There have been many, many articles and stories about Dilla. Feelings range from excitement to resentment – ‘how dare anyone listen to him after his death, if you didn’t know him when he was alive…’ – and fascination to affection.
I’m writing this, as he genuinely is my musical hero. Like John Lennon, or Miles Davis, or Beethoven and Robert Johnson, Dilla defined an era. Almost, he created a genre in itself that has perpetuated for a decade after his death, and shows no signs of slowing down. Every year, for example, thousands of people get together for the Dilla tribute nights around the world, celebrating his birthday and his passing with entire club nights dedicated to his – and only his – music. It has even evolved into Dilla month. Not one other artist of recent times, Hip Hop or otherwise, has this much attention, reflection and love shared so constantly and regularly. Not Biggie, Pac, Jam Master Jay… Nobody. Not even MJ has yearly tributes. Or Elvis. This is significant.
When Dre, on his first Beats1 radio show said that his favourite producer was Dilla, the world listened. I had no idea that Dre knew who he was (That said, it’s rumoured that Dre was inspired to make The Chronic after hearing Tribe’s Low End Theory…). Much like Pharrell and Kanye proclaiming Dilla as their ‘producer’s producer. This, I like. I like it because the more worldwide and mainstream artists rarely give shine to the underground and to the forefathers of the genre – When was the last time Eminem mentioned Dilla for support and the Detroit connection? (Correct me please, if I have missed this), and when did Drake last drop Rakim or KRS One into his conversation?
After attending the Dilla tribute in London last night, witnessing Maseo, Slum Village, Illa J and Phat Kat destroy the stage with their performance, it struck me how much love he has from his close family and friends, how much love he has from fans and aficionados, and also how much love he has from all genders, races and backgrounds. This was a true bringing together of people from all walks of life – People, that on the surface you would not judge to connect and fit together – But they do in the thick, punchy kick of Dilla’s beats.
Back in 1995, after hearing that beautiful Stan Getz “Saudade Vem Correndo” loop, bringing 1963 jazz to the boom bap era of the mid ’90s, I had to scour the credits on my ‘Runnin” vinyl 12″ to find who, and in what world, had created such a timeless, soulful, deep warm soundscape… Not to mention the other 6 tracks he produced for Labcabincalifornia. But, as Hip Hop lovers know, the quest for new, obscure, unique and dope music never stops at just one sample (You have to find the album the sample was from, then find the other music the artists have worked on, then link that back to another Hip Hop joint that has used it, then find that track, etc etc etc), and end up having a sample library of thousands of Jazz, Soul, Folk, Classical (‘Fuck this rap shit, I listen to…’), Psychedelic, Rock… Essentially, Dilla not only introduced me to a new genre of Hip Hop production, but to pretty much every genre of music that has a soul, heart and vibe.
I have about 20 producers in my ‘Top 5 producers’. I also have about 30 albums in my ‘Top 5 albums’, but none of them I can consistently list to over and over as much as mu Dilla playlist. Premier sounds like Premier. Pete like Pete and 9th like 9th – But Dilla has more scope and eclectic production than any of them; Boom bap, Electronic, Soulful, Gangsta, Future, Sampled-based, Original… Timeless and varied. When he is on shuffle, nothing ever becomes boring. And to think that he dedicated his life, literally, to creating these sounds and emotions, shunning bigger paydays (Turned down an N-Sync remix) and award shows to stay home and make heat.
For me, there are certain artists and albums that I have been enjoying for the past 26 years of listening to Hip Hop, and Dilla is firmly at the top of the pile. And it’s a fucking excellent pile.
Jay Stay Paid.