James Dewitt Yancey - better known as J Dilla or Jay Dee - was a Detroit hip-hop producer, widely seen as one of the best ever beatmakers, and one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all times. His style was characterised by his innovative sampling technique, combining tiny fragments of the same song to construct musical phrases with different vocals than the original. Other trademark features were the use of non-sequenced rhythms, which added a touch of “humanity” to the tracks, alongside the use of apparently broken synthesisers.
Dilla was born on 7th February 1974 to a highly musical family. At the age of 2, he received his first records; the start of an ample collection of soul, jazz and funk. As a child, he learned to play the piano and cello, and later drums, flute and guitar. In his teens he became interested in hip-hop and started making his own tracks, using a simple cassette player as the centrepiece of his studio. In the mid-nineties he became known as a member of Slum Village, and he established his name as a producer for the likes of Common, A Tribe Called Quest, Janet Jackson, The Pharcyde, De La Soul and Busta Rhymes. He was also a member of producers trio The Ummah, and was a founding member of Soulquarians.
At the start of the 21st century, he started working with LA producer and MC Madlib, with whom he formed the duo Jaylib, releasing the album “Champion Sound” in 2003. That year, Dilla moved to Los Angeles, after he was diagnosed with the Moschcowitz syndrome (also known as TTP), a rare blood disease. His health started deteriorating, reducing his output rate considerably. In 2005, it became clear just how serious his condition was - when Dill went on tour in Europe, he played seated in a wheelchair. His last album before he passed away was “Donuts”, widely seen as his masterpiece, released on his 32nd birthday, 7th February 2006 by Stones Throw. Three days later, J Dilla passed away in his Los Angeles home.
“Donuts” (Stones Throw, 2006)
“The Shining” (BBE, 2006)
With Slum Village
“Fantastic Vol.1” (Donut Boy, 1996)
“Fantastic Vol.2” (Good Vibe, 2000)
“Champion Sound” (Stones Throw, 2003)