Got til It’s Gone (Janet Jackson), Didn’t Ya Know (Erykah Badu), Woo-Hah! (Busta Rhymes), the Light (Common). Any of these songs ring a bell? If they do, chances are you have already been touched by the spirit of James Yancey aka J Dilla. If you’ve never heard the name J Dilla, I’m sure you have heard his work. The Detroit native and founding member of the music collectives: Slum Village, The Ummah and Soulquarians, is responsible for some of the most intoxicatingly soulful and addictive beats ever created. He would have been 38 years old today.
I was introduced to Dilla through one of his beat tapes at a friend’s house one day. Mesmerized in an audio trance by a song that I now know is titled Lightworks, I looked up from my beat coma with a look on my face that resembled somebody suffering from severe bubble guts, with my neck snapping furiously I asked “Who the fuck is this, Yo? He looked at me incredulously like I had a booger smeared in my moustache and simply said “Dilla”. From that day on the way I heard beats would never be the same again. My musical life changed. Over the next few days I searched for everything I could find Dilla related. I learned that he had released albums with Slum Village, several solo records, a collaborative album with Madlib titled Champion Sound and a ridiculous amount of innovatively produced beats created from sampled records. The man created an impressive body of work and I felt blessed but disappointed that I hadn’t heard about him sooner.
You may be wondering why I dedicated an entire post to a hip hop producer. Number one: It’s his birthday today and number two: As an audio junkie and beat enthusiast Dilla is a hero of mine just like Ronald Regan is a hero to conservatives or Donald Trump is a hero to stupid. But, seriously, technically, he mastered the arts of the vocal sample, beat selection and synths. His signature was unquantized drums---the procedure that makes rhythms perfectly regular and grooves unbelievably tight. If you hear a Dilla beat and your head doesn’t bob or your shoulders don’t roll, you just might be spiritless or possibly an alien. Sadly, Dilla is no longer walking among us. He passed away from Lupus on February 10, 2006 just three days after his 32nd birthday, but with tons of recorded material and posthumous releases, Dilla heads around the world will keep his legacy going. So do yourself a favor and get some Dilla in your life, you’ll thank me later. In fact I’m listening to his album “The Shining” as I write this and all I hear coming from my speakers is life because---Dilla Lives!