Blackalicious - "The Craft" (mp3)
By now, I am sure most hip hop fans heard about the sudden passing of James "Jay Dee" (more recently known as J. Dilla) Yancey on Friday morning. I hesitated to post about this over the weekend, because I wanted to make sure I said something helpful, especially after such a troubling occurence.
The truth is, I don't have any new revelations. And that is all right. Because it's natural to feel sad, shocked, or even outraged. Jay Dee was 32. His manager attributed the cause of death to complications from lupus, a disease of the immune system that "occurs 10-15 times more frequently among adult females than among adult males after puberty or after the emergence into sexual maturity" and which "[p]eople of African, American Indian, and Asian origin are thought to develop the disease more frequently than Caucasian women."
To leave so suddenly, or to even be pulled down so slowly like Billy Preston, the sympathetic can't help but feel that the stakes have been weighted unfairly. Even when they do receive recognition, as Les Paul did from Billie Joe Armstrong during the Grammy's, discomfort and disturbance remain.
Jay Dee's passing has been especially troubling for me because I felt like I was just getting to know his music. I remember initially disparaging his minimal style when I first heard Tribe's Beats, Rhymes & Life. The follow-up of the Slum Village record hardly swayed my opinion. However, over time, I found myself growing to appreciate his records. He branched out with greater enthusiasm than most artists ever imagine doing in hip hop, working with international folk like DJ Cam and defining the "future funk" sound with Spacek. His "Love Junkee" and "Eve" mixes are a couple of my favorite productions. Looking back on the short lifespan of this blog (5 months), I have referenced his music more than any other single producer.
Yet, I never really felt I had a complete grasp of his music. Which is understandable. I consider ones maturity with regards to a concept or skill as being equal to the number of years they have grappled with the concept or skill. Meaning, having played saxophone for 13 years makes me a pimply-faced adolescent on the horn. I first heard Dilla in 1995, so I'm still just a kid.
Instead of pledging to honor our heroes before they pass and to appreciate the here and now, uh, here and now, I will renew an old pledge: to appreciate the craft fully and completely. It's the common bond of all artists, right? So, eff the hearsay, let's keep talkin' 'bout what they dew.
Sincerest wishes go out to the ebullient Mr. Preston and the honorable Mr. Paul and deepest condolences to the Yancey family and friends. Oliver has a wonderful Dilla dedication, along with information regarding charity.