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Artist Spotlight: J Dilla

Submitted by on June 2, 2009 – 1:36 pm3 Comments

J Dilla

The album Jay Stay Paid dropped today, featuring unreleased tracks from the late J Dilla.

J Dilla’s career as a rapper and MC remained a humble one, until he tragically passed away at the age of 32.

Dilla preferred working with independent labels and he was often left uncredited for his work as a producer. Following his death, he’s now more admired than ever, and is true a hip-hop pioneer.

Breaking through as a producer during the mid 90s in the underground hip-hop scene, Dilla gained respect from Common, A Tribe Called Quest and more after producing hit albums for these artists.

His career as a solo artist started taking off in the early 2000′s, but first let’s go further back in time, where J Dilla just started creating beats in his basement and where Slum Village was formed.

Dilla’s real name was James Dewitt Yancey and he was born February 7th, 1974. He grew up with a sister and two brothers – one of which is rapper and producer known as Illa J. His mother was an opera singer and his father a jazz bassist.

Dilla impressed his family with his musical talent, collecting vinyl records from two years old and spinning them in the park.

Young J Dilla

Along with his friends T3 (R.L. Altman), and Baatin (Titus Glover), Dilla formed the group Slum Village in high school. Before he learned how to use a MPC (Music Production Center), he spent these years in his basement perfecting the art of creating beats, using a simple tape deck.

After being recognized for his ability to creatively utilize such limited equipment, musician Amp Fiddler taught Dilla how to use an MPC and eventually the group 1st Down was formed by Dilla and MC Phat Kat.

1st down became the first hip-hop group in Detroit to sign with a major record label, PayDay, but unfortunately the label folded after just one single was released.

In the years to follow, Dilla went on to produce singles, remixes and solo albums for artists like Q-Tip, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson and more.

Sadly, Dilla was not credited for much of this work. As an example, one of his notable works was the production of Janet Jackson’s Grammy winning single “Got ‘Til It’s Gone“. When the song won the Grammy, the song writing credit and award were both given to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

His career as a solo artist started taking off in the early 2000′s, through which he also gained respect as an MC. Slum Village released Fantastic, Vol. 2 with a major record label, and then just as his albums Welcome 2 Detroit and Champion Sound continued to gain him popularity, Dilla suddenly passed away.

J Dilla died on February 10th, 2006 at the age of 32. It was a rare blood disease called TTP that ultimately took his young life.

As with other deceased musicians and celebrities, his fame continued to increase after his death. Countless tributes were recorded by artists he worked with as well as posthumous albums (see his complete discography at the bottom of this post).

Jay Stay Paid is the most recent in posthumous albums to be released; HipHopDX calls this one “arguably more thoughtful than Dilla releases in recent years”.

The album features a 25 track collection of unreleased Dilla beats, mixed and arranged by Pete Rock.

Pete Rock

Pete Rock spoke to HHNLive.com on Dilla:

“Dilla that dude man. He was just the best person to know. Like, f*ck the beats. He was a good dude… He told me everything like “I was trying to be you” and “you were my favorite.” And his mother told me. When his mother told me, I really believed it then. You know moms isn’t going to lie… He was Muhammad Ali on the beats. He was it. It’s sad that he’s gone because he was well needed. I just wish his physical was still here.”

Guest vocals on Jay Stay Paid are provided by various artists Dilla worked with, such as Black Thought of The Roots and M.O.P. The album was executive produced by his mother, Mauren “Ma Dukes” Yancey.

Check out Jay Stay Paid on iTunes



  • 1997 Slum Village – Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) (Donut Boy Recordings) (2006 re-release: Counterflow)
  • 2000 Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2 (Goodvibe)
  • 2000 Slum Village (as J-88) – Best Kept Secret EP (Groove Attack)
  • 2001 Jay Dee – Welcome 2 Detroit (Barely Breaking Even)
  • 2003 Jay Dee – Ruff Draft (Mummy/Groove Attack) (2007 2CD/2LP – Stones Throw)
  • 2003 Jaylib – Champion Sound (Stones Throw)
  • 2006 J Dilla – Donuts (Stones Throw)
  • 2006 J Dilla – The Shining (Barely Breaking Even)
  • 2008 J Dilla – Jay Love Japan (Operation Unknown, official release uncertain)
  • 2009 J Dilla – Jay Stay Paid (Nature Sounds)

Discography: Wikipedia

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