About J Dilla
Affectionately known as Jay Dee, J Dilla was one of hip-hop’s best-kept secrets when he was alive. Born James Dewitt Yancey in 1974, Dilla was raised in Detroit, where he formed Slum Village with high-school friends Baatin and T3 in 1996. Introduced to the MPC drum machine by Detroit session musician Amp Fiddler, Dilla developed his calling card: drums that had the offbeat cadence of live sticks and an alchemical ability to morph samples into warm creations beyond recognition. As Slum Village gathered an underground fanbase, Dilla produced for De La Soul, Janet Jackson, and Busta Rhymes, often uncredited. And by 1999, he joined the Soulquarians—a musical collective of prolific Black artists—to produce albums for Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Common; shared a set of now-mystical beat tapes online; and released his solo debut, Welcome 2 Detroit. Around this time, Dilla also formed the group Jaylib with Madlib to create Champion Sound, an album that showcased both of their brilliant production skills behind charismatic, syncopated rhymes. Dilla’s health began to deteriorate from a rare blood disease and lupus in 2002. Still, he left two albums on his way out, a final display of his undeniable prowess behind the boards. The instrumental album Donuts, released just days before his death in 2006, served as a master class in sample flipping and a heartwarming farewell to his loved ones, and The Shining, which Dilla entrusted collaborator Karriem Riggins to complete, posthumously showcases his potent mic-rocking skills alongside friends like Common, Pharoahe Monch, and Guilty Simpson. Dilla’s immeasurable influence still inspires countless acts years after his death: Knxwledge, Flying Lotus, and Earl Sweatshirt study his unconventional rhythms and sampling, and an annual Dilla Day in Detroit marks his unforgettable legacy.
BORNFebruary 7, 1974