Friday, February 4, 2011

Rhymes & Life: The death of J Dilla affects hip hop and Black History Month

For my 2nd column ever, I wrote about my history with J Dilla, who passed away 5 years ago.

The story originally published in the BG News:

Jay-Z said it best on the first bar of what was supposed to be his last album, 2003's "The Black Album": "They say they never really miss you 'til you dead or you gone."

This has been a common trend in music, that I've noticed for years, especially hip-hop. Hip-hop has always been extremely active in showing support to their fallen brethren.

There have been so many prominent members of the hip-hop community that have left us in the past few years: Guru (of Gangstarr), Ol Dirty Bastard (of Wu-Tang Clan), Pimp C (of UGK), Proof (of D12) and so on.

But one death in particular has affected me more than others: James "J Dilla" Yancey.

To be completely honest with you, the only time I've seen J Dilla's name before his death was skimming the liner notes of albums from Talib Kweli and Common. But I still remember Feb. 10, 2006 vividly.

I was 16 years old, and was eager to gain as much information about my budding interests in hip-hop as I could, so I would daily visit a message board, Okayplayer, which was started by drummer/producer ?uestlove of my new favorite band, The Roots. 

Then Feb. 10 came. I came home after school like I did any other day to see what my fellow Okayplayers were talking about that day and then I see a post titled "I have lost a good friend" from a poster named Black Thought, who is The Roots' emcee, although he has never posted on Okayplayer.

In his post (which would later appear on The Roots' tribute song to Dilla, "Can't Stop This") he said:

"As I write these words, my tears splashing the keyboard, I reminisce on the times I've shared (with) Dilla, never without that signature smile and head bouncing to the beat, and finally understand the true meaning of passion."

Tears splashing on his keyboard? If you've ever heard a Roots song, you know Black Thought is not the emotional type; he's the type that crushes weak emcees with his ferocious flows and aggressive lyrics.

But here he was admittedly crying on the Internet to thousands of fans over a loss of a producer who I barely recognized in my favorite rappers' shout out lists.

I felt ignorant. How come this man has had such an impact on the hip-hop community without me having hardly any knowledge of who he was?

During the final years of high school, I continued to grow as a music lover and a hip-hop head. Over those years, J Dilla was instrumental (excuse the weak pun) in my exploration of the genre.

Although he never achieved the fame or even the wealth that a musician of his caliber rightfully should have, his impact on hip-hop music was irrefutable.

His legacy lives on through the countless beat makers who have been influenced by his unmatched ability on the MPC including the likes of fellow Detroit beat miners Mr. Porter and Black Milk, Madlib, and even one of the biggest names in music, Kanye West, has in some way emulated Dilla's style.

This Monday would have been his 37th birthday had he not passed away five years ago from complications of Lupus.

Feb. 7 has been dubbed "Dilla Day" by the hip-hop community for the past four years, and it has always been a personal tradition of mine to play every Dilla track I have and force my friends to listen to it too.

So this year for black history month, let us remember some of our fallen heroes in the hip-hop world (or just music in general) that maybe didn't get the respect and love they deserved until after their death.

R.I.P. J Dilla.

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