J. Dilla: A cult-like following surrounds his legacy

Ah, J Dilla. His influence and production style brought forth beat-makers carrying their backpacks filled with treasures from the basement into the mainstream. Even more so after his death. A cult-like following surrounds his legacy. Born James Dewitt Yancey in February 1974, Dilla grew up in Detroit and made his mark crafting beats for our favorite rappers and singers, giving new meaning to the word "donut." It's Dilla Day all over the hip-hop world, and today, Sounds of Blackness salutes the man and the music.

The list of artists J Dilla has worked with is pages long, from A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde to Common and the Roots. The MCs whose gruff vocals he so elegantly made melodic range from Busta Rhymes to Talib Kweli. Dilla's freedom in music is the underlying current keeping his legacy alive through producers like Flying Lotus, Madlib and Exile, as well as MCs like Blu and combination talents like J-Live.

Of his countless contributions, one of the most compelling can be heard on Erykah Badu's "Didn't Cha Know," from her sophomore album, Mama's Gun. Flipping a sample of Tarika Blue's "Dreamflower," Dilla's production gave Badu's voice a trance-like quality.

Later, Badu wrote the song "Telephone" after a conversation with Dilla's mom, who revealed that the producer said he was receiving a message from Ol' Dirty Bastard in a dream prior to his death.

Long before he passed, Dilla maintained a swelling constituency of backpackers, headwrapped hip-hoppers and tons of beat nerds who followed his life and his shows wherever he would touch down. Early rumors of his illness circulating among the underground constituency of his fans were later confirmed when he performed in Europe from a wheelchair.

J Dilla released Donuts on Stonesthrow Records three days before he passed. His repertoire and unmistakable style is reinvented every day through beatmakers all over the world. On days like today, many remember the man, and everyone remembers the music. A hip-hop enthusiast with boom-bap appeal and an appreciation of music that carried him through the ages, Jay Dee was a genius, and we are all better for his contributions. Check Raekwon's DIlla joint, "House of Flying Daggers," below.

And, of course, who can forget Slum Village's "Fall in Love"?

February has traditionally been the month when the contributions, traditions and historical facts about African-Americans are celebrated the most. In honor of Black History Month, Backbeat will be celebrating iconic figures in the world of black music.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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