On this day in Hip Hop history we recognize and remember the birth of one of the most prolific producers in the game. James Yancey, better know as J Dilla, was born today [February 7] in 1974.
J Dilla was the first born of four children to a Detroit family rooted in creativity. His mother was an opera singer and his father a jazz bassist. According to his mother, Dilla could “match pitch perfect harmony” at two months old. Dilla started collecting vinyls at the young age of two and would spend a lot of his free time spinning records at the park. It can be said that J Dilla’s “career” began after he transferred high schools from Davis Aerospace Technical High School to Detroit Pershing High School. At Detroit Pershing, he met fellow members of Slum Village, T3 and Baatin. During the rest of his teenage years, Dilla spent the majority of his time alone in his basement perfecting his craft.
In 1992, J Dilla met experienced Detroit musician Amp Fiddler who let Dilla use his MPC for the first time. In 1995, J Dilla and MC Phat Kat formed the first rap group from Detroit to get signed to a major label, 1st Down. The record deal with Payday Records ended after one single when the label folded.
In 1996, Dilla officially formed Slum Village with his longtime friends T3 and Baatin and recorded their debut, Fan-Tas-Tic Volume 1. The album, released in 1997, gained a lot of support from Hip Hop fans everywhere and the attention of Q-Tip, who was quick to call the group a successor of A Tribe Called Quest.
Throughout the 90s, J Dilla was known as a huge prospect in Hip Hop. He gained the public’s attention with his singles and remixes of records by Janet Jackson, Pharcyde, De La Soul and Busta Rhymes. Although Dilla rose to stardom with these remixes, he was rarely given singular credit. Instead the production team of The Ummah, a collective including Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and Raphael Saadiq, often received the credit.