J-Dilla The King Of Beats
Frequently and rightly placed in the same context as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Kanye West, J Dilla (aka Jay Dee) built and sustained a high standing as a producer’s producer while maintaining a low profile. When Pharrell Williams appeared on BET’s 106 & Park in 2004, he excitedly declared that Dilla was his favorite producer and told an audibly stumped crowd that it had probably never heard of the man.
At the time, Dilla had been active for well over a decade and had netted enough beats — including the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High,” Common’s “The Light,” and several others with production teams the Ummah and the Soulquarians — to be considered an all-time great. Dilla never produced a mainstream smash and, in many cases, his presence has to be confirmed with a liner notes scan. (And even then, that might not help; he occasionally went uncredited.) He never marked his territory like Just Blaze (“Just Blaze!”) or Jazze Pha (“This is a Jazze Phizzle produc-shizzle!”), and he never hogged the mike like P. Diddy. He let his music, and its followers, do the talking. Rather than provide immediate (or fleeting) thrills, he was hooked on working the subconscious as much as the neck muscles. He was so focused on his work that it took a severe toll on his health.
Through the remainder of the ’90s, Dilla quietly racked up more output, including Janet Jackson’s “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” (for which he did not receive credit), additional tracks for the Pharcyde, and collaborative work with Q-Tip on all of 1999’s Amplified.
Largely upbeat and filled with boisterous energy and thick sounds, Amplified is one of many pieces of evidence against the argument that Dilla was about one sound and one style. During the producer’s steady rise, Slum Village remained a priority. Fantastic, Vol. 2 and Best Kept Secret (the latter credited to J-88, an SV pseudonym) were released within weeks of each other in 2000. However, the producer would only contribute a few tracks to the group from then on, as his schedule became increasingly tight. As a core member of the Soulquarians, with James Poyser and the Roots’ Ahmir “?eustlove” Thompson, Dilla worked on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, and Talib Kweli’s Quality. Through 2005, he continued to work with past associates while dipping his toes deeper in R&B. A favor was returned on Fiddler’s 2004-released Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, and a couple dynamite tracks — Steve Spacek’s “Dollar” and longtime collaborator Dwele’s “Keep On” — were released the following year.
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