Three years ago today (February 10), Hip-Hop culture lost one of its most innovative and influential producers in Detroit’s James Dewitt Yancey, AKA J Dilla.
Blessed with strong musical genes from an opera singer mother and jazz bassist father, Dilla started collecting vinyl at the tender age of 2.
The aspiring producer made a strong name for himself in Detroit early 90s Hip-Hop scene.
He formed fledgling groups with Phat Kat (1st Down) and the late Proof (5 Elementz) before settling with classmates T3 and Baatin in Slum Village.
With SV, Dilla would make his biggest musical impact courtesy of the critically acclaimed albums Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) and Fantastic, Vol. 2.
Dilla’s work attracted the attention of A Tribe Called Quest, who recruited the talented broadsmith to be a member of their Ummah (Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Dilla) production team.
With the legendary group, Dilla crafted several gems off Tribe’s platinum fourth album Beats, Rhymes, and Life: “Get a Hold,” “1nce Again,” “Keep It Movin’,” “Word Play,” and “Stressed Out.”
In addition, Dilla created numerous classic singles for other artists, such as De La Soul (“Stakes Is High”), The Pharcyde (“Drop,” “Runnin’”), Q-Tip (“Vivrant Thing,” “Breathe and Stop”), Janet Jackson (“Got ‘Til It’s Gone”), Common (“The Light”), and Erykah Badu (“Didn’t Cha Know,” “Cleva”).
Towards the end of his career, Dilla began to focus more on developing his emcee skills along with forming partnerships with up and coming artists and producers.
In 2003, he collaborated with Madlib for the well received Champion Sound project.
Starting in 2004, Dilla was officially diagnosed with lupus and TTP, a rare and incurable blood disorder.
The disease greatly restricted Dilla’s ability to tour and also resulted in a marked weight loss.
Sensing the end was near; Dilla immersed himself in his work, and successfully completed his celebrated final project, Donuts in 2006.
The album was released on February 7, just 3 days before Dilla’s death at the age of 32 from cardiac arrest.
Due to the outpouring of anguish from respected members of the Hip-Hop community, many curious fans sought out Dilla’s discography for the first time.
In the 3 years since his passing, Dilla’s legacy has grown exponentially, with many artists still referencing him in lyrics or outright using his prodigious back catalogue of beats for their work.
Dilla’s memory also stays alive with the J Dilla Foundation, which aims to find a cure for lupus.
J Dilla leaves behind two daughters, and younger brother Illa J, who just released his debut album Yancey Boys last November.