J Dilla. Jay Dee. James Yancey. One man, many aliases. But no matter how you chose to address him, there was no debating his genius. From his solo material, to his work with Slum Village and later the backbone of the Soulquarians collective; J Dilla’s contributions to music are priceless. His unique sound is still felt and oft-imitated six years after his death.
Emerging on the national scene in the mid-90s, Jay Dee’s warm, fuzzy, and soulful production style instantly made him a top prospect in the industry. The underground took notice, and he was quickly tapped to produce for the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Janet Jackson and The Pharcyde. He joined The Ummah production team with Q-Tip & Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and soon enough the kid from Detroit was starting to be recognized as a major player in hip-hop.
At the same time, Dilla was ushering in his own group, the Detroit-bred Slum Village, whom many called the successors to A Tribe Called Quest. Dilla never seemed happy with that comparison, however, and always insisted SV was harder-edged and more materialistic than the Native Tongues.
Dilla’s programming method was almost a drunken style: heavy on rhythm and percussion and, more often than not, slightly off-beat. It was beautiful yet bizarre, the way he could seamlessly twist and manipulate sounds in his favor, making them his own. The man was a wizard behind the boards.
It wasn’t until his death in 2006 at age 32 that the world really took notice and gave the man his proper respect. He was the ultimate producer/artist. Truth be told, a ‘Best of J Dilla’ list could easily stretch into the hundreds, but in honor of Dilla's birthday, Complex assembled our 50 favorite DIlla joints for your enjoyment. So adjust your headphones and get ready to learn yourself something about one of the most important figures in hip-hop history.
Written by Andrew Barber (@FakeShoreDrive)