In my view Slum Village made Detroit a big blip on the Hip Hop radar. Their eclectic synergy was the antithesis of the sound that was being released at the time, and an almost instant following was created because of this.
By the the time I caught onto Slum Village, J Dilla was already well on his way to becoming your favourite producers, favourite producer, but in terms of general recognition he was just another talented beatsmith (admittedly in a very big pool) to most. His work on what are widely perceived to be A Tribe Called Quest’s weaker efforts went some way to cementing that view, among many and to me from the outside looking in, that moniker was hard to shake. Hip Hop forums resident uber trolls would go back and forth with glee discussing the pros and cons of those they considered to be the cream of the crop, yet Dilla although mentioned, was never on the tip of a majority tongue on any of the sites I frequented. But then again not many would be when DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Dr Dre, Timbaland, The Neptunes and The Rza were the other names in the hat. One could say that he was happy to hone his craft in relative peace although the argument would be that he didn’t have much of a choice.
Thinking back, even with a catalogue that includes The Pharcyde’s brilliant ‘Labcabincalifornia’, his frequent collaborations with Busta Rhymes, his work as part of the Ummah (with Ali Shaheed, Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq), his stint as part of the Soulquarians (with James Poyser, Questlove and D’Angelo) plus Janet Jackson’s ‘Got Til It’s Gone‘, it seemed to me that apart from his peers and Hip Hops deeper diggers, the man never gained anywhere near the recognition he deserved.
Then, on the 10th of February 2006, J Dilla (James Yancey) passed away with complications suffered through having a rare blood disorder. The overnight explosion of Jay Dee connoisseurs was almost as disrespectful and incredible, as the trolls doing their usual keyboard trash talk. People were praising his (somewhat) undiscovered genius and the treasures therein and his instrumental collections became a must have among those in the know. MCs were (and still are) jumping on a ridiculous number of the mans beats. Some even had the cheek to call it a tribute when they never went anywhere near his work when he was alive. Established bloggers have all taken turns trying to explain the mystique behind some of his most lauded music. For a period, some producers, including Kanye West (see: Common’s Finding Forever), were even basing their production methods on those Dilla triumphed with.
Depending on how extensive your Hip Hop dictionary is, his influence can be heard through many of this generations up and coming, and already heralded producers. J Dilla’s work may have ceased, but his star shines with many times the ferocity than it ever did when he was alive. The legacy of your favourite producer’s favourite producer, lives on.