My life changed when I heard J Dilla.

Before I had got there, there were two types of rap: West Coast and New York. J Dilla’s kick drum felt like it was sent from outer space to knock down the door to my mind. The MCs were intellectual, the music used jazz chord progressions, and the drums were unpolished and knocked unlike anything I’d ever heard. There was a feeling of humanity within Dilla’s music that I don’t think had been seen before in hip hop. It was the exact middle point caught between raw and sophisticated, the grey area between mind stimulant and banger.

Dilla was from Detroit, but his Slum Village demo found its way through chance encounter to A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip on the Lollapalooza tour. Tip put it on his walkman on the tour bus and apparently woke everybody up in more ways than one. He showed Dilla to The Pharcyde, Common, Busta, and De La to name a few creating a ripple effect that would change the course of the genre and position the producer as the most prolific of his time.

That bass sound, those samples, those voices, that drunken sloppy swing time. Dilla played his MPC like it was an ancient instrument, never quantizing his loops and playing full songs like the damn thing was a drum kit. Those of you familiar with his work will hopefully appreciate the scope of this playlist and be mad that nothing from Donuts was added, but the real Dilla fans will know exactly why. Those of you who don’t know Dilla can hopefully use this as a jump off point to explore one of the most unique and consistent career trajectories in modern music.

Happy Birthday Dilla.

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1/28/2021 6:57 PM