The Legend of J Dilla (Jay Dee) to me…
10th of February 2006 the day the one and only Jay Dee passed. I remember my barber at the time called me up in bits telling me he’d passed. Around this time would probably be my height of Stanism for Jay. I really felt it when he died, we don’t know these artists/producers personally but something about his vibe just resonated with me.
I remember in late November 2005 he was doing a tour of Europe and performing in a wheelchair. He had a date at the Jazz Cafe a week or two before my 18th birthday so I couldn’t get into the gig. Just to find out he passed a couple months later, I was so gutted. Like imagine that someone that had changed how I viewed music, in terms of sampling, drums, etc had now passed. And that was literally the last opportunity I would have had to see him. It’s nuts, that always sticks with me.
I first really found about Jay Dee around 2000, my auntie of all people gave me a copy of Fantastic Vol 2 and it blew my mind! The beats, the samples, the vibe, everything about it! I listened to that album back to back for weeks. When he flipped Don Blackman’s “Holding you, Loving you” on “Go Ladies” I was amazed. It was so minimal as well, this is something that encapsulated Jay’s early sound for me. It wasn’t neccessarily chopped up to the max but it would be smooth and sound real good lol. The claps and bass on that record say it all to be honest.
Anyways I digress, I’d heard his name because of ATCQ – That Shit off of the Funk Flex : 60 minutes of funk Vol 3. This was a wack project btw but Jay killed that shit with his rhymes and production. Q Tip also used the same flow as Jay did on ” Go Ladies ” from Fantastic vol2. A year later I knew he produced pretty much all of Q Tip’s solo album ” Amplified”. At this point I really had to find out about him, little did I know I’d been listening to Jay most of my life at that point. He produced for ATCQ, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Janet Jackson!, Busta Rhymes and so on. I’m sure you’ll know he produced for many others.
He was also in “The Ummah” a production collective with himself, Q Tip, Ali Shaheed and occasionally Raphael Saadiq or D’angelo. Although it was reported Jay himself was responsible for most of the production work under this moniker and wasn’t happy people assumed it was Tip.
Then we also had the legendary “Soulquarians” : Jay Dee, Questlove, James Poyser, Erykah Badu, Common, Bilal, D’angelo and Mos Def. Rumour has it that although he wasn’t officially credited that Jay was actually involved in the voodoo sessions helping direct the musicians. By all accounts he had an infectious excitement and diligence (no pun) for and to the music.
The point I’m getting at really is, he was your favourite producers favourite producer. He helped shape noticeable changes in the sound of urban music full stop, not just hip hop. There’s tons of projects to check out where you can really hear the progression in his style. Early Jay Dee was more snare drums with the crack, minimalist samples and funky bass lines. He then had a more electro phased specifically on the Common’s electric circus album. The name change to Dilla also signalled a changed in style imo. We got a harder, grittier soulful sound.
I won’t go through his whole journey because there’s so much to cover but also everyone else has done it . I just wanna link back to Donuts. Donuts holds a special place in my heart (erghhh). Dilla was making Donuts while in hospital suffering with complications from Lupus. He literally made beats until he died. To say that’s dedication is an understatement, and then even the titles of songs towards the end. Bye, Last donut of the night and welcome to the show. It all has a feel of finality to it, he clearly knew he was due to go and put the remainder of his heart and soul into his music.
Donuts is amazing to me and always be, also The Shining came out later which was completed posthumously by close friend Karriem Riggins. The Diary eventually came out which was Dilla’s shelved MCA album of him rhyming over other producers beats. Outside of that there’s been a slew of posthumous projects much like Pac or Big, just in instrumental form instead.
I just wanted to finish off with a list of some of my favourite Dilla beats. There’s tons more of course but in terms stuff I could actually find to post, I picked these and yes picking “The Light” is a cop out but it gives me goosebumps to this day!
5 of my favourite Dilla beats
J Dilla – Airworks (Donuts)
Jay Dee – The wind (V3 beats)
Common – The Light
Elzhi – Love it here (Witness my growth)
Slum Village – Go ladies (Fantastic vol2)
That’s it from me today!
Ramblings of a music fan