It’s a Celebration! J Dilla: 5 Years Later – Solo Beats
J Dilla Week, Day 4
Good morn’ or evening, friends. We come to a somber date in J Dilla Week. Today, February 10th, is the fifth anniversary of James Dewitt Yancey’s death of TTP, aka Mosquowitz syndrome at the all too young age of 32. While some think that Jay Dee had yet to reach his potential, his work to that point managed, and still manages, to have altered the possibilities of what Hip Hop music could be. Today, as we reflect on his passing, we do so by observing his music the way we’ve been all week:
February 7th: The Hits
February 8th: The Rare
February 9th: The Remixes
February 10th: Solo Beats
February 11th: A.D. (After Dilla)
Day 4 – Solo Beats
Jay Dee devoted a great majority of his time making beats for artists, ranging from his Detroit peers Slum Village, Amp Fiddler and Frank N Dank to some of Hip Hop’s brightest stars, such as De La Soul, Common, The Roots, Busta Rhymes and A Tribe Called Quest. Despite his generosity, Dilla always had something he wanted to say and did so with his solo projects. It’s easy to forget that Dilla himself was a skilled MC, spitting rhymes whenever he felt the need. In fact, on his last tour before his passing, he performed on stage in a wheelchair. His devotion was that deep. Still, he let his beats do most of the talking for him, letting them stand alone as he had in those early days of putting 10 to 30 second beats on cassette tapes. For the last three days, you’ve heard J Dilla, the producer. Today, behold J Dilla, the solo artist.
“Fuck The Police” – Jay Dee, 2000
Not to be confused with the N.W.A. track, Jay Dee’s debut single, “Fuck The Police” expressed the still potent disdain for crooked and hypocritical police officers and corrupt institutions perpetuating the evils and violence that’s been plaguing the Black community for decades. Using the samples of The J.B.’s “Damn Right I’m Somebody,” “Scrabble” by Rene Costy and “Dimension No. 9” by Jacques Delon, the song has an urgent drum rhythm to punctuate its theme, as well as an interjection of flute to evoke an old school sentiment, synonymous with politically sound soul of the 1970s.
“Think Twice” – Jay Dee aka J Dilla, 2001
Featured on his debut album, Welcome 2 Detroit, “Think Twice” is a straight ahead cover of the often sampled jazz standard by Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds. Using primitive and instruments, including nicked-up drum sticks covered with cotton swabs, Dilla, along with singer Dwele, completely made the song his own by utilizing his underappreciated skills as a musician, rather than a predictable programming. Once again, Jay took the road less traveled.
“Crushin’ (Yeeaaahhhh)” – J Dilla, 2003
Jay had been work with independent record labels like BBE in early 2000’s, but it didn’t take long for a major label to recognize his talent and sign him. MCA Records acquired Jay Dee as a solo artist in 2002 and he wanted his first CD to be himself rapping over other producers beats instead of his own. After enlisting the services of Kanye West, Hi-Tek, Pete Rock and others, MCA was absorbed by Geffen and the album was shelved. Disheartened, Dilla recorded and released the EP Ruff Draft on Groove Attack records on vinyl only. These beats, especially “Crushin’,” saw Jay change his style, making moody Hip Hop, strictly for “DJs that play that real live shit.”
“React” – Jaylib Featuring Quasimoto, 2003
Dilla moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in the late 1990s to change his surroundings a little. While there, he met and befriended LA producer and MC Madlib. In 2003, they collaborated on the album Champion Sound with Stones Throw Records, where both artists would find a permanent home. The CD was filled with an uncanny combination of Jay’s dirty sound yet crisp drum beats with Madlib’s stylistic but gritty synthesizers and formed a new sound for the streets. It was also an outlet for both men to flex their rhyming skills as well as their skills behind the boards.
“Grannie,” “Airworks” – J Dilla aka Jay Dee, 2006
By 2005, Jay Dee’s disease, TTP, was taking over his body and it became clear he wouldn’t be around much longer. Determined to make the most of his remaining time, he recorded what was to be the final album released while he was alive. Recording beats from his home and from the hospital bed, Donuts, was released on his 32nd birthday, February 7, 2006. On February 10th, just three days later, James Dewitt Yancey passed away. Appropriately, Donuts is an exclusively instrumental piece, containing perhaps the most soulful samples of his career.
Tomorrow: A.D. (After Dilla) – On the final day of J Dilla Week, the aftermath of his death inspired many to honor him; we showcase artist’s personal tributes and posthumous releases.
Thank you for reading, and always remember: Black Americans may only be one tenth of America’s population, but that tenth is talented.