During a rare video interview in 2003, James Dewitt Yancey (aka J Dilla, aka Jay Dee) spoke on the difficulty of his intermediary role within hip-hop, “If you’re known for beats as I am, it’s hard to do. You can’t be an MC and a producer… What I’ve been doing for the last three years is all production. What I’m doing is just trying to get my name out there–I still consider myself underground.”
This is the same cat who helped form 1st Down, the first Detroit hip-hop group to be signed to a major label. The initial mastermind behind the texture-expanding gangster rap trio Slum Village. The mad scientist who ushered in an entire generation of R&B artists (including D’Anglelo, Common, and Erykah Badu) to shape what we now recognize as neo soul. One-half of the collaborative Jaylib duo with Madlib. A righteously subversive solo artist whose coupled rapping and production efforts forever expanded the scope and span of hip-hop. The same man who created his most hallowed and conceptually provocative piece of music, Donuts, on his deathbed.
Ten years ago today, roughly three years after the interview, J Dilla experienced a sudden degeneration of health and fell victim to rare blood disease which quickly claimed his life. While we should meditate on his tragic demise, it seems more useful–and, frankly, more enjoyable– to celebrate his legacy. As an underground artist, a producer whose talents were most often tucked away behind a bigger name, he struggled to attain the kind of reach he sought. But Dilla’s posthumous legacy looms high over his grave, casting an impressive shadow upon the present state of electronic, R&B, and hip-hop music.
Revisit some classic J Dilla cuts with us.
Jay Dee aka J Dilla – BBE (Big Booty Express) off Welcome 2 Detroit
Slum Village – “Give This Nigga” off Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1)
J Dilla – “Heroin Joint”
Slum Village – “Get ‘Dis Money” off Fantastic, Vol. 2
J Dilla – “Make It Fast”
J Dilla – “Think Twice”
J Dilla – “In Space”
Macy Gray – “I Try (Jay Dee Remix)” off J Dilla Anthology Volume 2
J Dilla – So Far To Go (Feat Common & D’Angelo) off The Shining
J Dilla – “People” off Donuts