James Dewitt Yancey was incredible.
J Dilla - as the world community knows him best - was by all accounts, one of the greatest artists to bless the hip-hop movement. Born in 1974, Dilla's family planted their roots in East Detroit, Michigan. Having a mother as a former opera singer and a father as a jazz bassist made an eclectic starting point for Yancey's love of music. His mother, Maureen Yancey, has stated that even at 2 months old, James found it difficult to sleep without hearing jazz music first. You can tell that the influences ran deep.
The teen years meant Dilla's approach to music began to advance rapidly. Two of his best friends, T3 and the late Baatin, became crew members in 1996 after meeting at Pershing High School, and the trio formed Slum Village. This meant an incredible launching pad for all three men, but in particular Jay Dee, who went on to spark the interest of Q-Tip, who wanted him producing for him and others after recognising his vast knowledge of music and the skill he possessed.
By the late '90s and early 2000s, not only was Dilla working on producing records for himself, but he was handling singles and remixes for industry heavyweights like Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and many more. This gained him recognition from all corners and displayed his phenomenal attitude and accomplishments to a predominantly industry laden audience. As the recognition flowed, there were still hiccups. Dilla tended to express that major labels were not the way to go. As he pursued a solo career with MCA Records in 2002, he produced the entirety of Frank-n-Dank's '48 Hours' and a solo album, however neither were released through the label. Wanting something with more commercial success, MCA kept the records shelved, which drove Dilla to make the unforgiving 'Ruff Draft' album - released exclusively through German label Groove Attack - and only on vinyl. It went to show that no label, big or small, would stand in the way of Dilla and his music.
2003 saw his illness take effect.
He was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. The condition sees microscopic clots form in the bloodstream and damage vital organs, and the music community knew something was wrong when he suffered dramatic weight loss, leading him to confirm speculation of his sickness in 2004. In November 2005, the severity of the disease became evident, when Yancey toured Europe performing from a wheelchair.
Three days after his 32nd birthday, and the release of his ninth studio album 'Donuts', on February 10, 2006, James Dewitt Yancey passed away from cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home. The man was at peace, and his legacy now lives on.
A tribute song from Phife Dawg, a member of A Tribe Called Quest, seems like a fitting way to end this piece of writing. Dedicated to a god in his element, and a selfless lover of music. Rest in peace J Dilla.