“The Muhammad Ali of Beats”

A lot of the time, I feel like I’m behind and catching up when it comes to music. There’s just so much there, and only so many hours in the day. This was certainly the case with hip-hop producer and rapper J Dilla (aka Jay Dee), who died from a rare blood disease and complications from lupus in February of last year at the age of 32. Seeing all the blog entries and tributes, I started to realize that I had been missing out on one of the greatest hip-hop talents of our time. But even more than that, I had been listening to and appreciating his work without ever knowing it was his. Dilla, who was famously one of the hardest-working producers in the genre (even recording two — TWO! — albums from his hospital bed), made some of the most memorable beats I’ve ever heard. The ones that aren’t just beats, but songs that get stuck in your head for days at a time. The songs below were some of my favorites before I found out that Dilla produced them, and now I appreciate them a little bit more, as part of an amazing canon, instead of just individual amazing songs.

2Pac – Do For Love (Buy It) This one wasn’t credited to Dilla, but I’ve read in several sources that the beat is his. Easily my favorite 2pac song.

A Tribe Called Quest – Get a Hold (Buy It) I woke up today with this one stuck in my head. “The illest drum rolls” indeed.

De La Soul – Stakes is High (Buy It) De La’s best serious song. Period.

A Tribe Called Quest – Steppin’ It Up (feat. Busta Rhymes and Redman)

A Tribe Called Quest – Busta’s Lament (Buy It) A lot of people look at The Love Movement as A Tribe’s weakest album, but how can you measure up against the perfection of the first three albums? These two songs come close though…

The Roots – Dynamite! (Buy It) The standout track on Things Fall Apart, which is saying a hell of a lot.

Common – The Light

Common – The Questions (feat. Mos Def) (Buy It) Dilla did most of the production for the stellar Common album Like Water for Chocolate, including these two amazing tracks.

Talib Kweli – Where Do We Go? (Buy It) A lot of the time with Talib Kweli, it seems like his rapping overshadows the beat (which I don’t like so much, personally), but he and Dilla strike a great balance here, creating one of the more introspective and stunning songs on the album.

J Dilla – Workinonit

J Dilla – Time: The Donut of the Heart (Buy It) Two songs off Donuts, released just three days before Dilla’s death. The album, like all the music that Dilla produced, is an incredible example of the possibilities of hip-hop production.

The Roots – Can’t Stop This (Buy It) A tribute to Dilla from their most recent album Game Theory, “Can’t Stop This” uses the beat from “Time…” and testimonials from other hip-hop-ers. A touching eulogy for a friend and amazing artist.

Some links:

J Dilla Complete Discography

The Stories Behind Some of The Late J Dilla’s Great Productions

J Dilla radio at SaveHipHop.org

posted by Adam

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One response to ““The Muhammad Ali of Beats”

  1. “The Muhammad Ali of Beats” for sure. Folks like Common and ?uestlove also compared him to Miles Davis, Coltrane and Charlie Parker in terms of his importance to / impact on hip hop. he’ll always b one of my favorites. rip Dilla.

    nice tribute! peace

    p.s. thanks for the link. i just linked you back. cheers

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