It’s a Celebration! J Dilla: 5 Years Later – The Rare
Good morn’ or evening, friends. The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict welcomes you back to J Dilla Week. Yesterday, we paid tribute to the late record producer by posting some of his best known songs. Today, that tribute continues, as it will for the remainder of the week, highlighting different themes of his work:
February 7th: The Hits
February 8th: The Rare
February 9th: The Remixes
February 10th: Solo Beats
February 11th: A.D. (After Dilla)
Day 2 – The Rare
What separates a good Hip Hop producer from a great one is his crate-digging ability; finding that one rare vinyl to put him over the top. Jay Dee, born James Dewitt Yancey, not only found and collected rare records, but he used unconventional portions of those records to make other producers and listeners contort their faces with disbelief, as if they’d just shallowed a lemon! Rather than always looping a hot section of a track, Dilla meticulously sequenced snares and kicks back to back that gives the song a whole different character. Yesterday’s focus was on the hits that Jay Dee produced. Today, we focus on the rare songs and non-single tracks Jay produced that may have been overlooked by the general public, but are instantly recognizable to a Dilla audiophile.
“I Don’t Know” – Slum Village Featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff, 1997
As a founding member of Detroit rap group Slum Village, Jay Dee made beats for a independently released album, Fantastic Vol. 1, that found it’s way all over the world simply on the strength of word of mouth and love for the music. Despite the group selling it out their trunks and taking a polaroid for the cassette cover, the demand for it was so great, A&M records had no choice but to sign them and re-packaged it as Fantastic Vol. 2. My personal favorite is “I Don’t Know,” which places James Brown’s talking ad-libs into strategically placed parts of the verses, taken from numerous songs, like “Sex Machine,” “Make It Funky,” “Funky President,” and “The Boss.”
“Dynamite!” – The Roots, 1997
Perhaps Jay Dee’s biggest supporter, before and since his Jay’s death, has been Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Questlove witnessed Dilla’s brilliance first hand as he both played on his sessions and watched as a fly on the wall as a fan and student. Although they’ve worked together extensively as members of the Soulquarians, one of the their best collaborations came on “Dynamite,” from The Roots’ breakout album, Things Fall Apart.
“Certified” – Guru Featuring Bilal, 2000
After making Hip Hop history with DJ Premier as the duo Gangstarr in the 1980s and 1990s, MC Guru struck out on his own and released his now highly acclaimed Jazzamatazz Series, taking the relationship of Hip Hop and Jazz to much more organic, sophisticated heights. In the third installment of the series – Jazzamatazz Vol. 3: Streetsoul – Guru featured various guest artists and producers, including Questlove, Pharrell Williams, Herbie Hancock and Angie Stone, and it proved to be the most commercially successful of the four CD series. “Certified” was J Dilla’s contribution, featuring a sample of “Sugar Me” by Klaus Wunderlich.
“Show Me What You Got” – Busta Rhymes, 2000
Multi-platinum selling MC Busta Rhymes has featured production from Dilla on more albums than any other single artist or group (6). Introduced through A Tribe Called Quest member Q-Tip, Busta was down with Jay Dee from his very first listen. After his successful third CD, Extinction Level Event, Busta signed with J Records and dropped Anarchy, but unfortunately it didn’t perform as well as its predecessor. For that reason, the Dilla-produced “Show Me What You Got” often gets lost in the conversation about Busta’s best songs, but thanks to a great sample of “Come and Play in the Milky Night” by British alternative band Stereolab, it holds its own just fine.
“Reminisce” – Bilal Featuring Common, 2001
Emerging from the increasingly popular Neo-Soul movement of the late 1990’s, Bilal Oliver dazzled fans with his rigged, yet breathy rasp of a voice on his debut 1st Born Second. With songs featuring production from Dr. Dre and Mike City, J Dilla helmed “Reminisce” which featured Mos Def and his fellow Soulquarian, Common.
“Antiquity” – Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio, 2005
Dwight Trible is a jazz vocalist with a unique, yet powerful voice, with a tendency to set tones with unusual musical atmospheres. One decision that he made that may have turned heads was to enlist J Dilla to produce his song “Antiquity” from his album Love Is The Answer. The track featured soulful vocals and spoken word from Trible, giving equal tribute to great jazz recordings, hip hop albums and Black poetry.
Tomorrow: The Remixes – Jay Dee gives his treatment to hitmaking artists like Janet Jackson, The Brand New Heavies and D’Angelo.
Thank you for reading, and always remember: Black Americans may only be one tenth of America’s population, but that tenth is talented.