The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
CD Reviews  |  Classical  |  Live Reviews  |  Music Features

Rhythm for days

The legacy of the late great J. Dilla
By JAMIN WARREN  |  February 21, 2006

EPITAPH Donuts is exactly the forward-thinking, experimental showcase you’d expect from an artist with the end in view.Hip-hop icons never just die. They fall in battle, tumble from the sky, or drown in addiction. The robbery of their lives is apparent, obtrusive, cinematic. Strange, then, that one of hip-hop’s greatest, James Yancey (a/k/a Jay Dee, best known as J. Dilla), would pass so surreptitiously. His death was wholly unassuming. A multi-year battle with a blood sickness and then a diagnosis of lupus. A hospital stay last fall, a brief recovery, European performances in a wheelchair. And, finally, a quick death that descended on the 32-year-old producer while he was cradled in his mother’s embrace.

Dilla’s passing, on February 10, came just three days after his birthday and the release of his second solo album, Donuts (Stones Throw). Since leaving his original group, Slum Village, Dilla had established himself as a producer/rapper. But Donuts is Dilla distilled: all beats. Originally conceived as a beat tape and then produced on his hospital bed last fall, it’s exactly the forward-thinking, experimental showcase you’d expect from an artist with the end in view. Dilla decimates the hip-hop mold, motoring through electric guitars and muted percussion on “Workinonit,” æthereally serenading us on “Time: The Donuts of the Heart,” and reflipping his own verses on “Dilla Says Go.” With only a single track crossing the two-minute mark, Donuts is a fitting bookend to his career, and a reminder that Jay Dee didn’t make music, he made movements.

His résumé speaks miles. After hooking up with Q-Tip in the mid ’90s, he became part of the legendary Unmah production team that cemented A Tribe Called Quest’s classic status with cuts like “Get a Hold,” “Find a Way,” and “Stressed Out.” On his own, he built trademark cuts for Pharcyde (“Runnin,’ ” “Drop”), De La Soul (“Stakes Is High”), and the Roots (“Dynamite”). His credits include all of Slum Village’s early work, Q-Tip’s Amplified (1999), Common’s Like Water for Chocolate (2000), portions of D’Angelo’s Voodoo (2000), and his Jaylib collaboration with LA beatsmith Madlib in 2003. If it knocked in the late ’90s, Jay Dee probably had a hand in it.

There’s no greater testament to his paradigm-shifting ability than the cult of beat collectors who grew up around him. When Pharrell Williams shouted out the producer on BET’s 106 & Park in 2004, he confirmed to the public what Dilla followers had known for years: Jay Dee was the producer’s producer. Kanye West shared that conviction: he left two spots for the Detroit producer on Common’s Grammy-nominated Be. Their respect for Dilla reflected just the top end of a complex of fans and producers who’d been swallowing his music wholesale for years. Thanks to file-sharing networks, followers could search the Web for new, unreleased, and unlabeled Dilla material.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Due Dilla-gence, Birth of the DVDJ, Discovering Dilla, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Hip-Hop and Rap, Music,  More more >
| More
Add Comment
HTML Prohibited

 Friends' Activity   Popular   Most Viewed 
[ 12/09 ]   Freelance Whales + Miniature Tigers + Pretty and Nice  @ Middle East Downstairs
[ 12/09 ]   Herra Terra + Thickness + Andersons + Workout  @ Middle East Upstairs
[ 12/09 ]   "Jingle Ball 2010"  @ Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell
More Information
J. Dilla, "Airworks" (mp3)
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ALICE SMITH  |  May 31, 2006
    Her debut release on BBE struggles with splitting the difference between rockist guitars and R&B grooves.
  •   GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW  |  April 11, 2006
    Though she may not look the part, Georgia Anne Muldrow makes nihilism sexy.
  •   NE-YO  |  March 14, 2006
    Think Ne-Yo is bummed that his songwriting success of 2K5 (Mario’s “Let Me Love You”) got snubbed at the Grammys?
  •   VARIOUS ARTISTS, RUN THE ROAD VOLUME 2 | VICE  |  February 27, 2006
    If Cam’ron is good enough to look for talent overseas and Jay-Z can nab Lady Sovereign, then Great Britain might just overcome America’s mainstream myopia. Vice believes it.
  •   RHYTHM FOR DAYS  |  February 21, 2006
    Jay Dee didn’t make music, he made movements. If it knocked in the late ’90s, he probably had a hand in it.

 See all articles by: JAMIN WARREN

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2010 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group