On February 10, 2006, James Yancey, a.k.a. Jay Dee, a.k.a. J Dilla, passed away from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and complications from lupus. His passing affected people majorly, yet they knew he had sickness a while before. I remember seeing a picture of him at a drum set during the time the Donuts album was being made, and his arms looked so thin. I felt something wasn’t right. A cousin of mine emailed me the news, and I… wished it wasn’t true. I had given up nearly all of my music for religious reasons, including stuff made by J Dilla. I bought Donuts and listened to it for a while before given it to another cousin of mine for him to give it to his brother, the first cousin I mentioned before (I hope he got it). It’s been 10 years, and his music and influence is still heard in the Hip-Hop culture. I’m guilty of trying to make beats sounding like him with what I had. Because he’s one of my favorite beats makers, I’m giving a top 10 Jay Dee/ J Dilla beats/ music. This won’t be my all time favorites, but they will be based on the time period and the influence.
- “1nce Again”- A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes, and Life. I placed this on here because this was during a time I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t know (or care) who produced the beat. When ATCQ came back, I noticed a new sound, and it had some similarities with their previous sound. I just didn’t know it was Jay Dee behind the beat. At that time, he was a part of the collective The Ummah, which the production was listed under, I think. I think the exposure was big because later on I noticed how there were similar beats and sounds. But his production stood out because it was very polished and jazzy.
- “Against The World”- A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement. I bought The Love Movement because it was ATCQ’s last album, and the first single is/ was a good one. This was the first time I found out about the Ummah, because I was getting into musical credits and the Ummah seemed mysterious. “Against The World” is a good song, and Q-Tip and Phife Dawg trade off pretty well in the verses. What stood out with the beat is that the melodies don’t use a standard time signature for Hip-Hop. Most of the music was in 4/4, but the melodies were in 5/4, I think.
- “Heat”- Common, Like Water for Chocolate. I bought the album because of “The 6th Sense,” but when I heard “Heat” I was drawn in. The bass was grimy and raw, the drums were unique, and the guitar was repeatable. I pressed the back button a few times to hear the guitar start. Common’s verses complimented to music and vice versa. This was around the time I finally knew who made the beat. I remember seeing an article of him in The Source, highlighting producers. He was gaining attention because of his work with Janet Jackson and Q-tip. I think if there was a beat making class; the final would be to recreate “Heat.” I heard the song J Dilla sampled from, and I thought to myself, “How did he do it?” It was genius in the parts where he sampled.
- “Players”- Slum Village, Fantastic, Vol. 2. I bought this album because I heard and saw the build up for this group. I heard “Players” through a college radio station, and it was a cool beat. I didn’t know it was originally on Vol. 1, but they redid it just with new vocals. It was amazing to hear where he sampled from, a song several beat makers may pass up. And he pulled a trick on us as well, as some of us thought the sampled vocals were singing “player(s).” The whole album was a breath of fresh air.
- “Brazilian Groove (EWF)”- Welcome 2 Detroit. When I found out Jay Dee was coming out with a solo album, I anticipated it like people anticipated a new Star Wars movie. The music on there was amazing. It seems like he took a new direction in his vocal delivery, as I felt the name change brought a more aggressive delivery. When I heard “Brazilian Groove (EWF),” I was drawn by nearly everything. I was listening to this (and other songs) while writing finals papers in college (good times). If I get to Heaven, I want this to be my welcome music, walking with Jesus on the beach if there are beaches in Heaven.
- “Starz”- Jaylib, Champion Sound. I went to a record store, and the owner told me about the J Dilla/ Madlib collaboration that came out. I had just come off of Frank N’ Dank’s 48 Hrs, and I thought it was okay at the time. When I got Champion Sound, I thought it was a pretty good album with them rapping over each other’s beats. Dilla’s tracks were pretty good, and I think “Starz” stood out to be because the chorus sounded like and R&B sample, but it wasn’t. I also liked how they backmasked the beat at the end with Ron Isley’s vocals blended in. J Dilla’s style was continuing to be more abrasive, but the beats on the album were like fan favorites.
- “Walkinonit”- Donuts. I bought the album because of the build up and the fact that he passed away. It took me a while to get it, too. When I heard it, I thought it was weird. His sound changed a lot. I think he was influenced by Madlib, and other people have said that. I can point to only one track where I heard a bit of the previous Dilla sound. I loved the groove on “Walkinonit,” but it’s like a sad song (why do sad songs have nice grooves? Is it a balancing thing?). I swear there’s a second sample where the singers sound like they’re singing “glow,” and I may have heard it before. I don’t think it’s not just the primary sample and the scratches. It makes me want to investigate. And I swear if anyone puts this song back-to-back on repeat it will play without any space in between, and it could have been done that way. I need to try it.
- “Track 10”- Beat Tape 3 (Motown Beat Tape). I started to check out J Dilla beats again in 2008/9 while in seminary. I came up on a podcast video posted on YouTube. I think it was titled “J Dilla: Genius,” and I may be wrong since it’s been so long. I thought the beats were amazing, stuff I haven’t heard before. When I heard the 10th track, I was clapping with it. It was another “How did he do it?” since I heard the song he sampled from, and it was crazy how he chopped up the sample, and it was a few seconds long. This was a feel good beat, and I played it (along with others) while I was driving, especially on the interstates.
- “We’ll Show You (featuring AB)” – Slum Village, Villa Manifesto. I thought this was J Dilla’s goodbye letter to Slum Village. It was announced that the group came back with another album including Baatin, and I was happy about that. I heard bits of the album, and it was cool. I heard this song, and the melodies were hypnotic. The beat must have been hidden from the public in a while. I wished I knew where the sample came from, too. As I said before, I thought this was a goodbye letter, and it seems like he had many, but they were something to remember him by.
- “Heroin Joint”- Unknown tape/ source; “Follow Me”- Jaylib, Outtakes. I cheated with this one, and it’s only because these were some of the few eerie beats he made. “Heroin Joint” used a James Brown sample that was in 6/8, and again he made me think, “How did he do it?” He had a great ear, because he synched the horns well. “Follow Me” was so haunting and apocalyptic sounding with the jazzy piano and the lo-fi drumming. This was from an album that should be out on the shelves. Madlib’s/ Quasimoto’s verses added to the sound, as if I was near the edge of life. I heard the instrumental (outside of the beat tape(s)) of the song, but it was deleted from YouTube a while later. The same with “Heroin Joint,” but folks uploaded it later on. I remember the picture they used in the original posting.
There are other beats that are worth mentioning, but because of time and space I will maybe save them for another post. There are too many beats that need their stories told, and there are so many people who can share how they felt when they heard them. Until then, I will say thank you, Jay Dee. #jdilla #JayDee #JDILLAFOREVER #thankyoujaydee