Standing up for Dillatroit
A posthumous release is a reminder of his prowess
Published: July 25, 2012
As Dilla achieved more and more commercial success, particularly through his role as a producer as well as with his solo work, he lost touch with Fiddler. But his old mentor kept a keen eye on how his friend was doing. "I always followed his career from early on when he said that he wasn't gonna wait for me to get them signed, but I was determined to get him signed with somebody," Fiddler says.
"That was my mission because I always knew how talented he was. He represented Detroit different to anybody else. When I was out on tour with Lollapalooza, I mentioned him to Q-Tip. After that, he was just playing and I didn't talk to him much anymore. I think they kept him hidden away from me for some reason. I couldn't reach him. I would call him and he would pick up, but he was just doing his thing. I didn't mind though. That's why I helped him at the beginning. I was like, 'Just do your thing and shine.'"
Fans of Dilla know full well that this was a guy who loved to celebrate the city that he came from, loved to tell the world that he was a Detroit man. "Being from Detroit makes you recognize that we work hard to be recognized," says Fiddler. "It was important to let people know that Detroit was on the rise in hip hop, like other cities were. I think that Detroit has always been innovative and we have to let people know that. Jay was a very innovative young man who loved what he did and loved to create."
Some would say that J Dilla didn't achieve anything like the level of success that he should have (and would have with more time), and that may be true. But the respect he will forever command with hip hop's premier league points to the fact that he was very successful indeed. After he passed, the musical tributes came thick and fast. The Roots released a mixtape called Dilla Jawns and, later, a track called "Dillatude: Flight of the Titus." Busta Rhymes, in collaboration with Q-Tip and others, released a mixtape called Dillagence, and there were many more too.
Meanwhile, Dilla's work continues to live on, under the charge of his mother, Maureen (Ma Dukes) Yancey. The recent Rebirth of Detroit album features unreleased production work by Dilla and features artists like Amp Fiddler, Guilty Simpson and Danny Brown. Boldy James is a name on the album that will be new to many; he didn't know Dilla personally but he worked on the "Detroit Game" and "My Victory" tracks, he says, at the request of Ma Dukes.
"I felt honored because Dilla has been such an inspiration to so many Detroit emcees," says James. Ma Dukes "told me that she wanted me to record with my cousin Chuck Inglish, and she also wanted a solo effort from myself on the LP. A lot of dudes from the J Dilla Hip Hop Shop era had something to say about me being on the Rebirth of Detroit project because I didn't know Dilla personally, but for his mother to grant me the opportunity to be a part of something so epic ... I had to step up to the plate."
This was a terrifically talented musician who leaves behind a body of work that anybody would be proud of. Amp Fiddler offers a fitting conclusion. "The most important thing about Jay was that he was committed. He loved music and he was always looking to find and try new things. I think that will stay with him."
Brett Callwood writes City Slang for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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