Philly local hip-hopper, producer, musician and writer Zilla Rocca has taken a moment to remind us of the significant influence of hip-hop producer and DJ J Dilla. Yesterday Dilla would have celebrated his 37th birthday had he not passed away at the young age of 32 on February 10th, 2006. Dilla, (born James Dewitt Yancey) was a legendary producer and DJ who emerged out of Detroit’s underground hip-hop scene in the Nineties and worked with A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul and others. He also was a founding member of The Soulquarians with Roots’ members Questlove and James Poyser and neo-soul musician Bilal.
To understand J Dilla’s legacy take a few moments and read this article written by Zilla Rocca called “The Beat Generation: The J Dilla Effect.” 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 this song, “The Stars.” Right below is Zilla Rocca’s tribute, a jam called “Let’s Do This,” which Rocca put up on his SoundCloud page.
JD, may you be jamming in peace.