I really do miss Dilla. Even though he has gems that are still being released, the fact that eventually his back catalogue will run out really bums me out. But I’m not going to dwell on his death—I’m just going to enjoy the music he left.
The first time I became aware of Dilla was on The Pharcyde’s sophomore release, Labcabincalifornia. I picked up that album, and as I listened to it, I read the liner notes (because I’m one of those people), noticing a few things. Firstly, I noticed the absence of J Swift. Secondly, I noticed that Diamond D produced a cut. But lastly I noticed that Jay Dee not only produce quite a few tracks on the album, but quite a few of the songs that I enjoyed the most. It was 1995 and that was my first impression of Dilla.
The next year saw the release of De La Soul’s Stakes Is High, as Dilla produced the title track and its remix. Being the singles junkie that I was I snagged The Pharcyde singles and the De La singles and was treated to various Jay Dee remixes and instrumentals. I’d become a fan.
From there, Dilla’s name could usually be found under the credits of my favorite tracks from Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and Q-Tip. And when I found his name, I’d never be surprised. I wasn’t one of those fans who decried Dilla’s contribution to Tribe as ruining their product, as I really liked what he brought to the group.
But it wasn’t until 2001 that Dilla really blew me away. I can remember it vividly; my best friend and I were watching videos when Slum Village’s “Raise it Up” came on. We were both completely slayed by the beat. In fact, “Raise it Up” was one of those beats that got stuck in my head until I picked up Fantastic Vol. 2, at which point the album became my soundtrack for a month.
When Welcome 2 Detroit came out, it got the same treatment. Here’s what Jeff and I wrote about Dilla five-and-a-half years ago for the “gone before its time” Dirty Dozen column;
Mathan: Jay Dee is a journeyman. He has produced tracks for The Pharcyde, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and both Q-Tip’s and Phife’s solo albums. He was even a member of the Ummah. My favorite part of his catalogue is his work with Slum Village and his solo album. On these albums he turns moods from jovial to sinister, and sometimes on the same track. Jay Dee does for Detroit what No ID (and more recently Kanye West) did for Chicago; he gives it a distinct sound and voice. Motown hasn’t sounded this good since the ’60s. And Slum Village isn’t the same without him. Jay Dee’s best three: “Pause”, “Raise It Up”, “Stakes Is High”.
Jeff: J Dilla is most definitely one of my favorite hip-hop producers of all time. I’d put him up there with Pete Rock and Primo as far as importance to the hip-hop movement goes. His beats are decidedly chill, even when they’re upbeat and danceable. He is one of those producers who can rhyme just as well (well, maybe not, but he can definitely hold his own) as he makes beats. I have nothing against Elzhi, but Slum Village just isn’t the same without Jay Dee. I really liked his remix of The Pharcyde’s “She Said”, and Jay Dee’s contribution to A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement made for one of my favorite Tribe albums, and definitely one of their best. I too enjoy Dilla’s solo album on BBE, but like the Jaylib collaboration (with Madlib of Lootpack) even more. I think I would be safe in saying that just about anything the guy touches has a 99.99999% chance of being awesome.
(If you want to read the entire piece, and I suggest you do if only for the nostalgia factor, for some reason it can be found here which is sort of hilarious in and of itself. )
When I hear Wale, Erykah Badu, Ghostface, Black Thought or Q-Tip over one of Dilla’s donuts it picks me up for a moment because when I recognize the beat I’m instantly paying more attention than I was. But after that moment passes I remember that Dilla’s gone and there are only so many donuts left.
So do yourself a favor and dig out whatever Dilla you’ve got in your collection and give it a spin. It’s not about mourning his passing, but rather celebrating his life.
Tags: Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, Dilla, Erykah Badu, Ghostface, J. Dilla, Q-Tip, The Roots, Wale