally on so much of Hip-Hop music that one could listen to his music for days on end. Each February 7th, he is fondly remembered by DJs, artists, poets and those who appreciated his musical genius. While many pay homage to reggae legend Robert ‘Nesta’ Marley, whose birthday is on February 6, tributes to J Dilla are happening throughout the world as well. Dilla Day celebrations are being held in Detroit at the Fillmore and 5E Gallery, The Basement in Sydney, Australia, Miami at Bardot, DC at U Street Music Hall and Johnny Brenda’s in Philly. Other tributes were held this month in Paris, London and Los Angeles. XM Sirius is giving a Dilla Day tribute, with Ed Lover playing J Dilla’s greatest hits.
J Dilla was a prolific producer who influenced a generation of Hip-Hop and continues to do so through the release of music that has yet to be heard. On February 7, the Hip-Hop community remembers J Dilla. R.I.P.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.