In Hip Hop we are accustomed to giving passed legends the props they deserve. We show the highest form of respect to those like Pac, Biggie, Big L and Big Pun. Why is it that we overlook the Detroit Producer/MC J Dilla (James Dewitt Yancey) on the same plateau though. Was it because he was a producer and only seldom MC? Was it because his life was taken at the young age of 32? He is/was in fact arguably one of the greatest producers to ever touch an MPC, revolutionised the way beats were handled and created and pioneered the Neo Soul Movement. I just don’t understand why he doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. The detroit native dedicated his life to his craft but his name is only truly recognised by true hip hop heads or in February every year when people jump on the Dilla bandwagon (born and died in Feburary). I figured out that the reason why he isn’t respected enough is because not enough people are aware of him and the world class talent he possessed. So here are 10 essential J Dilla to get you started (or re-spark your interest). Warning – Once you catch the bug you cant get rid of it. Prepare yourselves.
1. The Light – Common – Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
This is by far my favorite Dilla produced track. Common’s voice and flow just naturally thrived on Dilla beats, they were one of the best partnerships Hip Hop has ever seen. Dilla samples “Open Your Eyes” by Bobby Caldwell and “You’re Getting a Little too Smart” by The Detroit Emeralds. This song is Common’s new age love letter/song in dedication to Erykah Badu (current girlfriend at the time). 15 years later and this is still one of my favourite songs of all time.
2. Nag Champa – Common – Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
” When I was working on Like Water for Chocolate I would go to Detroit like two to three times a month. When we would go to Jay Dee’s basement we would always burn nag champa incense, that’s where I got that title from “ – Common
Another Common + Dilla gem. Contains sample of “Morning Order” as performed by Hugh Hopper and Alan Gowen on the album Two Rainbows Daily. This song is the epitome of vibes, well Dilla himself was the epitome of vibes. We even see Dilla on the hook (and he does a dam good job). Common does his thing and drops some of his best verses in this ode to self oozing with positive energy. “What good is a range when its time to head home?”
3. Fall in Love – Slum Village – Fantastic Vol II (2000)
Everyone knows the start of this song. Those drums are just too nice. Dilla uses Gap Mangione sample and even singing the hook (he held it down again). Dilla had a way to make you fall in love with a song, especially this one. He was one of the original members of the Detroit group Slum Village (SV).
4. So Far to Go – Common ft D’Angelo – The Shining (2006) and Finding Forever (2007)
Released after he died this song would turn out to be bigger than just a song. It signified an end of an era. It was one of Dilla’s last completed beats and one of the last time he worked with his Soulquarian comrades. The sample used is The Isley Brothers “Don’t Say Goodnight”. It is only fitting that was the sample used in Jay Dee’s Goodbye of sorts.
5. Players – Slum Village – Fantastic Vol II (2000)
As you can imagine “Fantastic Vol II” is filled with Dilla classics. This song is a testament to Dilla’s talent and skills, as we hear him flipping Singers Unlimited’s “Clair”.Instead of hearing “Clair”, your brain is tricked into thinking the slowed-down vocal is singing “Players”.
6. Drop – Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia (1995)
Pharcyde and Dilla combined on this album to make some classics. Dilla was on the come up and he was ready to make his imprint on the game. He wasted no time with this track. Combined with Spike Jonze crazy music video (shot backwards) cemented this song on the classic’s list.
7. Wont Do – J Dilla – The Shining (2006)
This is the only song on the list where Dilla actually raps the whole thing. He proved that not only was he a genius producer but a capable MC. This song samples a popular song from The Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark”.
8. Runnin’ – Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia (1995)
Jay Dee (as he was known then) was a master of layering. This song is a genius combination of four chopped-up records. He brought it together and gave it a little extra dose of vibes. Dilla helped boost Californian Rap group Pharcyde’s “Labcabincalifornia” album with his infusion of beats and style.
9. Find A Way – A Tribe Called Quest – The Love Movement (1998) – Prod by The Ummah (Q-tip, Ali Shaeed Muhammad and J Dilla)
Q-tip, Ali Shaeed Muhammad and J Dilla formed The Ummah (meaning brotherhood) and collaborated on many tracks. “Find A Way” is one of the most famous ATCQ songs and Dilla beats. They sampled Towa Tei while changing the drum and bass. Q-Tip and Phife are hoping to turn a summer crush into a serious relationship. You better screw your neck because this joint will surely cause violent head bops.
10. Stressed out – A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996)- Prod by The Ummah (Q-tip, Ali Shaeed Muhammad and J Dilla)
The Ummah delivered the goods again with “stressed out”. This is probably my favourite ATCQ song ever. We hear a soulful Faith Evans on the hook. I know we can all relate to that classic hook. If the last song had your neck sore then I think it might just fall off hearing these kicks and snares.