DILLA SUPERPOSTFebruary 10, 2011
So in the hopeful case that this is the only blog you read*, it may be news to you that hip-hop producer James Yancey aka Jay Dee/J Dilla passed away five years ago today. Because of his early passing, Dilla has an “untouchable” status among whiiite bloggers alongside clowns such as Pavement and Daft Punk.
This is a bit of a shame, because he does deserve all of the praise in the world, but he gets it for the wrong reasons (untimely death, unpopular during his lifetime, folklore legend about him making beats in the hospital) rather than the right ones (namely, that he was one of the most forward-thinking and prolific producers ever who changed sampling forever). I won’t pretend that I’m an expert on his music or life, but instead tell you why I’ve always loved his music (and give y’all a bunch of multimedia** links).
People say that Dilla was a producer’s producer, and while people usually use that term arbitrarily to sound pretentious, it really applied in this case. Dilla had a knack for sampling that was unmatched, and his ability to flip songs and create something entirely new with them was impressive and inspiring to producers. I only produced for a small time in my life, but I’ve always loved listening to original sample sources, and Dilla’s always left me floored. A lot of producers can take a loop from a sample and have it sound hot (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but Dilla was able to take any sample and manipulate it to the point that it became a fully-fleshed out hip-hop beat.
One example I always loved pointing out was how Dilla chopped up the bassline from Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby” for Common’s “Dooinit“. In the upcoming few weeks, I’m going to have a post with the beats from Donuts juxtaposed against the original sample sources so you can see how he manipulated some of the original sample songs.
That talent is the reason why producers like ?uestlove and Pete Rock fell in love with Dilla years ago – he was taking songs everybody knew and making completely new beats out of them. Dilla originally produced jazzy/soulful beats in the vein of Pete Rock for Tribe, Slum Village and Pharcyde among many others in the 90s, but widened his repertoire in the aught’s to heavier bangers and party music. His beats always sounded timeless, and I believe that was because he never catered to the style that was hot at the moment but rather defined his own.
Simply put, Dilla loved music and it’s hard as a fan not to admire his passion and the creativity that stemmed from that passion. In an era (and especially a genre) where almost every artist is dictated by what’s going around them in one way or another, it’s refreshing and fulfilling to listen to and study an artist who perfected his craft, who stayed in his lane but also had no bounds.
Why do I love Dilla? As a student of music, it’s endlessly rewarding to explore his discography, to listen to beats you never heard before, to re-listen to older beats and find new nuances, to listen to the original samples and realize what he did. Some artists have a standard discography that has been microanalyzed over the years and beaten to death, but Dilla’s discography is massive and relatively untouched critically. As a student of music, this is all neat and interesting. Why do I love Dilla as a music lover? Because his music is fucking great.
At this point, you’re probably asking:
Q: FAM, WHY SHOULD I GIVE A FUCK?
A: Because his beats are hot, god. Isn’t that why you’re here?
Here’s a random selection of jawns with the appropriate Twitter tags/typical blog descriptions – apologies for any shoddy bitrates, this is right off the harddrive:
^ This selection of songs says more than I ever could.
Q: Evan, I like this “Jay Dilla”. He has such a big catalog, how should I break into it?
A: This might seem a bit counterintuitive and probably wrong to many fans, but I’d recommend going backwards and starting with Jay Stay Paid, which was released posthumously in the summer of 2009 but has a nice selection of the different types of beats he made – 30ish tracks of instrumentals with some vocals peppered in. While Donuts is probably his most acclaimed at this point, it’s far from his most accessible and is hard to get into unless you really give it a chance/read about it first/check out the sample sources while you’re listening to the songs.
If you want grimy music, I recommend the Ruff Draft EP. If you want party music, I recommend Jaylib’s Champion Sound. If you want jazzy music, I recommend Welcome 2 Detroit. If you want fun soulful music, I recommend Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2. Please note that these are only the full albums he produced – he’s produced hundreds of other tracks for artists that you can see here. Part of the fun of listening to Dilla is discovering new songs he’s produced and finding out how far reaching his repertoire really was. I’d say even now, I come across a new beat every month or so produced by him that I was floored by.
OTHER VARIOUS LINKS:
J Dilla – Still Shining Documentary – Haven’t gotten a chance to watch this yet, but it’s supposed to be an excellent overview of his career.
Stussy – J Dilla Documentary – This one is short of a half-hour if you don’t have time for the first. Haven’t watched this either, but it’s supposed to be excellent.
** No media-o, haven’t heard the word multimedia since Encarta 95, real talk.