Following what would have been his 42nd birthday and the 10th birthday of his classic offering Donuts this past weekend, today (Feb. 10) marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of legendary hip-hop artist and founding member of Slum Village, J Dilla.
Revisit testimonials from six hip-hop heavyweights who have shown James Yancey love in previous interviews.
In an outtake from the Stones Throw documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton released in 2014, ‘Ye praised the producer saying, “It’s amazing: How could we lose Biggie, Pac, Dilla, Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson? It almost feels like the devil’s winning. We gotta make music and we think, ‘If Dilla was alive, would he like this?’ I have to work on behalf of Dilla. When I put a weird-ass Jamaican sample, it works at first but it’s not until I put the [makes discordant musical noise] that it sounds like art or sounds slightly wrong. And now it’ll go to the radio now that it’s wrong, motherfucker. Now play this. Play this five-minute song that completely fucks up your programming. Play this. It’s best respect that we can pay to great artists that have inspired us so much is to never fuckin’…never sell out.”
The Tribe Called Quest MC recalled Dilla’s crazy work ethic in a recent interview with The Metro Times: “Watching his day-to-day operation on how he worked: wake up, shower, eat breakfast, run to the record (store) for a few hours, come back, pick the record he wanted to sample, and make a beat in 10 minutes flat — it was crazy. I just remember begging him for ‘The Light’ beat he gave Common. Once he said Common, I let it go. That beat was perfect for Common and my favorite that he played that day.”
Phife also said that Dilla’s battle with lupus encouraged him to be more open with his struggle with diabetes. “It made me talk about it more, and not want to keep it a secret any longer; it made me open up and cherish life a little more.”
Tip worked closely with Dilla as part of production team the Ummah (which also included Ali Shaheed Muhammad). He praised Dilla’s talents in a Q&A with the Red Bull Music Academy. “The way he had shit EQed, the way that it was programmed, the feeling of it was the most authentic feeling. He was programming it but it just felt live. The swing of it, you know, his time signature on that, the way that he had the swing percentages on his beats and shit. Like, the way he had the music partitioned. He had bass where it needed to be, the kick was where it needed to be, the hi-hat was where it was needed. He was just clean.”
The prolific beatsmith described Dilla as the “Coltrane of hip-hop,” telling Radio France, “He was the funkiest, just by how he programs loose and not quantized,” he said. “It’s like human feel, and the selections that he chose to sample. Every producer bows down to Dilla whether they like it or not, because everybody took something from him like [John] Coltrane. That’s why I call him the ‘Coltrane of Hip Hop.’”
J Dilla provided Common with the beat for his 2000 hit “The Light.” In a 2014 sit-down with Hard Knock TV’s Nick Huff Barili for Grammy.com, Comm said, “J Dilla was truly one of the purest musicians I’ve ever met, like purest creators — always about what felt right to him. I can try to talk him into something but if it’s not his thing or he’s not feeling that, he’s not gonna really do that.”
Common continued, “He’ll take you in a direction but he’ll do it subtly, too… The dynamic of Jay Dee was that he was the guy who could pull out a jazz record and go into groups like he was sampling Daft Punk early on and he’d be aware of all these jazz musicians but then he’d wear his chain then go to the strip club and I loved that about him ’cause it was like, he never left his Detroit roots.”
The Roots legend hailed Dilla as the G.O.A.T. of hip-hop production in a 2012 interview with XXL.
“As far as our definition of hip-hop production is concerned — as far as making beats — [Dilla] is absolutely without peer,” he said. “Many will come after him and surpass him and do even crazier tricks, but for what my eyes have seen in those short nine years that I’ve known him, that’s going to be a very tall order to live up to. It’s [been]…God, six years since he passed [and] I still use his beats as the energy power pellets to my Pacmanology, if you will.”