Beats maestro’s blueprints are his lasting legacy
IT’S SIX YEARS to the day that the producer born James Yancey and known to us as J Dilla died, at the age of 32, from a rare blood disease. During his lifetime, he was one of the most prolific maestros in the beats business, but it’s the way his blueprints have gone on to inform the handiwork of countless other acts and producers that is Dilla’s real legacy.
From The xx to Flying Lotus to every wide-eyed maverick producer aiming to record the buckwild sounds they hear in their heads, Dilla’s soundscapes have cast a wide net. At times, when you’re checking out the work of the new school, it feels like Dilla never went away.
As with anyone who dies in their prime, you can speculate until the cows come home about what might have been. Dilla worked with renowned hip-hop and soul acts such as Erykah Badu, Common, The Roots, Q-tip, the Pharcyde, Ghostface Killah and dozens more, but imagine what would have happened if he had been paired with a pop act.
Could Dilla’s mix and match of electronic noises, eerie samples and warm, evocative instrumental snatches have worked in tandem with a pop voice and tune? If you listen back to his work on Q-tip’s Amplified album during the week, it shows clearly that he had the skills and smarts to make such a big splash.
The first stop for anyone who wants to know more about Dilla is probably Donuts, the album he recorded on a portable sound system on his death-bed, in hospital, when he knew time was running out. It shows a real master at work, sculpting eerie, leftfield swirls and stabs that are as deep in soul as they are wide in funk. Remember him this way.
J Dilla: a sculptor of sound J Dilla: sculptor of sound