Dilla: A Personal Appreciation
The photo used in the making of this poster was made in 2003 in Detroit at Dilla’s home/studio. I had been commissioned by Stonesthrow to photograph him for the Jaylib record. Coleman and myself were chuffed to tell him about how much love there was for him in the city of Angels. We had met Dilla several times before and he always had the same humble slightly withdrawn demeanor. He wasn’t entirely happy to have his photograph taken but it was understandable as the illness was beginning to wreak havoc on his body. Dilla meant so much to anyone who watched hiphop slowly decline as the 90s wore on. He stood for soul and jazz and musicianship in the music. His beats saved many lives, inspired many and he carried a heavy weight into the early millennium. He continued to elevate the music when many fell to the demands of a mainstream only interested in excess, hyper-commodification and violence.
In 2005 Coleman, Madlib, Dilla and myself went to Brasil. It was a remarkable journey considering how sick Dilla was. He needed to go there we thought, he was the first to sample Brasilian music.
All through his illness Dilla leaned heavily on his mother Maureen Yancey (fondly known to him as Ma Dukes). She was his 24hour nurse, she patiently sat as he programmed beats. She even pushed his wheelchair on a European tour at the end of 05. Her complete commitment to him was inspiring. She too suffers from Lupus, the illness that took him. Early in 09 we received word that Ma Dukes illness had gotten worse. She was struggling away in Detroit and had hit some financial difficulties. I reached out to Shep through Ernesto to see if he would be interested in doing something for her. As always Shepherd got on it with the quickness. The proceeds from this sale will go to her. What you see here is a unique and great collaboration for someone who has brought much joy and love into many lives. Long live Dilla. Ma Dukes we love you.
-Brian Cross (B+)
James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006), better known as J Dilla or Jay Dee, was one of the primary forces behind the revered underground hip-hop movement that emerged in the mid-1990s and continues to have far-reaching impact today. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Dilla was often called “your favorite producer’s favorite producer.” Though he maintained a virtually anonymous profile, his reputation followed him through both the subterranean circles of hip-hop, as well as the mainstream. Producing some of modern hip-hop’s crowning anthems–including Common’s “The Light,” De La Soul’s “Stakes is High,” and the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’”—he also worked with R&B luminaries Janet Jackson and Macy Gray. With his premature death at the age of thirty-two, his musical legacy has garnered him prominence as one of hip-hop’s most gifted scions.
More than a beat-maker, Dilla was a “composer” in the modern-day sense of the term’s progression. From his beginnings with production team the Ummah (with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest) to his step into the foreground as an emcee with Slum Village, Dilla perfected a style characterized by his steady wobble, which remains unfailingly artful and rich in detail.
Entering the millennium as a core member of the vanguard musical collective Soulquarians with James Poyser and the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Dilla co-created some of the decade’s most significant hip-hop and soul releases: Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Talib Kweli’s Quality. Meanwhile, a serendipitous collaboration arose between Dilla and prolific L.A. producer/emcee Madlib in the early 2000s. Between L.A. and Detroit, the duo released Champion Sound as “Jaylib” in 2003. Dilla subsequently moved to L.A.
Around this time, Dilla was diagnosed with lupus. Despite his failing health and having to perform in a wheelchair, he was still able to tour in Europe during late 2005. With his musical spirit still intact, Dilla managed to complete his last album Donuts, while he was hospitalized. It was commercially released on his thirty-second birthday—he passed away three days later from cardiac arrest.