Last Friday we lost one of the greatest, most influential and most prolific producers in hip hop history: my favorite producer, J Dilla. Universally admired and respected in all circles of rap and beyond, no one quite did it like Jay Dee. From his jazzy, hard-hitting Ummah beats to his futuristic Busta knockers, from his soulful and syncopated R&B joints to his dark, synth-laden and genre-crossing remixes, Dilla reinvented himself constantly during his decade-long career. And that’s what made him so remarkable to me. I always thought he was an underrated rapper too. Listen to joints like “Jealousy” (on Slum’s Vol.2) and of course “Fuck the Police”. His flow even rubbed off on the well-established emcees that he was producing. Personally I was even a fan of his scratching. Everything he touched was unique. His cuts on Common’s “Dooinit” and Phat Kat’s “Dedication to the Suckers” are some of my favorite cuts on any joint ever. He just seemed like one of those dudes that had music flowing out of him constantly, wasn’t interested in any of the politics or the limelight, just stayed home and made ridiculously dope beats that influenced every other producer out there.
Like many, I was crushed when I first found out about his illness. He was already the unsung hero of a generation. Just the thought of this reclusive icon falling victim to such health issues was tragic. But nothing could prepare me for his untimely passing. I can’t help but wonder when he will finally get the recognition he deserved. I just know that he would have continued pushing boundaries even further and it disheartens me to know that he isn’t with us anymore.
This saddens me not only because we lost such a monumental figure, but also because some of my friends lost a close friend. I want to offer my deepest, most sincere condolences to James Yancey’s family and close ones. His humble soul will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace.