James “Jay Dee aka J Dilla” Yancey was born and raised on the mean streets of Detroit’s east side. Little is known of his musical upbringing, but he has most definitely become one of the most talented, innovative producers of our time. Gaining inspiration from listening to Whodini’s “Big Mouth” back in the day, Jay tried his hand at making beats by using the “pause” and “record” buttons on his tape deck. After learning to work an MPC-60 back in 92’ from Amp Fiddler, J Dilla was on his way to becoming one of hip-hop’s illest beat makers.
After hooking up with two high school friends, T3 and Baatin, they formed the crew called, Slum Village (circa 1988), and Jay started to polish his rhyming skills to match his dope production. As Slum Village began to show themselves in Detroit and around the east coast Jay was also busy getting his production noticed by other artists in the music industry. One thing led to another and by the end of 1996, Jay Dee had produced joints for the likes of The Pharcyde, Keith Murray, Busta Rhymes and De La Soul. After hearing Jay’s ill productions Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest) brought him in to lend his expertise to their 1996 release “Beats, Rhymes and Life”. Jay Dee became one-third of the ghost production team now known as the Ummah, which included Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed. That year also saw the first release from Slum Village with “Fantastic Vol. I”, a classic hard to find item. A chance meeting with Janet Jackson led to his 1997 remix of the chart topping “Got Til’ Its Gone” single that paired Janet’s smooth vocals with Jay Dee’s intoxicating drum kicks.
Now dabbling in other music genres, Jay went on to lace beats for artists like Macy Gray, D’angelo, N’Dea Davenport and Erykah Badu. 2000 was a stellar year for Jay Dee, with his group Slum Village finally releasing their critically acclaimed “Fantastic Vol. II” through Goodvibe Recordings, he also received notoriety with many other acts. With the now defunct Ummah production team non-existent (breakup of Tribe Called Quest in 99’), J Dilla became a member of The Soulquarians, which includes Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson (The Roots), James Poyser and D’angelo. Jay produced a substantial amount of Common’s 2000 release “Like Water For Chocolate” and contributed to D’angelo’s Voodoo album.
In 2001 Jay Dee released his first solo effort entitled “Welcome 2 Detroit” (BBE Records). The “W2D” album showcased a few emcee’s from the Detroit area, but also showed the versatility of Jay Dee and his craftiness. This 16 track ensemble of lyrical tracks, classic “instrumental” covers and bouncy grooves solidified Jay Dee as one of the illest producers of his era and beyond. Other albums that followed included Jaylib (Jay Dee & Madlib) as well as an instrumental series at Bling47.com and production of 2 songs (Love is… and It’s Your World (Part 1 & 2)) on Common’s recent ‘Be’ album.
J Dilla leaves behind a body of work which will be loved and rediscovered for years to come. His most recent album “Donuts” was released on February 7th, the day of his 32nd birthday. Two other projects, “The Shining” (BBE Records) and “Jay Love Japan” (Operation Unknown) are completed and will be released in 2006. Other production work has been completed for artists Madlib, Busta Rhymes, Ghostface Killah, A.G., Visionaries, Truth Hurts, Phat Kat, MF DOOM, Skillz, and Frank N Dank.