For Hip-Hop fans all across the World, the four day stretch from February 7th to February 10th have a little bit more meaning to them than the other 361 days on the calendar. This is because thirty-nine years ago today, on February 7th, 1974 a LEGEND was born. That legend being Detroit’s own James Dewitt Yancey, or better known to most as Jay Dee or J Dilla.
Unfortunately, the second date of significance is not as pleasant of a memory. On February 10th, 2006, three years after learning about his diagnosis of Lupus, Jay Dee (at the young age of 32) passed away from issues related to the disease.
Those that are familiar with the history of Hip-Hop know that Dilla’s contributions are endless and his impact on it can never be measured. He evolved from a young MC/Producer making a name for himself on the Detroit underground scene, to eventually being considered by his peers and countless hip-hop enthusiasts (including yours truly) as the best producer and beat-maker to ever bless a studio.
Those that aren’t familiar with Dilla, are indeed most likely familiar and don’t even know it. Over his career he worked with the likes of such esteemed groups and artists as: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, The Roots, The Pharcyde, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Slum Village (his own group), Madlib, Mos Def, Janet Jackson, Guru, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes.. and the list goes on and on. Chances are you have a familiar song that you dig from one of the above mentioned artists, and didn’t know it was actually constructed by Dilla himself.
The beauty of Jay Dee’s legacy is that if you talk to any of his fans, they can all effortlessly recall the first time they were introduced to or stumbled across his music. I personally remember being 13 years old and stealing A Tribe Called Quest album (Beats, Rhymes & Life) from my oldest sister (who I suppose I can now publicly give props to for listening to dope music). I didn’t know it until years later, but after initially hearing his production on that album it in turn changed the way I approached hip-hop as a consumer up until this day.
With the dates of his birth and death falling so close together on the calendar each February, this four day window has become quite the celebration of his life and entire body of work. Today, all of the major social media outlets had some of the most significant musicians, past and present, reaching out and giving their praise and respects to Jay Dee and his loved ones. With each passing year it’s apparent how big of a role J Dilla played in laying a foundation for a certain kind of hip-hop. A hip-hop with an appreciation for all genres of music that came before it. A hip-hop with the feeling of soul and funk entrenched into the core of it. Most importantly, a kind of hip-hop with undeniable meaning to it.
This weekend in a random poorly lit club located in every big city across the Country, there is a DJ hosting A “Tribute to J Dilla Night” where you will find a whole bunch of hip-hop heads collectively there for the same reason…
To say thank you to James Yancey.
(below are a couple of my favorite Dilla tracks)
Slum Village- Fall In Love (1999)
A Tribe Called Quest- Get A Hold (1996)