REVOLT TV presents ‘The Produce Section,’ a column where we put the spotlight on the men and women behind the beats we love so much and their contributions to the culture as a whole. From profiling and interviewing the hottest producers of today to acknowledging the greatest producers of all-time and delving deep into their discographies, TheProduce Section is the hub where beats, rhymes and life connect.
Producers have long been the backbone of rap music, providing emcees and rappers alike with the sonic backdrops over which they bare their souls and share their stories. Rap artists may get much of the fanfare and are front and center. However, without the producer toiling away behind the scenes, crafting the instrumentals; the lyrics would be reduced to spoken word and hip hop would be nonexistent as we know it.
In this edition of The Produce Section, we cover the late great producer J Dilla, whose legacy as one of the premier creators of the revamped style of boom-bap that dominated the late ’90s and early aughts, is beyond comparison. Born and bred in Detroit, Michigan in 1974, Jay Dee (as he was originally known) scored a short-lived record deal with Payday Records as one-half of the Detroit rap duo 1st Down. But, his true claim to fame would come via his work as a producer. Climbing his way up in the industry, Dilla caught his big break after securing placements on rap group Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia album, which led to credits on albums from A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Keith Murray, Janet Jackson, and other luminaries in rap and R&B.
Unfortunately, on February 10, 2006; the producer would pass away from complications related to Lupus, cutting his career short at its height. After his death, Dilla’s legend status translated into cult status; as many rap fans, artists and producers praise him as one of the most influential producers in the culture.
In the latest installment of our series, we celebrate and highlight 11 of J Dilla’s most iconic beats that defines his excellence behind the boards.
J Dilla’s first big impression on the hip hop community came during the mid-90s, when the producer crafted the instrumental for west coast rap group Pharcyde’s 1995 single “Runnin.’” Built around samples of jazz great Stan Getz’s “Saudade Vem Correndo,” and drums lifted from “You Follow Me” by James Moody, this pivotal selection peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped introduce the world to his sound.
2. “Stakes Is High”
A riff from Ahmad Jamal’s “Swahililand” gets reworked by Dilla for De La Soul’s call to arms, which was in reaction to the blatant commercialization of rap music. Released as the title track and lead single from the trio’s fourth studio album, this landmark composition, which is bolstered by vocals from James Brown’s 1973 release “Mind Power,” is regarded as one of Yancey’s greatest works.
3. “Get A Hold”
Upon finding kindred spirits in Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla contributed to one of the finer moments of the group’s fourth studio album; Beats, Rhymes and Life with this subdued composition. Stripping vocal samples from “The Visit (She Was Here)” by The Cyrkle, the Detroit-bred boardsman bolsters the track with sturdy kicks, snares and subtle keys, resulting in one of the revered deep cuts in his beat stash.
4. “Find A Way”
Drawing heavily from Towa Tei featuring Bebel Gilberto’s “Technova (Folknova),” J Dilla cooks up this serene backdrop, which doubled as the lead single from A Tribe Called Quest’s Love Movement album. Infused with elements of “Funkin’ for Jamaica (N.Y.)” by Tom Browne, this track continued the boardsman’s winning streak of addictive instrumentals. It powered the last bonafide hit for one of the greatest acts in rap history.
5. “Breathe & Stop”
For one of his more sleek backdrops, J Dilla does work with various samples by pilfering drums from “N.T.” by Kool & the Gang, as well as a jittery guitar riff from Emmett Chapman’s “Gypsy.” Released as the second single from Q-Tip’s solo debut, Amplified, this party-centric jam peaked at No. 21 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart, and continued his and Tip’s ascension into the mainstream.
6. “Didn’t Cha Know”
After establishing himself in the realm of rap, J Dilla lent his talents to artists in other genres, neo-soul songstress Erykah Badu among them. For her sophomore album, Mama’s Gun, Badu recruited Dilla to helm the boards for the track “Didn’t Cha Know,” as the producer revamped Tarika Blue’s 1976 composition “Dreamflower” with live instrumentation.
7. “The Light”
J Dilla’s stock reached a crescendo after unleashing this monster of a rap ballad to usher his sound into the new millennium. Deconstructing Bobby Caldwell’s classic cut “Open Your Eyes,” the producer pairs the sample with drums lifted from “You’re Getting a Little Too Smart” by Detroit Emeralds. Peaking at No. 12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, this backdrop earned both Common and Dilla the biggest hits of their careers, up until that point, as well as the distinction of having one of the timeless love songs in hip hop history.
8. “Raise It Up”
Drums from the P-Funk All Stars’ 1983 release “Pumpin’ It Up (Special Club Mix)” are paired with a riff from Daft Punk member Thomas Bangalter’s “Extra Dry” for this spirited soundscape. Released as a single from Slum Village’s sophomore album, Fantastic, Vol. 2, this quirky salvo stacks up with Dilla’s most esteemed work from his tenure with the group.
9. “Much More”
Soul singer Jeffrey Osborne’s impassioned wails get manipulated by J Dilla for this glorious production. Layering a sample of “Love Ballad” by L.T.D. with upbeat percussion, glorious horns and vocal scratches, the artist originally known as Jay Dee reunites with De La Soul for yet another classic meeting of the minds.
10. “Love Is…”
The spirit of Marvin Gaye is channeled on this standout selection from Common’s Be album, as Dilla constructs a beat around steady percussion, synths and elements of the R&B legend’s 1970 cut “God Is Love.” One of the last production credits earned during his lifetime, this soulful tune serves as an appropriate curtain call for one of the best beatsmiths to ever do it.
11. “So Far To Go”
J Dilla speeds up a riff taken from The Isley Borthers’ 1980 hit “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love) (Parts 1 & 2)” for this soulful composition from his 2006 posthumous release, The Shining. Strengthening the tracks foundation with a standard drum loop and other wrinkles, the Detroit maestro crafts a superb backdrop that would later appear on Common’s Finding Forever album, but with additional vocals.
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