J Dilla died yesterday at the age of 32 from complications related to Lupus.
James Yancy aka Jay Dee aka J Dilla first came to my attention as a part of the Umma collective of producers who worked on a Tribe Called Quest's farewell album back in 1997.
Over the years he has been one of the many influential hip hop producers on the underground scene but never seemed to become one of the big names. Dude was strictly underground, raw, not commercial. He was never a top 10 radio producer like Dr Dre, Jazze Pha, Timbaland or Pharrell or those guys you see in the limelight but he was just one of the guys who the guys in the know checked for. He brought that head nodding vibe without the glamour and glitz. To paraphrase Tip he was in the cut call him incognito, Busy makin joints that will bump for the people.
Cant say that I checked for all his work (although some of my boys are big Slum Village fans I never really felt it that deeply) but just going through liner notes or seeing his name mentioned as producer on some obscure track on some obscure underground mc's album was somehow cool like oh this cats got Jay Dee producing maybe he's worth a listen.
He has produced for such notable artists as Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe called Quest, Black Star, Pharcyde, De La, Common with whom he did some of his best work on the Like Water for Chocolate album and he released the Champion Sound lp along with fellow underground artist/producer Madlib a few years back.
He was a former member of Slum Village (those cats with the new General Motors ad that runs like a music video), in fact their most well known member until he left the group a few years back, and produced most of their earlier work including Fantastic Vol 1 and 2. Heads be always comparing that Slum Village work to the old Tribe stuff (much like they are doing with Little Brother today) but you got to give Dilla his props cause he had his own sound.
Kind of funny just this week I was telling my wife that I was trying to find homeboy's album. Well not trying to find since I knew where to get it, its just I was trying to find it at a price that appealed to me which had led to a foray into numerous record stores in an effort to find the best deal (Still haven't bought it yet actually).
So I know that most, the average person when they think Hip hop thinks 50, Jay Z, Eminem or whatever else is popular on BET and the radio these days but cats like Dilla that was where the real hip hop resided and why cats like me could still say without it being a lie that Hip hop aint all that bad. Yea the fun stuff, the non-aggressive, non obscene, non-shake your tailfeather, non-hard out there for a pimp, non-20 video girls in tiny bikini stuff may not get the airplay or the public attention but it does exist and in greater abundance than one may think. J dilla represented that. Not the gangsta, thug machismo aesthetic, but as my man Obi would say just beats, rhymes and life.
Rest in Peace Dilla.