The hip-hop purists among us are very familiar with the story and legacy of James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla. Having come up in the hip-hop underground scene in Detroit and later emerging as one of the most influential producers in hip-hop, it was Dilla's death at the height of his burgeoning career that truly brought his story to the masses. Acts like Slum Village, Erykah Badu, Common, Talib Kweli and A Tribe Called Quest were beneficiaries of Dilla's magic touch long before it was cool for producers to come out of the basement with a backpack full of treasures.
Dilla was the master and a genius. He sparked a frenzy with verbal instrumentation and heavy sampling that was groundbreaking and innovative, and hip-hop ate it up. As usual, when someone famous (or semi-famous) dies, it's easy to get caught up in the words and the history. In Dilla's case, though, it's best to let his work speak for itself. On this, the fifth anniversary of his passing, we give you a rundown of his five best tracks.
05. De La Soul - Stakes Is High
"Stakes Is High" is one of the more timeless Dilla staples. The beat has a laid-back nature that shines a light on the groove of the lyrics and the contradiction between the grimy verses and the song's scaled-back pieces. "Where I'm from, gun control means use two hands."
04. The Pharcyde - "Runnin'"
A classic example of a beatmaker's vision coming to fruition when artists lay vocals over their production. With "Runnin'," the Pharcyde did Dilla justice over the beats and cuts, creating a classic track with memorable lyrics.
03. J. Dilla - "Over the Breaks"
One of many Dilla beats with DJ Premier elements, "Over the Breaks" is eerie and haunting, yet there's something almost superhero-like about the presentation. With its powerfully descriptive sound structure, "Over the Breaks" is best played without vocals.
02. Flying Lotus - "Fall in Love" (Dilla Tribute)
Flying Lotus infuses elements of his glass-breaking electronic signature into this classic Dilla beat. Originally from Slum Village's "Fall in Love," this tribute will stop you in your tracks with its nostalgic sentiments.
01. Erykah Badu - "Didn't Cha Know"
Hip-hop lore says Dilla handed Badu this record and told her to simply "go write something." With its warm bass lines and her smooth, milky tones, this joint is trance-inducing and would make a perfect soundtrack for the road to personal redemption.
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