Detroit’s own James “Dilla” Yancey (aka Jay Dee or J. Dilla). A Musician and Music producer who helped create Music for some of the best in Hip-Hop and R&B. The list includes, A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson (remember Got ’til It’s Gone?) and his own group Slum Village. He was 100% dedicated to Music and didn’t care about awards or fame. So much so, that when Janet Jackson won a Grammy for a song he produced, he wasn’t phased one bit. (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis took the honors but the all the production credit goes to Dilla.) Just as Dilla’s Music and production skills were becoming more and more popular, he developed a rare blood disease called TTP. A true fighter, Dilla continued to work on Music while the disease began to take over his body. He never seemed to stop working, even while stuck in the hospital for dialysis treatment.
Unfortunately, a few days after days after his birthday in 2006, his Life ended due to complications from TTP and Lupus. He was only 32.
Since Dilla’s death there have been many Musical dedications by artists that worked with him or by those that were inspired by his Music (and his work ethic). However, there is one that stands out and I listen to or watch the live performance several times a week. (I’m actually watching as I type this.)
A Suite For Ma Dukes. A 15 song performance by a 60 piece orchestra with Music that was arranged, composed and conducted by MIguel Atwood-Ferguson (who’s also an incredible violinist). According to Miguel, some of the Musicians had no idea who Dilla was when he first asked them to participate in this project. However, after I watched for the first time and listened to how they interpreted his Music, it seemed like they knew him personally. Also included in the orchestra is drumming sensation Karriem Riggins. Karriem (who’s also a Detroit native) was a friend of Dilla and collaborated with him.
I first discovered this Musical project very early in 2010. After watching a couple of performances on Mochilla’s website I immediately pre-ordered the TIMELESS DVD set. (The TIMELESS set also includes live performances by Mulatu Astatke and Arthur Verocai which I’ll cover later.) I’m sure I annoyed several of my FB friends as I seemed to be posting the few video clips that were available every other week. I couldn’t help it though as this was some of the best Music I had ever heard (and felt).
After receiving the DVD I watched it right away. It was more amazing than I thought it was going to be. To listen to a 60 piece orchestra play the Music of a gifted, Detroit Hip-Hop/R&B producer who was humble and didn’t care about the accolades…to play his Music with so much passion…well, it was moving. (I’m not ashamed to say that I got choked up a few times.)
Here are a couple of clips from the Suite For Ma Dukes DVD
Untitled / Fantastic (originally performed by Slum Village)
Hoc N Pucky (originally performed by Slum Village)
I don’t wanna share too much as there are a few surprises towards the end. If you are a Dilla fan or a fan of some of the artists he produced or just wanna hear some good Music, please pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.
As Dilla’s legacy lives on, I’m sure there will be more and more tributes but A Suite For Ma Dukes will continue to remain in a class by itself.
The TIMELESS DVD set was a limited release however, there are a few copies remaining at Amazon:
A Suite For Ma Dukes
To read more about James “Dilla” Yancey please visit the following sites:
J Dilla Foundation
Official International J Dilla Tribute Art Contest
For more information on Miguel Atwood-Ferguson please visit:
For more information on Karriem Riggins please visit: