On May 18th, 2006 the lineup at New York’s Radio City Music Hall read: The Roots, Nas, Common and Talib Kweli. The concert was a tribute to the death of James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla, and easily one of the most influential hip hop producers ever. Just look at that lineup and you can tell the impression Dilla left on some of the best in hip hop.
A competent rapper, Dilla became famous for his soulful beats with hitting bass lines. If Eminem put Detroit on the map for his lyrics, Dilla was the first to make Detroit known in the mid 90s for his production for artists such as Janet Jackson, 2Pac, Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and the list goes on. Early in his career he was overshadowed because of his involvement with the production group Ummah, which included Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Then Dilla went solo and put himself up for critique, and he was applauded. With underground classics, Welcome 2 Detroit and Donuts, he flexed his skills as a producer and a rapper. Even as solely an instrumental album, Donuts is an album that is timeless. His drum patterns are just that intricate, funky and soulful. Not to mention his album Champion Sound, a collaboration album with LA producer guru, Madlib under the alias Jaylib, which is arguably one of the top hip hop albums of the last decade.
Sadly, James Yancey never got to fully embrace his fame as he died prematurely at the age of 32 in 2006 from a rare blood disease, TTP, and possibly Lupus. Posthumous, his legacy remains, a producer only matched by a limit few, who all would applaud his contributions.
Listen to SFCritic’s selection of Dilla’s music below:
Link three songs:
Produced b J Dilla, Janet Jackson-Gone TIll its Gone
Produced b J Dilla, 2Pac – Do For Love
Jaylib – The Red