Today, Feb. 7, the late and great hip-hop maestro James Yancey, aka J Dilla, would have celebrated his 40th birthday. Sadly, the influential producer passed away on Feb. 10, 2006, after a long bout with lupus. Dilla Dawg may be gone but his music and legacy will never be forgotten.
While he was on this earth, Dilla blessed several artists with his incredible productions. The Detroit native created notable hits for such artists like Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, Guilty Simpson and more. We want to pay tribute to Dilla's indispensable genius with a list of some of his greatest beats before his untimely passing. This is by far not a definitive list but only a small reflection of Dilla’s expansive production work.
So without further ado, here is the Boombox’s list of 10 Best J Dilla Productions.
Rap duo Frank-N-Dank is to Detroit what EPMD is to New York. Their artistic camaraderie and influence of J Dilla make them one of the smoothest rappers from the D. Over a booming lunchroom table-sounding beat, Frank and Dank bust warning shots to anyone who wants to step to them incorrectly. "It’s kinda throw mistrusting these fools / Look at their eyes / They are lusting to bust their tools / I don’t lose / Leave snake n----s abused," raps Frank; with Dank adding, "Time out for these n----s that ain’t bringing the real / I’ma flip a few guns let them see the steel."
'Feel Like Makin' Love'D'Angelo
J Dilla was not only a phenomenal hip-hop producer but he also dabbled in R&B as well, having produced songs and remixes for Janet Jackson, Dwele, Macy Gray and others. Below is D’Angelo’s soulful rendition of Roberta Flack’s 1975 classic ballad, 'Feel Like Makin' Love.' According to urban legend, Lauryn Hill was supposed to duet on this track. Although never officially credited with production work on his 'Voodoo' album, Dilla’s influence and sound is all over the recording. As you can hear on 'Feel Like Makin' Love,' this is prototype Dilla -- soulful, percussive, groovy and hip-hop.
Before Proof became a member of D12, he was formerly in the group 5 Elementz with fellow Detroit rappers Thyme and Mudd. Featured on the group’s 1996 EP 'Yester Years,' this rap ballad 'Searchin'' features the late rapper on the hunt for his true love. Dilla sampled Roy Ayers' melodic tune 'Searching,' which gives the song its dreamy vibe.
'Find a Way'A Tribe Called Quest
J Dilla was a member of the production group the Ummah (meaning "Brotherhood"), which consisted of Q-Tip and Ali Shasheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Dilla’s sound is all over ATCQ’s Grammy-nominated album 'Beats, Rhymes & Life' and their final LP, 'The Love Movement.' The infectious 'Find a Way' is a bass-heavy track with a neck-snapping beat. On it, Tip and Phife Dawg are hoping to turn a summer crush into a serious relationship. If this beat doesn’t make you want to bop your head uncontrollably you better check your pulse.
'Man's World'Guilty Simpson
J Dilla was a masterful sampler who could chop up a classic soul song and turn it into a brand new track. A perfect example of this can be heard on a 'Man’s World' by Guilty Simpson. Dilla simply sped up the downing piano groove and vocals on James Brown’s classic song 'It’s a Man's Man's Man's World.' The production fits perfectly with Simpson's loathing rhymes about a demanding father whom he despises.
'Didn't Cha Know'Erykah Badu
As we stated earlier, J Dilla was also a fantastic R&B producer. A member of the Soulquarian collective, his production work is featured on Erykah Badu’s classic millennial album, 'Mama’s Gun.' On the Grammy-nominated single 'Didn’t Cha Know,' Dilla sampled Tarika Blue’s 'Dreamflower' to create a heavenly bass-driven sound for Badu's introspective lyrics. "He was a scientist," recalls Badu of recording the song with Dilla. "Not only did he let me pick the record, he let me pick the spot in the record and taught me how to sample the portion of the song. He was very humble. He wasn’t like: 'This is my lab.' He was: 'If you like this, you can probably do it.' And that’s where I got my first sampling lesson, from Dilla."
J Dilla has produced some classic tunes with De La Soul. Their 1996 single, 'Stakes is High,' remains their most famous collaborative effort. Thankfully, before Dilla’s death, De La worked with the Detroit producer again on their 2004 album, 'Grind Date.' The certified street banger 'Verbal Clap' boasted a neck-snapping beat and a vocal sample from Peech Boys' 'Dance Sister.' Not only is the production great, but Posdnuos and Trugoy are true lyrical marksmen with their braggadocios rhymes. This is a fantastic song.
'Show Me What You Got'Busta Rhymes
J Dilla and Busta Rhymes' musical relationship together could be compared to that of Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. Granted, the two never made an album that sold over 40 million copies worldwide, but their collaborative work together was just as monumental. From Bussa-Buss’ 1996 debut album 'The Coming' to his 2006 LP 'The Big Bang,' no album was complete without a couple songs from the late Detroit producer. Rhymes highlights 'Show Me What You Got' as one of his favorite Dilla beats to rap on. It’s easy to hear why. The twangy production fits perfectly with Rhymes' growling lyrical flow. "Busta Rhymes the immaculate raw / Hardcore / Riggidty-Raw / Lay n----s flat on the floor / We climbin' in the back of the four / Nonchalant flavor fo' sure / Timbs with the aqua valor / Flavor like you never seen before," he spits.
'Nobody Care About Us'Phat Kat
Although J Dilla worked with several prominent rap artists, he was humble enough to provide beats for his fellow local Detroit rappers. Phat Kat was fortunate to collaborate with Dilla Dawg. Over a rubbery Theremin sample and a crackling beat, Kat spits agitated bars about phony rappers in the D. "Hearing you hoes got my right hand itchin' / I’ve been ripping flows way before the days of the rhythm kitchen / The Phat Kat / Born and raised in this bitch / Niggas claiming my city don’t even stay in this bitch," he raps.
J Dilla and Madlib looked at each other as musical brothers from different mothers. Their approach to production was eerily similar and influential so it was only right they collaborate together on a project. The end result is their underrated 2003 album as Jaylib called 'Champion Sound.' One half of the LP features Madlib rapping over Dilla beats and the other half features Dilla rapping over Madlib’s productions. One song, 'The Red,' boasts a bombastic beat that would make Dr. Dre jealous. It shows that Dilla was versatile in making beats for any artist from coast to coast.