James Dewitt Yancey, well known as J Dilla, first emerged in the mid-1990s as one of the music industry’s most influential hip-hop artists. His final album Donuts featuring over 30 songs detail the life lessons he learned along the journey to fame.
The American record producer and rapper based in Detroit, Michigan grew up with music surrounding him in his New York City apartment at a young age. His parents’ musical backgrounds instilled an interest in him and his brother, who later performed as Illa J. This inspired both brothers to pursue music professionally and give it their all to the craft.
Before his explosive fame, J Dilla was part of the acclaimed music group Slum Village. Although each member went on to create their own solo careers, the band brought together a group of like minded rappers who wanted to succeed in the uncertain world of the music industry. Together, the trio released songs still relevant and thriving to this day.
J Dilla eventually left the group in 2000 to pursue his own solo career and in the process was able to produce music for well-known artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, De La Soul, Common, Proof and Madlib.
Something that made his journey unique was his use of the AKAI MPC (Midi Production Centre) sampler. The 2017 documentary How this legendary hip-hop producer humanised a machine broke down his innovative and game-changing use of the AKAI MPC (Midi Production Centre) sampler.
The MPC allows users to record, save and alter their own sounds for their tracks. Dilla’s MPC3000 is honoured in the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C.
Considered as the “godfather of lo-fi hip hop,” his influence on the music industry remains timeless as the release of his last album, Donuts, left a lifelong legacy and sadness after his demise. Released the week of his death, the 31 track album definitely has some highlights worth mentioning. Tracks like “Workinonit” “Waves,” and “The New” impressively focus on quality level beats that feel like we’re in a live setting – out in the hood getting a feel for what one’s life is like. That life being J Dilla’s.
J Dilla paid homage to popular artists by featuring their signature samples that he modernised on his albums. The full album feels like a collaborative project yet he didn’t include any features on there. While creating these impressive works, Donuts was filled with over 70 samples, ranging from the Isley Brothers, the Temptations, Mantronix, Run D.M.C., to Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Frank Zappa.
There’s a legacy left behind with Donuts that many hip hop music fans are able to identify with. J Dilla died on February 10, 2006, days after the release of Donuts, with a diagnosis of TTP and Lupus. His memory lives on in Slum Village’s 2015 album YES! with songs produced by Dilla.
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