As the legacy of J Dilla is celebrated at 24 Kitchen Street with The Abstract Orchestra, Getintothis’ Adam McAleavey has the lowdown on the hip hop genius.
James Yancey. Jay Dee. J Dilla. Dilla.
Whatever the alias, if you’ve been on this planet for the past 20 plus years, you’ve undoubtedly heard the powerful influence of James Yancey aka J Dilla.
You may never have cared for hip-hop or the art of sampling but Dilla‘s lifetime of work changed the sound of modern music and continues to do so, ten years after his passing. Of all the wonders in hip-hop in the mid 90’s, no artist’s presence lingers quite like his.
The native Detroiter never truly found mainstream success during his brief lifetime, only truly being revered for his works following his passing at the age of 32. At his peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he suggested syntheses that hadn’t seemed possible in hip-hop, playing with textures and tones, while refreshing the use of the sample like few had seen or heard before.
“He was one the first to break down the rigidity and the rules and the boundaries of hip-hop” says DJ Houseshoes, a Detroit producer who worked with Dilla in the early 1990s. “Hip-hop had a stiff, structured code to it, and that definitely got loosened up after his reign“.
There isn’t an artist in the hip hop genre who doesn’t cite Dilla as an integral part of their musical journey, with the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff explaining that “Jay devoted his life to his love of music and we all reaped the benefits“. Having worked with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Common, D’Angelo and more, the likelihood is you’ve been listening to J Dilla for years without even knowing it.
From his earliest production work on 90s classics such as The Pharcyde‘s Labcabincalifornia, A Tribe Called Quest‘s ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life‘ and De La Soul‘s Stakes is High, to his role as one third of essential Detroit rap outfit Slum Village, to the masses of unreleased beats he left in his absence, the impression made by his unique and distinctive methods of production have transcended way beyond the confines of hip-hop.
J Dilla‘s influence can be felt across the beats scene of LA and modern jazz, with Kamasi Washington citing him as a major inspiration alongside Mingus and Coltrane. He never belonged to jazz’s inner circle, but since his death in 2006 from a rare blood disease, his legacy of organic drum programming has helped pull the genre back into contact with modern popular music.
Blue Note Records pianist, Robert Glasper, touched on the influence of J Dilla‘s approach when producing his Grammy-winning Black Radio album, “We would play a Dilla beat for literally an hour, because it felt so good. He’s the producer that makes you change the way you play. When you just play the beat for what it is, the repetition gets you in a spiritual space.”
The adoration for Dilla is amplified further, as the hip-hop community witnessed a universally beloved son slowly succumb to an illness that few could understand. The passing of J Dilla just two days following the release of what is largely considered to be his magnum opus, the 31 track instrumental album Donuts on Stones Throw Records, displays eery parallels to the tragic loss of David Bowie after releasing his album Blackstar less than 72 hours before his passing.
February, the month that marks the birth and passing of Jay Dee, sees parties up and down the country, world over, celebrate in unison, his legacy. Saturday, February 18 sees Madnice Marauders and Bam! Bam! Bam! celebrate the life, the sounds and genius of J Dilla in the confines of 24 Kitchen Street.
For this show, the Abstract Orchestra will perform a range of works from J Dilla’s back catalogue. The Abstract Orchestra is a 16-piece ensemble led by Haggis Horns saxophonist Rob Mitchell keeping alive the culture of musicians playing live hip-hop. Inspired by the orchestral arrangements by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson of the work of J Dilla, the band strives to merge great musical arrangements with incredible hip-hop from across the decades to create an amazing live experience.
In support of this unique live reinterpretation of Jay Dee, a host of special guests will continue the party late into the night behind two turntables, playing J Dilla classics, remixes, rarities and samples.
Having launched the inaugural Liverpool Dilla party in 2012, it is fitting that this gig also represents five years of Madnice Marauders promoting soulful sounds in the city; coming full circle and toasting half a decade of gigs and parties by once again celebrating the genius of James Yancey.