J Dilla was one of the best hip hip producers out there. He was from Detroit, and he was incredibly prolific, dropping some of the dopest hip hop gems the world has ever heard. He’s not with us anymore, but his legacy lives on through the incredibly prolific output of music he’s responsible for creating.
Listening to his work, you hear a range of stylistic influences; he made straight-up Detroit ghetto hip hop, as well as soulful tunes, funky tunes, jazzy tunes, he even used bossa nova… How often do you hear bossa nova in a hip hop groove? Not often… He also was a heavy-user of sidechain compression (also known as ‘ducking’).
So, even though he has TONS of great grooves, and I recommend SO many of them, here are my ten of favorite tracks by Dilla. He worked with a lot of great artists, too, so not all of these are instrumentals. Most are, though, but I had to include the beat he produced for a Busta Rhymes tune. It’s catchy as fuck. Seriously, ten seconds of incredibly hooky / catchy hip hop gold…
Here’s a documentary of Dilla (actually it’s just the first portion of a documentary, but links to the other parts show up after the video ends) to get things rollin’…
I got into instrumental hip hop years ago, when Napster was one of my main sources of new music… I used to download the instrumentals of rap songs… I’d listen to beats by the Beatnuts, Jay-Z, Eminem, and a lot of other artists that made up the mainstream hip hop scene of the 90s… I also got into DJ Shadow, Amon Tobin, and other downtempo breaks artists like that… Well, this provided a foundation for my love of hip hop music. Years later, I discovered he work of Madlib and J Dilla, and I was fucking hooked!
I remember hanging out in my room, writing in my journal, burning some incense, smoking some weed, and listening to a huge playlist of Madlib. Those were great, chill times… You can REALLY create a relaxed atmosphere when you play soulful, downtempo hip hop breaks…
So, with that in mind, I’d like to share with you the top ten best tracks by J Dilla…
J Dilla – Sounds Like Love
Busta Rhymes – High (Produced by J Dilla)
Biggie Smalls – The Ugliest (feat. Busta Rhymes) (prod. J Dilla)
Gotta include this. Biggie + J Dilla? Ah! If you’re a fan of slightly-old-skool hip hop, this combination is fucking gold.
J Dilla – Feel the Beat
J Dilla – Trashy
Slum Village – Fall in Love
Slum Village was a group that Dilla ushered in, and take your pick on which you like the most – the instrumental or the vocal version. They’re both dope.
Q Tip – Let’s Ride
J Dilla – Pause
J Dilla – Let The Dollar Circulate
So… Whenever I hear this track, I feel like the vocal sample is a guy singing, “Let McDonalds suck your leg,” or, “Let ‘the Donald’ suck your leg,” but then I looked it up, and it’s not that at all, it’s, “Let the dollar circulate,” just like the name of the song. Ha. But anyway, this is a really nice tune. It has a great, dusty old vocal sample, and the way he loops the end portion of the word, ‘circulate,’ works very well for the song. I’d imagine it would be an excellent track for some rap lyrics, but it also stands up well enough on it’s own, too.
J Dilla – Nothing Like This
Hard to pick a favorite. Very hard. This one is one of my favorites, but really, the last few tracks are definitely bangers, too… Wanted to use this Top Ten format to showcase some of the incredible work of this late artist, though, so I had to choose something for the number one spot… So, there you go. If you search around, there is so much good music by J Dilla, and I hope some of these tunes might spark some folks interest who might not be turned onto this dude’s music yet.