Though they may not always realise, many artists over the last twenty years have been influenced by J Dilla, which tells us a lot about his importance and his rapidly acquired status as a ‘cult artist’. Within the space of 10 years, James Dewitt Yancey, AKA Jay Dee left his mark on rap and beat making forever. He co-founded the legendary Slum Village, and then worked as a producer for The Pharcyde, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Bilal, and Janet Jackson, among many others. At the turn of the millennium it was a golden age of hip-hop and neo-soul, partly brought together under the name ‘The Soulquarians’.
J Dilla owed his success to two things: 1) he knew how to apply his very broad musical knowledge using the art of the sample, and 2) in his hands, the MPC became an instrument in itself, a headache for generations of beatmakers and drummers to come. These two things tapped into the new century’s trend of wanting to imitate the power of machines. However, J Dilla added the human touch required, putting himself deliberately out of sync with norm by doing his own thing and disregarding what was ‘cool’ – J Dilla invented the ‘laid back’ groove.
This playlist is intended to convey the wealth of his legacy, starting with his original works, moving to collaborations, and ending with those whom he’s inspired. Three different versions of "Fall in Love" illustrate this journey: the first, cult version by Slum Village, then a tribute by Erykah Badu, and last a cover by the Badbadnotgood jazz trio. It shows us that groove can bring rap and jazz together, and that we can smoothly move from one to the other without any issue.
Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper, who usually starts his sessions improvising on Dilla's beats, has worked tirelessly to this end. However, it is the drummers who best demonstrate the huge influence of the beatmaker. Chris Dave, Karriem Riggins, Nate Smith, and Makaya McCraven all share the distinction of being jazz drummers heavily influenced by hip hop culture. All in their 40s (except Makaya, who is 35) they’ve been inspired by the offbeat beats that make up Dilla's rhythmic signature. Adulated, copied, held up as a model, he’s become the subject of considerable attention from a new generation of drummers. Nate Smith's solo videos got hundreds of thousands of views on social media. We can listen to J Dilla's "Yesterday", Kaytranada's "Bus Ride" with Karriem Riggins on drums, and "What it Do" by Nate Smith and find this same leaning towards chiseled, surgical beats. Stay tuned.