J Dilla: Hip Hop’s Abused Martyr
At the risk of drawing the ire of the all-important Internets community, I’ll say that I was never the biggest Jay Dee fan. Sure, he was a great producer and I liked what he did with The Pharcyde on Labcabincalifornia, and I count Slum Village’s “Fall-N-Love” among some of my favorite songs of all time (somewhere between Mary J Blige and Smif-N-Wessun’s “I Love You” and Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”), but I never considered him to be the greatest producer of all time; that distinction I’ll always bestow upon DJ Premier.
But much like those people who’ll say the McRib is the greatest sandwich of all time when McDonald’s takes it off their menu (and not just a bizarre concoction of random animal parts mashed between some buns and a bottle of KC’s Masterpiece), the collective of hip hop hypocrites will claim that J Dilla is the greatest thing to happen to urban music since Gilbert O’Sullivan (look it up). I’ve never been convinced that most of Dilla’s fans today were purveyors of his music in the past, and seeing something like Drake perform “Climax” and get virtually an crowd full of blank stares only confirms my suspicions.
When James Yancey passed away four Februaries ago, hip hop lost a talent that was in the midst of peaking, having hitting a stride and developing his own distinct sound. Unfortunately for him he took the road less traveled, and had to deal with getting mixed up with Jermaine Dupri on many occasions, forcing the name change. Hell, I’m sure that some folks who heard Jay Dee had died confused him with the guy who brought us such awe-inspiring talents like Kriss Kross, Xscape and Bow Wow instead. Perhaps due to the manner in which he passed – cardiac arrest, unlike Big Pun’s whose heart simply gave out on him from years of abusing it – Dilla wasn’t looked at as some sort of mystical force whose life was tragically cut short due to violence.
There was even a time when Dilla was looked upon as the catalyst for A Tribe Called Quest’s breakup. Coming in when ATCQ was in the midst of their issues (never mind the fact Consequence came in around the same time as well, but to far less scrutiny), Dilla was wrongfully was accused of sabotaging their sound on Beats, Rhymes And Life when in actuality Tribe’s internal strife was what fucked up everything between them.
Seeing the way J Dilla is “appreciated” now is, quite frankly, almost sickening at times. Some of his “fans” today likely did not care about him while he was alive, and the type of faux devotion he receives from them now is just wrong. Yet I’m sure I’ll run into a few of these types at the next Donuts Are Forever party. Good grief.