Dilla Wafers: Remembering J. Dilla

posted February 04, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 31 comments

The year was 1996 and I still hadnt come into my own skin as a music lover. As the youngest and only girl in my family, whatever my big brothers listened to, I would copy and clone. Therefore I grew up on N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Geto Boys, Public Enemy, Naughty By Nature, De La Soul etc. but not necessarily on my own accord. Not to be mistaken, the vast majority of what my brothers liked I tended to genuinely like also, but because of my insecurity there were many instances in which I would judge music not by my own thoughts, but whether or not I thought my brothers would like it as well. They completely unknowingly dictated what I listened to.

All that changed on July 30th as I came back home from Tower Records in Harvard Square, yellow plastic bag in hand. I unwrapped the cellophane from the tape (CDs were still a luxury for me at that time) and popped it in the stereo. No intro. Track one was dope, but I was straight stuck on track two. I must have rewound it ten times in a row before I moved on to the rest of the album From the second the bass dropped after the echoing chants I knew I was listening to something completely different than I had ever heard before:

I blasted that shit so loud my mom came in the room yelling because the glasses in the kitchen were vibrating on the shelves. I had found my summer anthem. But more importantly, I had found it on my own. A Tribe Called Quests Get a Hold off of the Beats, Rhymes & Life album was the first song I remember being obsessed with without caring about the approval of my brothers or anyone else for that matter. That song was my shit. The verses from Tip were dope, but I was feeling the song mainly because of the insane beat: crazy baseline, perfect arrangement, and unique sample. But still, I was young, and because I had yet to develop a discerning ear for sound, I only new the track as A Tribe Called Quests Get A Hold. At the time, I had no knowledge or curiosity as to what a producers role in a song was. I had no knowledge of The Ummah, and I damn sure didnt know who Jay Dee was. All I knew was that beat was a sound I craved more of.

There is something hypnotizing about the feeling good music gives us. It can influence our mood, our thoughts, and our level of creativity. It becomes the soundtrack to our memories. Good music can define and redefine us as individuals. Most music fiends can tell you exactly where they were when they first heard a classic song, as I just described with one of my lifes defining musical moments.

Now, fully equipped with a refined (and individual) taste in music , as I look back through the years its eerie to realize the majority of the songs I loved were produced by the same scientist of sound. J. Dilla changed my life is a favorite phrase of uneducated band-wagoners who don the t-shirt because it seems to be the Hip Hop thing to do. But ask him or her about Dillas body of work beyond Donuts or The Shining, and kids start drawing blanks. I can honestly say, Dilla did change my life, though I unfortunately never realized it until a few years prior to his passing when I became more immersed in Hip Hop music from a technical standpoint: drums, loops, samples, Was that a Soft Machine sample Pete Rock used for the Jamal 'Fades em All' remix?, I would smugly ask my boys, already knowing I was correct, Yeah, I found that shit for $2 at The Garment District! It was only around that time when I came to know who the creative genius was behind countless instrumentals to my favorite songs.

Pharcyde, ATCQ, Busta Rhymes, DAngelo, the dope tracks were endless. He was a producer, an emcee, a musician (he played cello, keyboards, trumpet, violin, and drums) and on a few select tracks he became a surprisingly good singer as well. But if there was one talent that Dilla had that surpassed all of his others it was discovering the perfect sample. He had an innate ability to find the most obscure sequence of notes, bypassing the obvious breaks the average producer might use, thus creating a more innovative final product. He didnt just push the envelope of creativity; he tore that shit apart, leaving behind shredded ideals of what we once falsely considered to be good music.

As many know, Dilla was prematurely taken from us due to complications with Lupus. I always find it interesting telling non-Hip Hop fans that Dilla passed in that manner. Oh wowreally? They respond astounded as if the concept of any member of the Hip Hop community dying from anything other than a gun shot wound is a new and foreign concept. Are you sure? they ask. Sadly, we are sure this is the reality. At the youthful age of 32, Dilla had over 10 years of amazing music and collaborations under his belt. He gained a cult following of fans and colleagues alike, though many would agree he never received the accolades he deserved. And now, as we approach our second year mourning the loss of J. Dilla, we cant help but still wonder what direction music would have taken with one of the greats still here to carry the torch. But in the same breath, it is important to not dwell on what could have been, but rather celebrate the life and music of our fallen comrade. After speaking with many of Dillas family members and close friends it became astoundingly clear that he wouldnt have wanted people to use this week to be sullen and somber. Rather, Dilla would want us to know that his spirit lives through his music, and as long as we have that, he will always be with us.

We took the time to compile a list of some of Dillas memorable work, while some of his closest friends sound off on what makes each track so personally special to them. Lets take a brief journey into the sounds that shaped an entire generation of music, and influenced a million more aspiring producers. For those that are familiar with the tracks, smile and bob your head nostalgically. To those who are unfamiliar; listen closely to how it should be done. Any Dilla fan knows his beats are best served at full blast, so we hope you got your sub-woofer. Turn it up!

We're definitely big fans of J. Dilla's worknot only was he a great producer, but a really daring one; always experimenting and trying to keep his beats on the edge. Too few beat makers stick to that rule [of always being innovative]. It means taking risks and always renewing yourself, looking forward not backwards no matter what. It was an honor that he sampled us [for Slum Villages Raise It Up]. There's a lot of his tracks that we like, but 'Vivrant thing' and 'Breath & Stop' share that same kind of organic ,almost animal funkiness that'll bring ladies to the dance floor in a minute. Thomas Bangalter, Daft Punk

My favorite Dilla beat is 'Runnin'' by The Pharcyde. I was blown away the first time I heard that joint. I was personally going through a rough time and somebody, I think my mom, was saying, 'You cant keep running from your problems.' So that hook just really got to me. Another favorite beat is 'The Light' by Common. Just the way [Dilla and Common] worked together was definitely something special, and you hear it in every track they did. Dave New York, manager

'Workinonit' on J. Dillas Donuts is one of the first [of my favorites] that comes to mind. He really did it with that one. A lot of Hip Hop producers are good at making a 'verse beat' and a 'chorus beat' and going back and forth between the two, but this track was arranged to the point where it was actually a song without needing a rapper on top of it to stay interesting. [There was] a lot going on. It was probably the song that made me come to him with the idea of putting out his Donuts beat tape as an album, even though I knew there were tracks on there that he would want to shop to emceeswhich I insisted he still do with the tracks if he wanted, and he did eventually do it. Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw Records founder and artist

I honestly cant say I have one favorite, there are so manydamn Thats like asking me whos my favorite kidquote me on that! [Laughs] DJ Rhettmatic, The Visionaries, artist and collaborator

Phat Kats 'Dont Nobody Care About Us'its like a Detroit anthem for the Hip Hop scene. Whenever that joint play in the club everyones hand go up! Plus, I like the beat; its a whole different sound I never heard with that sample. Black Milk, artist and collaborator

J. Dilla produced 'Stand to the Side' and 'Where Do We Go' on Quality, 'Little Brother' on The Hurricane Soundtrack and 'Roll off Me' on Right About Now. I was on the Jaylib album and I have released countless freestyles off Dilla beats. Early in my career, his beat tapes would float around. Working directly with him he was mad passionate but when it came time for the mix he was hard to reach, at least for me. It took me years to realize that in his mind, he made the beat the way he wanted it to sound. There was nothing else to be done except for someone to get on it. That confidence in your own ear is something that Hi Tek and I learned from J. Dilla. Talib Kweli, artist and collaborator

Aw man. [I have] too many [favorites] to mention. The first thing that comes to mind is the Spacek 'Eve' remix...or on a more technical note, the way he drop the beat out to match the syncopated words on 'Untitled' [by Slum Village]. You know,the 'T3!...Ba-Tin!' part? With him, it was about the subtle genius. Of course I have a next-to endless list of beats that blew my mind the first 100 times I heard them...But you probably do too. Wale Oyejide, artist and collaborator

One of my favorite tracks is 'Shake it Down off of Welcome to Detroit. I just like how clean it sounded. And I liked that track 'Heavy' off the Jaylib [Champion Sound], but musically, he took 'Shake it Down' to a new level. He had that fly element. That song embodied everything that Dilla was to me. Some people try to pigeon hole Dilla as a Hip Hop producer, but as an emcee he was so real. He knew people wanna hear about everyday topicson some real shit. Guilty Simpson, artist and collaborator

I don't know if I can narrow it down to one song, but the whole 48hours album [is my favorite], not because it's our project [with Dilla] but because of the time it signifies. This is when he officially went from Jay Dee to J. Dilla, not just with us, but on paper and all! We had ?uestlove of The Roots come in and play the drums live. Whats really crazy is [all of the other instruments] Dilla played live! All the instruments, the break downs at the end where he does the same melodies from the song and flips them in different style of music...crazy! And even more important, this was a time when all the things we talked about as childhood friends was coming to light...he had got Slum in pocket and now it was time to take his two closest friends and try to build something that was less about music and more about friendships and all of us gettin' it in at the same time...man I miss that shitI miss my nigga. Frank, Frank N Dank, artist and collaborator

I loved the Featuring Phat Kat joint off of Welcome to Detroit. Thats one of my favorites because that was the first joint we recorded for Welcome to Detroitwe just sat in the basement smoking [laughs], lookin' at crazy album covers laughin' and shit... We found the sample and six minutes later, he was playin' that [the final product] on the loud speaker. I was like, 'Shit, lets do this.' Dont Nobody Care About Us is another favorite...I saw the whole process of the beat come together when we were sitting there. He made the beat on the spot, I laid the rhyme on the spot; it just was magic. Thats the way a lot of our material together was done. Phat Kat, artist and collaborator

My chemistry with Dilla from The Coming all the way to You Cant Hold The Torch, I dont even think words can do it justice. Its more of a feelingits a vibe. Its an energy. Without getting too deep, Dilla was always the one producer who could find that pocket that the average producer was never able to find. Busta Rhymes, artist and collaborator

Share This

one moment...
Reply To This Comment

Got an account with one of these? Log in here, or just enter your info and leave a comment below.