Whenever I see donuts, I immediately think of J. Dilla. Some things are just strangely synonymous with one another. In my mind; Dilla and donuts should always go together. In fact, eating donuts while spinning J. Dilla’s Donuts album is something that I think everyone should do! The tracks on that album or any other Dilla album are always guaranteed to put me in good mood. J. Dilla’s music always made me feel all warm and tingly inside. He was one of the most respected, loved, and influential hip-hop artists and producers of all time. Many of the artists and producers that we listen to today including Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, and JustBlaze consider him to be their personal favorite producer. In my humble opinion, J. Dilla was nothing short of a musical genius. His use of sampling and hard-hitting beats made him stand out amongst his peers. I grew up listening to artists that he worked with so his sound always remains familiar to me. It brings on a feeling of nostalgia that is bittersweet. I’ve always heard the saying, “The good die young.” In J. Dilla’s case, this happens to be true. However, a talent and star as bright as J. Dilla certainly knows how to say goodbye leaving behind a legacy full of inspiration and plain good ole’ music. Reminisce with M.I.S.S. as we indulge in all of J. Dilla’s glory.
J. Dilla or “Jay Dee” was born James Dewitt Yancey in Detroit, Michigan on February 7, 1974. Music would inevitably run through veins as it did through his family. His mother was formally an opera singer and his father was a jazz bassist. It was through his parents that he was able to acquire a vast musical knowledge and began collecting vinyl records at the tender age of two. Although he had a love and respect for all musical genres, Hip-Hop was Dilla’s passion. He formed the rap group Slum Village in high school with classmates T3 and Baatin, while also taking up beatmaking after being inspired by a number of people, most notably Pete Rock of the hip-hop group Pete Rock and C.L. smooth.
He would spend hours alone in his basement, surrounded by records, using only a simple tapedeck to create beats. When he met Detroit musician Amp Fiddler in 1992, he was first introduced to the Akai MPC (Midi/Music Production Center) Sampler. This electronic music instrument is used as a drum machine and has the ability to sample one’s own sounds. With this machine in hand, Dilla made magic! He mastered the MPC drum machine, serving up one of a kind beats that would be become classics among his generation. By the mid 1990s, Dilla had made his way through the Detroit music scene and was well on his way to becoming the producer that everyone wanted to work with. He still made beats in his basement, but also ventured into the studio, producing sounds for the likes of artists such as Erykah Badu, Common, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Janet Jackson among many others. The majority of J. Dilla’s productions were released without his name recognition. He produced a number of tracks under the alias of “The Ummah”. The first time I heard Janet Jackson’s single “Got Till It’s Gone”, I was in awe. Even though he never officially took credit for producing that track, it reeked of J. Dilla’s presence. The “Got Till It’s Gone” EP also featured a remix appropriately entitled “Ummah Jay Dee’s Revenge Mix”. You see with J. Dilla, it was never about the money or the fame. It was always about the music. He didn’t just strive to be the best producer he possibly could be. He strived to make “music” as a whole the best that it could possibly be.
At the beginning of the millennium, J. Dilla worked on a number of solo and collaborative projects. Although a great portion of his material was never released by a major record label company, he was able to gain notoriety and build a fan base through word of mouth and the internet. Welcome 2 Detroit, Ruff Draft, Champion Sound, Jay Love Japan, and The Shining are a few of the albums that J. Dilla worked on during this time. J. Dilla also started to work on what was probably his most successful and well-known record to date, Donuts. Donuts was raw, edgy, and filled with instrumental tracks so beautiful that lyrics weren’t even needed. The Donuts album was the first time I was introduced to Dionne Warwick’s “You’re Gonna Need Me” that was later sampled for one of my favorite Usher tracks entitled “Throwback”. Other tracks such as “Two can Win and “”Gobstopper” are always guaranateed to bring a big smile on my face
In 2002, J. Dilla started to get really sick. He was diagnosed with lupus and TTP, a rare blood disease that causes a low platelet count. Doctors told him there was no cure or direct treatment. Despite his health problems, he continued to make music with his mother by his side to take care of him. In 2006, his health took a turn for the worse and he was once again hospitalized. He would work on the Donuts album from his hospital bed while letting doctors hear some of the music that he created. He finished all but two songs on the album. Donuts was released on February 7th of that year. J. Dilla died from complications of his disease just three days after that on February 10, 2006. Since his death, fans have come together to mourn his passing and celebrate the life and legacy of one of music’s finest. In May 2006, J Dilla’s mother announced the creation of “The J Dilla Foundation”, which will work to cure lupus and help kids who were musically gifted but had little hope due to poverty. J. Dilla’s music experienced a rebirth after he was gone and there have been countless tribute tracks and concerts by many artists dedicated to this bright star. Just recently, Mochilla announced the release of a limited edition DVD box set of Timeless, the 3 part event honoring producer J. Dilla featuring The Suite For Ma Dukes Orchestra. It’s evident that the force that was J. Dilla touched so many around the world .
At times, I get emotional when I think about J. Dilla and his legacy. He taught me a lot about music and life in general. His passion, love, and dedication to his craft were not only admirable, but inspiring as well. He lived out his dream to make music until it was physically impossible for him to do so anymore. He made others in his field, even those whom he had personally looked up to, want to be better or just as good he was. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were all as dedicated to something as J. Dilla was dedicated to music?
I grew up in a household that constantly played music. I was always surrounded by so much music and my parents’ vinyl records in particular that I kind of took it for granted. Taking trips to my local record shop had become routine to the point that it was beginning to get just a tad bit boring. After listening to a lot of J. Dilla, I felt the urge to dig for records and create a collection of my own. I would carefully read the credits on his albums and search vigorously for the songs that he sampled. I gained a new appreciation for my parents’ albums and the collection that I was starting to build for myself. J. Dilla really did change my life and the lives of so many others as well. I thank him for helping my discover my passion and re-introducing me to my first love which is and will always be music. Happy Birthday J. Dilla!- from everyone here on the M.I.S.S. Crew.
Here’s a quote from one of our M.I.S.S. staff:
“Although there are so many classics – the Dilla track that can always turn my frown upside down is “Won’t Do” from his album The Shining. That beat is so tuff!”
For more information on J. Dilla, please visit his website at:
Enjoy some J.Dilla produced tracks!
J Dilla’s “Nothing Like This” from the album Ruff Draft
Q-Tip’s “Move” from the album The Renaissance
Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know” from the album Mama’s Gun
Suite For Ma Dukes – Miguel Atwood- Ferguson and a 40 piece orchestra Live at The Luckman
- M.I.S.S. In The Mix: J Dilla x Stussy
- We Got the Beat: Hudson Mohawke
- Reminisce with M.I.S.S: Grav
- M.I.S.S. In The Mix: Producer T. Dragonette
- M.I.S.S. Playlist: Chill Out