It’s that time of year when hip-hop fans from all over celebrate the life and legacy of James Yancey, aka Jay Dee, aka Dilla Dawg, but mostly aka J Dilla.
Saturday would’ve been the Detroit-born MC/producer’s 41st birthday. (He passed away three days after his 32nd birthday nine years ago.) He left behind an awe-inspiring body of work, producing game-changing tracks for rappers, singers and himself, whether he was flying solo or with his fellow Detroiters in the hip-hop group Slum Village.
Friday night, Charleston-area Dilla fans Wilton Elder and Alex Rosen will return to Raleigh with “Dillamental: Jay Dee Day,” where Elder, Rosen and other musicians will pay tribute to Dilla by performing cover versions of his greatest hits. We wondered if there are any hardcore Dilla-heads in the Triangle, so we asked several musically savvy natives and residents one question: What’s your favorite J Dilla composition, and why?
Charlie Smarts, rapper, Brooklyn (formerly Raleigh): “‘The Red’ from Jaylib’s ‘Champion Sound’ (Dilla’s collaboration album with rapper/producer Madlib). Makes me wanna turn everything up.”
Cicely Mitchell, The Art of Cool Project co-founder, Durham: “‘Fall in Love’ by Slum Village. So many of the next-generation jazz players were influenced by Dilla. Some often call what Robert Glasper and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson do as being in the post-Dilla jazz era. Lots have put ‘Fall in Love’ in tunes or did tributes using the tune.”
Nick Speaks, “S.U.G.O. (Straight Up Geek Out) Radio” host, Raleigh: “‘Donuts’ is not only my favorite record by him, but one of the best records of the 21st century. It is inspired. The genius of it is at once realized when I go for months without hearing it and put it on. I listen to the whole thing and it never becomes boring or stale. There are so many artists that have made these timeless, endlessly entertaining records, and Dilla stands among them in my opinion.
“‘Verbal Clap’ (from De La Soul’s ‘The Grind Date’ LP) has to be one of my favorite Dilla tracks because he helped De La find their rightful place in the music world with that record. I love De La so much that, when I heard that song, it sounded like they had found the future! I knew nothing of Dilla when ‘Grind Date’ came out, so to me it was just DLS back on top! Next is Spacek and Frank n Dank’s ‘Eve (Dilla Remix).’ I was always an FND fan and Dilla did a lot of their stuff. The ‘Eve’ remix is so fundamentally Dilla in its slow groove and non sequitur combination of samples that all reinforce the theme. FND are an act that I think did not get the cred they deserve, especially with Dilla.”
Adam King, rapper/Sadie Hawkins Music founder, Raleigh: “OK, tracks: ‘Pharcyde,’ ‘Runnin’’ and ‘She Said (J Dilla Remix)’. Busta Rhymes ‘So Hardcore’ and the classic ‘Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check (The Jay Dee Bounce Remix).’ De La Soul, ‘Stakes Is High.’ Don’t forget Janet Jackson, ‘Got ’til It’s Gone.’ (Dilla claimed he co-produced the song with his team The Ummah, but credit went to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.) And I’m a fan of the Jaylib album. Why? You can’t go wrong with Madlib collabbing with Dilla. Just can’t.
“These may be trendy to some, but I bet Harry Potter chocolate frogs that a lot of heads forgot he did these. And also the Black Star track ‘Little Brother’ on ‘The Hurricane’ soundtrack was underrated.”
Sarah Kaboom, rapper/singer, Durham: “‘Runnin’’ by The Pharcyde. You can’t go wrong with that one.”
Shaw Hargett, former music promoter, California (formerly from Raleigh) “‘The Look of Love Pt. 2’ by Slum Village. The beat was so smooth – one of my first introductions to Slum Village. They flipped the game at that time because Jay Dee brought raw beats that still had such a smooth vibe. That was in the middle of the conscious hip-hop movement (Mos Def, Common, The Roots, Talib Kweli, etc.) and Dilla was involved with all those cats. But with Slum Village, they didn’t care – they wanted to rhyme about chicks and they still were so fresh.
“Of all the hip-hop producers that I can think of, picking a favorite for Dilla is the hardest to do because the quality was so high with every beat and he was so versatile. He made all the other producers step their game up. He was your favorite producer’s favorite producer.”