J Dilla left such an ineffaceable on Hip-Hop music and beyond, displaying production mastery that has been imitated widely but never duplicated. The late, great Detroit beatsmith and rapper would have been 47 today, and fans on Twitter are gathering to celebrate his life and legacy.
Born James Dewitt Yancey, the tale of how the former Jay Dee morphed into J Dilla began on the east side of the Motor City as the eldest of four children. His parents, singer Maureen “MaDukes” Yancey-Smith and bassist Beverly Dewitt Yancey, passed on their love of music to their children but young James was bitten early by the Hip-Hop bug and the “pause tape” art of sampling classic records.
As the story has been told, Dilla, who studiously worked on pause tape beats, met Baatin and T3 while in high school, forming the group Slum Village. At 18, Dilla crossed paths with Detroit musician Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, who graciously allowed the young producer in training to use his trusty Akai MPC sampler and beat machine.
Much like his deep focus on pause tapes, Dilla became adept at using the MPC while continuing to refine his sound. In 1995, alongside fellow Detroit rapper Phat Kat, the pair, collectively known as 1st Down, reportedly became Detroit’s first Hip-Hop group to sign a major label deal in 1995.
As the 1990s rolled on, Slum Village completed their album Fantastic, Vol. 1, which is seen as their debut although the release was heavily bootlegged, and was comprised of sketches and demo takes. Many of the songs on Fantastic, Vol. 1 would end up on 2000’s Fantastic, Vol. 2, which remains a Hip-Hop masterpiece some 21 years later.
During this journey, Dilla would cross paths with the likes of Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and began producing for the legendary New York crew along with providing production for The Pharcyde, De La Soul, and Busta Rhymes among others.
But what was interesting is that considering who Dilla was aligned with, much of what he and his Slum Village crew and likeminded Detroit spitters rapped about was the hustle and grit of the city that raised them but with the backdrop of his future-leaning production, Dilla and his cohorts were, perhaps unfairly, seen as so-called “Backpacker” Hip-Hop artists.
The 2000s only saw more of Dilla’s star rising, culminating in 2003’s stellar collaboration album with Madlib as the group Jaylib titled Champion Sound. With the producers taking turns making beats for the other to rap to, the concept elevated both gentlemen as darlings of Hip-Hop critics and fans worldwide.
Most are familiar that around this time, Dilla was battling thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disease, and lupus, which led to his rapid weight loss and physical decline. Still, he managed to produce one of the most stirring swan songs in music with his final album, Donuts, produced mostly while he was being treated for his ailments.
The world lost Dilla on February 10, 2006, just three days after he turned 32. The loss still stings for many, but his sound and tradition for being extraordinarily dope has lived on through the creations of Madlib, who crafted two beautiful tribute projects for his friend under his Beat Konducta alias, Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to… (Dil Cosby and Dil Withers Suite). Madlib continues to honor Dilla, doing so on his most recent studio release, Sound Ancestors on the track, “Two for 2 – For Dilla” and is one of the album’s standouts.
On Twitter, the tributes are still pouring in and we’ve collected some of those for viewing below.
Rest Powerfully in Peace, J Dilla.
Turn It Up: Twitter Remembers J Dilla On What Would Have Been His 47th BIrthday was originally published on hiphopwired.com
It should've been J DILLA's 47th birthday.— 3030 (@jose3030) February 7, 2021
(February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006) pic.twitter.com/rvqeoaA4Bn
Happy Birthday to the gods, J Dilla and Nujabes. Both were born on February 7, 1974. Rest in Power to both geniuses 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ANpV6AhzJB— kyle (@kgmusic86) February 7, 2021
Today we’re celebrating the great J Dilla ! Happy birthday pic.twitter.com/kPwbGxb4ZH— filip (@FilipNeuf) February 7, 2021
Today in 2006, J Dilla released 'Donuts.'— Elite Media Group (@TheEliteMedia_) February 7, 2021
Rest in peace, legend. ♥️ pic.twitter.com/izrrl8gG06
Happy 47th Birthday, Dilla— Check the Rhyme (@checktherhyme1) February 7, 2021
Enjoy this thread of 10 facts.
RIP Dilla pic.twitter.com/bYBEyBjcyl
J Dilla’s ‘Donuts’ turns 15 today, on what would have been his 47th birthday. 🍩 🕊 pic.twitter.com/2OGyWpdpV2— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) February 7, 2021
What was the first time you ever heard a Jay Dee beat? Mine was “Runnin” in 95. Happy bday Dilla. You are missed.— Statik Selektah (@StatikSelekt) February 7, 2021
Dilla was a monster on the beats. Arguably one of, if not the, greatest to do it in Hip Hop. I still remember LB went on tour w/Dilated Peoples like a week or so after he transitioned. Evidence showed us the the program from his funeral. That hit brothers hard.— Rapper Big Pooh (@RapperBigPooh) February 7, 2021
Happy born day to my favourite music producer, and the one who soundtracked my years as a DJ more than any. It doesn’t bear thinking about how much he would have created in the 15 years he’s gone, but in the previous 15 he changed the game forever. We used call him Jay Dee #Dilla pic.twitter.com/Y8mWhGqdpx— Stevie G (@StevieGrainger) February 7, 2021
Dilla Day— SLEEP (@SleepSinatra) February 7, 2021
Salute to a true game changer on his birthday - James Dewitt Yancey / Jay Dee / J Dilla - departed 15 years ago now. Thank you for your services - from Slum Village to The Ummah and beyond and beyond and beyond... pic.twitter.com/tJeo6LBgS7— Stimulator Jones (@StimulatorJones) February 7, 2021
Happy Birthday Dilla. Hard to believe it’s been 15 whole years since he left this world 😭— Elaquent™ (@Elaquent) February 7, 2021
All praises due to DILLA— RAZ (@RazFresco) February 7, 2021
I’m the same age this year that Dilla was when he passed.— thank you, jay dee (@_AbJo) February 7, 2021
For a long time, in the back of my head, I wondered if I’d get see this year, and what he would’ve accomplished if he never passed.
I hope to accomplish even a fraction of what he did with his 32 years of life...
Feb. 7th is forever Nujabes and Dilla Day— chester watson (@chstrwtsn) February 7, 2021
Thinking about how this was probably during the Voodoo sessions since Premo and Dilla both made the album and how we probably have a D'Angelo/Alchemist track or two or three or four out there that didn't make the cut. https://t.co/DlHnlWY4N0— America is musty 2021 (@DragonflyJonez) February 7, 2021