Visionary hip-hop producer J Dilla never found mainstream success during his brief lifetime. But in the seven years since his death, Dilla — who would have turned 39 today — has come to represent a major inflection point on hip-hop’s evolutionary tree. At his peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he suggested syntheses that hadn’t seemed possible. He played fresh games with texture and tone. He recast the sample as a malleable component, rather than the monochromatic backbone it had seemed to be. And he injected a softened, swaggering humanity into the rigid slap of classic hip-hop drumbeats.
His magnum opus, Donuts, was reissued on vinyl last month, and the posthumous Music From the Lost Scrolls Vol. 1 came out on Tuesday — the first in a series of previously unreleased recordings. In Detroit on Saturday, the rapper Talib Kweli, violinist and arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and a handful of other artists will perform at the second annual Dilla Day, a concert celebrating Dilla’s career.
Dilla’s reach stretches way beyond hip-hop: For one, he’s recently cast a long shadow over contemporary jazz. He never belonged to jazz’s inner circle, but since his death in 2006 from a rare blood disease, his legacy has helped pull the genre back into kissing contact with modern popular music. Continue reading