This Sunday, rap fans will pay their respect to late hip-hop producer J-Dilla at Cargo in Shoreditch. DJs including Shortee Blitz, Marc Mac and DJ Spin Doctor will be bumping favourites from Dilla's back catalogue in an event held to honour his life and legacy.
Born James Yancey, and also known as Jay Dee, Dilla was the "producer's producer": feted by the likes of Kanye and Pharrell, he was one of the most influential artists in rap history. Cutting his teeth in the mid-Nineties on The Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia, it was in 2000 that Dilla established his signature sound on Slum Village's debut, Fantastic Vol. 2. The album's forgettable raps were seasoned by a string of stellar beats: roughly-chopped soul samples, fuzzy snare-cracks and wheezy, unquantized drum loops creating a sensual, melodic album quite distinct from anything else around.
Dilla went on to produce for a number of rap and RnB artists. Tracks for Erykah Badu, De La Soul, D'Angelo, Busta Rhymes, Common, A Tribe Called Quest, and Janet Jackson saw him achieve mainstream success, yet arguably his finest work remained underground: Welcome To Detroit and Ruff Draft are legendary records among hip-hop heads, and the flawed but fascinating Champion Sound saw Dilla and Madlib rap over eachothers' beats.
By mid-decade, Dilla was diagnosed with the rare blood disease, lupus, though his passion for music remained undimmed - he toured Europe in November 2005, performing in a wheelchair. However, the battle was not to be won, and in February '06 he passed away, days after his 33rd birthday and barely a week after arguably his finest, most important album was released. Donuts, an incredible collection of some thirty-odd beat snippets, mostly clocking in at under 2 minutes, stands as both a legacy of his ingenuity with an MPC and a poignant hint to the direction his music was set to take had he lived.
Picture from Robyn Gallagher's Flickrstream