10 Favorite J. Dilla Beats
With a discography as deep, profound and sonically stunning as the late, great James “J. Dilla/Jay Dee” Yancey, choosing a set of favorites is damn near impossible. Listen enough and you could switch between preferred tracks on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Here are a few choice Dilla tempered gems to start. But the real joy comes in discovering more. What are some of your favorites?
‘Nag Champa’/'The Light,’ Common
In the J. Dilla documentary ‘Still Shining’ Common is seen noting that ‘Nag Champa‘ and ‘The Light‘ were the first songs he recorded with the late producer for the Chi-town MCs breakthrough album ‘Like Water for Chocolate.’
‘Busta’s Lament,’ A Tribe Called Quest
Many point to ‘Find a Way‘ as their favorite Dilla produced joint from ATCQ‘s last official album ‘The Love Movement.’ Hop down nine tracks down to ‘Busta’s Lament.’ A fleet footed, playful jam with plenty of swing equals one underappreciated head-nodder of a song.
‘Woo-Ha! (Jay-Dee Bounce Remix),’ Busta Rhymes
Speaking of Busta Rhymes, the MC was one of Dilla’s biggest mainstream placements when he landed a pair of tracks on ‘The Coming’ (1996). The ‘Woo-Hah (Jay-Dee Bounce Remix)‘ is a buttery smooth and jazzy contrast to the hyper original… thanks to a Barney Kessel sample (‘You’re the One for Me).
‘One for Ghost,’ J. Dilla
Artist were saying coulda, woulda, shoulda after Dilla passed and the cold reality was many an artist would never get to rock over his specially made treats. However, Ghostface Killah was able to nab a couple of joints, including Fishscale’s ‘Whip You With a Strap.’ The instrumental ‘One for Ghost’ on Dilla’s ‘Donuts’ album is just as poignant.
‘I Don’t Know,’ Slum Village
There are two versions of ‘I Don’t Know,’ one on ‘Fantastic Vol 1′ and another extended version with additional verses from each member (Dilla, T3 and the late Baatin) on ‘Fantastic Vol 2.’ For the groove Dilla incorporates sample snippets of multiple James Brown vocals over sultry key chords and crackling drums.
‘Didn’t Cha Know,’ Erykah Badu
Dilla laid a sultry track for Erykah Baduto coo all over on her sophomore album, ‘Mama’s Gun.’ Additional props go to Dilla because he didn’t start dressing funny after the fact (see: his old roommate Common in crochet pants… no shots.)
‘F— the Police,’ Jay Dee
The beauty of Dilla was how he was able to share the many facets of the human personality via his music. While he would spit bars about strippers and ballin’ out of control, he also had a conscious side that came through too. On ‘F— the Police’ he delivers terse rhymes over dancing drums and funky strings.
The sound collage on ‘Drop‘ gives it an ethereal feel. Think a spaced out Hip-Hop beat while high on psychedelics. The Pharcyde took a chance on Dilla when he was a relative new jack and chose a record that sounded like nothing of the time as their sophomore album’s first single. A bugged out Spike Jonze video (shot backwards) that accompanied the song only added to its lore. Let it ride out.
‘Let’s Ride,’ Q-Tip
‘Vivrant Thing’ was the mega-record from Q-Tip‘s amplified but the bare bones yet feel great vibe that ‘Let’s Ride‘ possesses makes it a must in the set of any discerning DJ with taste. The thunderous drums. The cascading keyboard run. The Abstract in supa MC mode. Simple, but stunning.
‘Stakes Is High,’ De La Soul
The title track from De La Soul‘s fourth album found the group giving the collective finger to the commercialization and bastardization of hip-hop culture. For the beat, Dilla flipped resounding chords from Ahmad Jamal’s ‘Swahililand’ and a James Brown vocal from ‘Mind Power.’ How can you not love this track?