Inspired to start making beats by the 1984 track Big Mouth” by Brooklyn trio Whodini, Yancey began to associate with Detroit based musicians and producers who would quickly come to help shape his career.
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The canonical hip hop producer’s breakout release Ruff Draft restored to his original vision, out now, via Pay Jay Productions. JUST BLAZE: Producer for Jay-Z, Kanye West, Cam’ron, Ghostface Killah, and many others; approached Jay Dee with big-budget projects, which Jay passed on in deference to artists he was currently working with at the time.
Join us this Saturday April, 22 for Record Store Day in select stores for a first-listen of J Dilla’s new album. Detroit , DTLA , Venice , Miami , Chicago , Tribeca , San Francisco and Washington D.C. will be playing records by J Dilla. Complimentary Dilla’s Delights Donuts will be available in Detroit.
The eighth album from Chicago hip-hop artist Common was originally scheduled to be released on June 24, 2008 under the name Invincible Summer, but he announced at a Temple University concert that he would change it to Universal Mind Control 24 The release date was pushed back to September 30, 2008 due to Common filming Wanted The release date was set for November 11, 2008, however, it was once again pushed back to December 9, 2008.
In this edition of The Produce Section , we cover the late great producer J Dilla, whose legacy as one of the premier creators of the revamped style of boom-bap that dominated the late ’90s and early aughts, is beyond comparison. Born and bred in Detroit, Michigan in 1974, Jay Dee (as he was originally known) scored a short-lived record deal with Payday Records as one-half of the Detroit rap duo 1st Down. But, his true claim to fame would come via his work as a producer. Climbing his way up in the industry, Dilla caught his big break after securing placements on rap group Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia album, which led to credits on albums from A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Keith Murray, Janet Jackson, and other luminaries in rap and R&B.
An avid fan of conscious ’90s hip hop, Tom was bitten by the Dilla bug when he first heard the legendary instrumental producer’s beat for Slum Village track Fall In Love. It was a prompt for him to start digging deep and educate himself on the work of James Dewitt Yancey, with Misch also namechecking some of Dilla’s associates and related acts as big inspirations on his sound – including Slum Village, Common, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Listening in to Misch’s beatwork and lush soundscapes as both a producer and singer-songwriter, the deep influence Dilla has played on his output is definitely evident.
Dilla had a huge effect on the evolution of hip hop connoisseurs’ label of choice, Stones Throw, and his partnership with Madlib pushed both the production titans to shift gears and take their music to new realms. But above all, Dilla will be remembered for the genre-defining Donuts , which came out just three days before his death.
James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006), better known by the stage names J Dilla and Jay Dee, was an American record producer and rapper who emerged in the mid-1990s underground hip hop scene in Detroit, Michigan, as one third of the acclaimed music group Slum Village. His obituary at NPR stated that he “was one of the music industry’s most influential hip-hop artists,” working with notable acts including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots, The Pharcyde, Madlib and Common.
Black Milk mentions J Dilla on various productions of his since his death. On his 2008 album Tronic , Black Milk rhymes about how J Dilla was an inspiration to him (“Long Story Short”) and that he was “the best Hip-Hop producer” (“Bond 4 Life”). On his 2010 album, Album of the Year , Black Milk laments that he wishes J Dilla was still around “to hear this new shit” (“Closed Chapter”).
JAMES POYSER: A lot of people didn’t really understand the Electric Circus album, but coming up with some of the music for that was crazy. Common wanted to go to the next level and be really experimental, and we were going there—doing different things, trying different things, trying different sounds. That was an amazing time. There was so much music we made that couldn’t possibly be used for anything else, because it was so left field—things with different tempos, different time signatures. It was just really creative—extra creative. We tried to go as far as possible with it.
J Dilla, aka Jay Dee (James Yancey), is a beat maker and rapper from Conant Gardens in Detroit. He was a founder of the iconic trio Slum Village, as well as a producer for other mainstream artists like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots, The Pharcyde, Madlib and Common.
Jay Dee’s first label signing came as part of 1st Down, with Detroit native Phat Kat MCing and Yancey on production. The group were signed by Pay Day records, but their break was short lived due to possible label complications. Their one 12” single, A Day With The Homiez”, was released in 1995.
In February last year, Atwood-Ferguson put a 60-piece orchestra together to play a special tribute concert for Dilla at an arts centre in LA. Dilla’s mother, Maureen, was a special guest and the night, Suite for Ma Dukes, was named in her honour. The CD and DVD recorded that night show Dilla’s music to be, by turns, fantastically complex and head-noddingly simple, while Atwood-Ferguson’s orchestrations are overpoweringly alive with the possibilities of where this brilliant musician, someone who made startling records with De La Soul, Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu and Common, among a wealth of others, could have gone next.
IMANI: The Pharcyde; Jay Dee production featured on 1995’s Labcabincalifornia. Hip-hop became a major part of Yancey’s later school years. He met rappers T3 and Baatin, and formed a rap crew called H20. The trio would stay friends and later became known as Slum Village.
Two tracks that did not make it from Pay Day to The Diary were Dilla’s mix of the Kanye West version of ‘The Anthem’ and his album version of ‘Fuck The Police’ featuring an alternate vocal performance. In 2016, these tracks were released as The Middle Finger” (a fuck-you to MCA), limited to 1000 copies, hand numbered and presented as a ‘white label’, with the labels mimicking a test pressing.
Born on Feb. 7, 1974, James Dewitt Yancey, (better known by the moniker J Dilla) is still remembered as one of Detroit’s most highly revered artists. MTV and the Save the Music nonprofit organization has launched a grant named after the J Dilla, the highly influential rapper-producer who died in 2006.
RJ: Just making music and enjoying the time, because you never know what you’re making and how it’s gonna turn out. You don’t know if it’s gonna be a classic” as people like to say two days after their albums come out now.
That he wanted to collaborate with some of the best producers of his era like Bink!, Hi-Tek and Supa Dave West — his competition, essentially — is this album’s most striking feature. It shows that, even though Dilla often seemed as if he were making his own version of hip-hop, he wasn’t hermetically sealed off from the rest of the genre: There are musical and lyrical nods here to R. Kelly, Jay Z, Big Punisher and more. For better and worse, The Diary” is strikingly of its time. Perhaps Dilla wanted to prove a point about where in hip-hop he belonged, or perhaps he just wanted to play.
Dilla’s real legacy will live on in the music he had a hand, act or part in while he was alive. The world didn’t really take notice of his talents until after his death so there are hundreds of tracks to grab your attention. One of my favourite Dilla tracks has always been his remix of Janet Jackson’s Got Till It’s Gone” in 1997, with Dilla’s simple, sublime production making a pop record sound like an alien broadcast. The Joni Mitchell sample was perfectly pitched but Dilla made the space and dynamics around the beat sound just as magic.
If there’s one negative critique for this album, it’s the lack of consistency on the mic from Dilla. Although this could have been from a general lack of experience, it’s hard to point out moments where J Dilla shows progression as a lyricist throughout the album. It’s tough to admit, but Dilla wasn’t meant to be a rapper, and if this album had been released in 2002, the world would have likely said the same thing.
The aptly named Heat vibrates with a brilliantly thick, syrupy Afrobeat feel that is the perfect midpoint between the shimmering burnt-sugar funk of Fela Kuti and the hammer-fall, chicken-scratch soul power of James Brown. Dilla shows his mastery of making roughneck, properly heavy music sound beautifully planed.
J. ROCC: We’d go digging all the time, at home and on the road. I’d pick him up and that was it—spots in Venice, spots out here, wherever the car would travel. I’d pick up Madlib sometimes, or we’d meet over at Madlib’s house, and we made a day out of it. Jay was always looking out for folks. We going digging? If not everybody can do it, I don’t wanna go. I’ll wait—I’ll wait for everybody.” He wanted to wait for everybody, so we could smoke some weed and crack jokes, and he was funny with it because he was the opposite of Madlib. Madlib don’t give a fuck—he’ll buy everything. If it looks dope, he’s buying it. Madlib would buy the whole store. Dilla would buy, like, two records.
Maureen Ma Dukes” Yancey is a proud mother. Her late son, James J Dilla” Dewitt Yancey has lived on in the hearts (and headphones) of hip-hop fans worldwide, more than a decade after his death. In the latest installment of our series, we celebrate and highlight 11 of J Dilla’s most iconic beats that defines his excellence behind the boards.
J Dilla leaves behind a body of work which will be loved and rediscovered for years to come. His most recent album Donuts” was released on February 7th, the day of his 32nd birthday. Two other projects, The Shining” (BBE Records) and Jay Love Japan” (Operation Unknown) are completed and will be released in 2006. Other production work has been completed for artists Madlib, Busta Rhymes, Ghostface Killah, A.G., Visionaries, Truth Hurts, Phat Kat, MF DOOM, Skillz, and Frank N Dank.
The spirit of Marvin Gaye is channeled on this standout selection from Common’s Be album, as Dilla constructs a beat around steady percussion, synths and elements of the R&B legend’s 1970 cut “God Is Love.” One of the last production credits earned during his lifetime, this soulful tune serves as an appropriate curtain call for one of the best beatsmiths to ever do it.
When Dilla died, he left behind a large unpaid tax bill, a messy series of contracts managing the rights to his work and a bunch of unfinished albums so there have been other posthumous releases. These include The Shining”, where Detroit jazz drummer Karriem Riggins put the final finishing production touches to tracks featuring the likes of Common, D’Angelo and Busta Rhymes; the fantastically grimey Ruff Draft”; his collaboration with Madlib on Champion Sound” and 28 previously unreleased instrumental tracks rounded up by Pete Rock for Jay Stay Paid”. There’s also other unreleased works in the archive, such as the long lost album The Diary”.
Like Yancey, Robert ‘Bryant (Waajeed) was a promising young producer and also a talented visual artist who had been friends with Glover since they were of single-digit age. ‘Bryant and Glover—along with Yancey, Altman, and Yancey’s cousin Que. D as crew dancer—formed a quintet called Ssenepod. As ‘Bryant’s art studies began to take precedence and the appeal of hip-hop dancing lessened, Ssenepod was reduced to a trio, and then to a pair as one of its members found his way into street life.