Today marks five years since hip hop producer Jay Dee, aka J Dilla, lost his battle with Lupus and a rare blood disease in a Los Angeles hospital room. Born James Yancey in Detroit, the pioneering beat maker reached the national radar with his critically acclaimed group Slum Village. Over the course of several years and three albums, Dilla helped cement Detroit’s resurgence to the top of a new era of late 90’s, soul-inspired hip-hop. That trendsetting spirit led him to work on albums with A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, and The Pharcyde. He was also a founding member of the prudction collaborative known as The Soulquarians, which included the aforementioned Badu and Common, along with Roots drummer Questlove and singer D’Angelo, among others. Everyone from Kanye West to Dave Chappele have since paid tribute to Dilla, as he’s become one of the most influential artist’s of the hip hop generation. You can see a glimpse of that legacy in the three-part documentary we’ve dug up.
His mother Maureen has since started the J Dilla Foundation, which helps fund inner city music programs in schools with progressive, arts-centered curricula. “Dilla was about love in many formats,” Maureen remembered about her son. “One of the things he wanted me to do with his legacy was to use it to help others… kids who were musically gifted but had little hope due to poverty.” Mrs. Yancey has also worked tirelessly before and since her son’s death to raise awareness of Lupus, a rare and incurable disease that’s three times more common in black women than whites.
But as the documentary above shows, Dilla’s true legacy was in the epic task of providing the soundtrack for a generation.
So here’s to that legacy, his work, and all those who continued to be inspired by it.
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