Local hip hop producer and musician Zilla Rocca has taken a moment to remind us of the significant influence of DJ J Dilla. Yesterday, Dilla would have celebrated his 37th birthday—had he not passed away at the age of 32 on February 10th, 2006, from a rare blood disease.
Dilla (born James Dewitt Yancey) was a legendary producer and DJ who emerged out of Detroit’s underground hip-hop scene in the 1990s. He worked with A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, and others; he was also a founding member of The Soulquarians (with Roots’ members Questlove and James Poyser, as well as neo-soul musician Bilal).
To better understand J Dilla’s legacy, take a few moments and read this article written by Rocca called “The Beat Generation: The J Dilla Effect“—which Rocca wrote for the music blog Passion Of The Weiss. In it, Rocca explains what he thinks made J Dilla so important:
After listening to The Shining, Welcome 2 Detroit , Like Water for Chocolate, Amplified, Fantastic Vol. 2 and Jaylib’s Champion Sound was that Jay’s greatest triumph as a producer wasn’t necessarily the off-kilter pacing of his drums nor the seamless blend of phlanged-out samples and spacey Detroit synths. No—Dilla had the gift of making average, ho-hum, nonsensical rappers sound like superstars.People worship at the altar of DJ Premier because not only does he make burger-flippers like Group Home sound dope, but he makes technically GREAT rappers sound UNF*!#WITABLE (hello Nas, Royce, Common, Jay, Big, etc). And they’re right—his tracks have a signature thumping kick drum and harsh snares (that 9th Wonder still can’t mimic) coupled with 2-4 bar chopped up samples that never get in the way of the lyricism. No big drum fills, no crashing cymbals—just supreme head nodding.
Last April, The Roots paid tribute to J Dilla with a collection called Dilla Joints, in which they played renditions of some of Dilla’s greatest hits (including the song”The Stars,” which you can listen to below). Right below that is Rocca’s tribute, a track called “Let’s Do This,” which he recently put up on his SoundCloud page.