Six years ago the hip-hop community lost one of the greatest and most talented producers music has ever seen. James “J Dilla” Yancey passed away Feb. 10, 2006, from a blood disease called TTP.
J Dilla was a hip-hop producer from Detroit who worked with the likes of Common, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Busta Rhymes. He also was a part of the legendary hip-hop trio Slum Village. On top of all of this, Dilla released three solo albums, including the instrumental album, “Donuts,” which hit stores on his 32nd birthday, just three days before he died.
In the late 1990s Dilla became a member of the Soulquarians, a hip-hop music collective featuring Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Questlove, D’Angelo, James Poyser, Pino Palladino, Bilal and Q-Tip. Together, this collective created some of the most highly regarded albums in hip-hop history, including The Roots’ “Things Fall Apart,” D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” and Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate.”
Dilla was a once-in-a-generation artist. He is unlike any producer who has ever graced hip-hop or who ever will. His attention to detail and incredible ear for samples were just some of the things that set him apart from the rest of the producers during his short career. As a fan of hip-hop, Dilla has been a huge influence on my life. Few days go by when I don’t listen to music he helped create. Whether it’s an instrumental or a song he produced, his music elicits certain emotions inside of me that no other music can. When you listen to a J Dilla song, you are not only reminded of where hip-hop was, but what it truly is.
Today J Dilla is still regarded as one of the best producers, if not the best, of all-time. His music continues to inspire fans, rappers and producers across the world. Earlier this week when I spoke with Free, one of two producers from The Niceguys, he described the impact J Dilla has had on his career. He said, “Dilla is to me in hip-hop music production what Michael Jordan would be to an aspiring pro ball player. He’s the greatest. He’s the one you look to as a kid to pattern your style after when you start doing beats. Slum Village’s ‘Fantastic Vol. 2’ and Common’s ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ are the albums that made me want to produce. Those were the blueprints for hip-hop production to me. Jay Dee to me is the greatest ever, and I knew that before he passed away.”
Free is one of many who would tell you just how big of an impact J Dilla has had on their careers. His music and production have set a precedent for what hip-hop can be and where it can be taken. Even though Dilla passed away six years ago, his contribution to hip-hop will never be forgotten, and his legacy will live on forever. J Dilla always was and always will be hip-hop.