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Got ‘Til It’s Gone: The Legacy of J Dilla by Nate Patrin

By August 2, 2010Music, Real Life

“Got ‘Til It’s Gone” The Legacy of J Dilla” by Nate Patrin is one of the best pieces I’ve seen on Dilla since his passing.

One of the most omnipresent producers of 2009 was a man who had passed away in 2006. Starting in January, when Massachusetts underground favorite Termanology released his free mixtape If Heaven Was a Mile Away (A Tribute to J Dilla), 2009 was riddled with reissues, compilations, and homages to the work of James Yancey, aka J Dilla. Three of the most lauded East Coast hip-hop albums of the year– DOOM’s Born Like This, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic, and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Vol. 2– drew from Dilla’s catalog. Three volumes of the Dillanthology series– an attempt to open entry points into the man’s vast, still-growing production portfolio– were released. And Jay Stay Paid, a collection of scraps and outtakes wrangled into a star-studded mixtape, alluded to a deep well of archived work.

And while plenty of rap and R&B artists have absorbed his influence– from fellow Detroit resident Black Milk’s excellent Tronic to Kanye West’s production on Common’s Finding Forever– his influence isn’t limited to hip-hop and neo-soul. Flying Lotus picked up on elements of Dilla’s style for his 2006 debut album 1983– underwater basslines, stripped-down snare-tap percussion, bristling synths, textural hiss– and has been boldly mutating them into a new strain of b-boy IDM ever since, culminating with this year’s expansive Cosmogramma. He’s at the vanguard, but he’s not alone; artists on L.A. labels like Brainfeeder, Alpha Pup, and Proximal Records have hit creative paydirt by siphoning Dilla’s ear for rhythmic suppleness through electro, dubstep, and ambient funk. The future of underground hip-hop is starting to sound a lot like the heavier, more blown-out moments of Jay Dee’s once-alienating circa-2002 psychedelic experimentation, manifested through analog-pulse interpreters like Alex B and E.SupeR. And for all the jokes about 1980s nostalgia and bro-ishness that’ve been pinned on chillwave, some of its best practitioners– Javelin, Washed Out, Toro Y Moi– bear the distinct imprint of Dilla’s latter-era productions, drawing off the truncated loop-warping of Donuts to craft their own emotionally evocative interpretations of lo-fi, sample-based indie pop.

This inevitably brings us to a skeptical question: Why Dilla?

Read the rest of the piece at Pitchfork (of all places).


Founder of Rappers I Know and Art Director to the Stars...of the Underground. Follow him on Twitter @fwmj.

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