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April 18, 2017

Profiles

The Story of Detroit Legend J Dilla

Come stop by Shinola Detroit's listening room for Record Store Day
Profiles

April 18, 2017

Honesty: It’s not typically a word associated with the music industry. But it is the ideal that defines the very soul of hip-hop. What would hip-hop be without it? Better question: What would hip-hop be without Detroit legend, J Dilla?

Born February 7, 1974, James DeWitt Yancey (J Dilla) came into this world with music in his veins. The son of two musically inclined parents, Beverly and Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, his education started early. Ma Dukes emphasized musical education as the “tried and true tool for expansion of the mind and freedom of the soul.” But it is hip-hop that serves as the metaphorical wrecking ball to life’s barriers. Dilla was a Midwest music genius who used his lyrics and sound to break through.

Dilla never did just the minimum. In fact mastering one genre of music was not enough for him. Dilla had formal instrument training on piano, cello, drums, flute and guitar. He learned to read music and even sung in the church choir. Everything Dilla did contained passion, with a focus on being different. “Even through his remix of another artist’s work, he would always present the Jay Dee version,” said Ma. Dilla never did anything unless it was his best—even up until his untimely death in 2006, after battling Lupus and a rare blood disease.

J Dilla (pictured above)

One can find a lot of information on Dilla with just a quick internet search: where he grew up, where he went to school, who he worked with. But in talking with his mother, it’s clear she’s the only one truly capable of defining why it was Dilla that changed hip-hop music.

His ability to live on through his music is not due just to his original sound, but also to the man he was, which naturally overflowed into his creations. “His music embraces the soul, heart and mind of the listener, because it is built on love,” Ma explained. “His music is a recipe for loving  others  and the disappointment that sometimes affects us when we dare to care.”

Maureen "Ma Dukes" Yancey (pictured above), is furthering her son’s legacy with a new project titled Motor City. The title comes from the nickname of Jay Dee’s beloved hometown and is a collection of rare and unreleased Jay Dee instrumentals, hand-selected and sequenced by Ma Dukes herself.

While many radio stations are flooded with the sounds of careless tunes and empty lyrics, we hunger for Dilla’s sound and the way it embraces a vision of greater days ahead. His music knows no cultural differences. The heart recognizes Dilla’s sound as pure and honest. Hip-hop is a bullet train to freedom, acceptance and love. Dilla was, and still is, the conductor.

Dilla left behind an abundance of music for people across every culture and generation to enjoy. Some of it was left behind to be released posthumously, proving his fever for life and love for music. “Jay was never selfish. He loved everyone who was serious about life and serious about building a better platform for the ’artist’ in the industry. He removed the politics and encouraged the artist who dared to be original,” Ma said.

Motor City (pictured above) is packaged in a limited-edition mailing envelope. Ma Dukes conceived the 19-track album as a “letter” to her son, complete with a handwritten message to him that fans can find in the insert. Motor City drops in physical format and digital outlets worldwide on April 21, 2017.

Last year, Dilla’s Uncle Herm opened “Dilla’s Delights,” a donut shop in downtown Detroit, to continue his nephew’s legacy. Dilla’s last album was titled Donuts, after his love of the tasty treats. His Uncle used to bring him donuts as a child, and Dilla even dated a girl that worked at Detroit’s famous Dutch Girl Donuts. “Jay would be proud of his uncle, and would thank him for his perseverance,” Ma explained.

Join us this Saturday April, 22 for Record Store Day in select stores for a first-listen of J Dilla's new album. Detroit, DTLA, Venice, Miami, Chicago, Tribeca, San Francisco and Washington D.C. will be playing records by J Dilla. Complimentary Dilla's Delights Donuts will be available in Detroit.

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