What J Dilla Means To Me

What J Dilla Means To Me

dilla-hatI didn’t grow up with the luxury of having someone near and dear to me who could properly school me on hip-hop. Sure, my older brother, Tim, had great music taste and introduced me to stuff like The Chronic in 1993, which confused the hell out of my 8-year-old self. “What is chronic?” I can remember asking him, only to receive a shrugged-shoulders response and probably a lil’ punch in the arm. But when I heard the music, the beats, the mostly indecipherable (to a kid, at least) lyrics, I was hooked. You could say that Dre introduced me to hip-hop, along with the help of Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance”. Yeah, I was a confused child.

But the ensuing years brought a slight falling out of favor with the genre, though I held it close to my heart by way of an  obsession with Zack De La Rocha’s fiery rhymes leading Rage Against the Machine. Still, that was the closest thing to “rap” I was listening to, along with Beck’s more nimble cuts. For the most part, it was all guitar-driven alternative rock with a single here and there working itself into my brain. I also had a stint where all I listened to was Weird Al Yankovic. Again, like I said, I had very little musical direction outside of the few alt-rock stations and a then-actually-OK MTV.

My teenage years flew by, driven by a blend of sad-sack shit like blink-182 and a typical-white-boy fascination with 2Pac. I thought dude was basically a deity and while I still love some of his music, my stannery ain’t even close to where it was a decade ago. I went through phases with music from Mos Def, Talib Kweli, C-N-N, Nas, Eminem, and others, though that was mostly based on my love for the And1 Basketball tapes. I dipped into the emo garbage that plagued the airwaves for a few years, all the while trying to find and establish my taste in music. I felt a pressure to do that, too, which only made matters worse. You want to talk about having guilty pleasures? No one knew that I secretly like a Britney Spears cut here or there and didn’t actually mind boy bands. If you did, you were probably my best friend … and you’re probably not reading this.

But I digress.

College presented the same predicament: What the f*ck do I actually like? Does it matter? Or should I just listen to what I want? Of course, the only answer to those questions are: Shut up, kid, you’re 18 and it’s OK that you like horseshit for music sometimes. Then something changed when I stumbled across OkayPlayer and Last.FM, where people (mostly) reasonably discussed (and argued) about music both old and new. I began finding artists I heard in passing or read about in magazine, slightly intimidated and overwhelmed by how much I missed.

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  1. Bruno Guerra
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 11:25:00


  2. Michael
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 23:24:00

    This is a good article, and I think you for sharing it. Your story and my own have a LOT in common – the two main differences being are that I think you’re 2-3 years older than me, and I was really into producing and making beats starting in like 6th grade, my best friend’s older brother introduced me to beat making (started training on an MPC and loved vinyl at a pretty early age). I grew up in LA, fed off of The Chronic and Warren G and all that as well, my older brothers played that nonstop.

    But, with respect, I think you misread the reason why people have disdain towards people who so freely use “J Dilla Changed My Life.” I fully grew up on his music almost while it was released. Fantastic, Vol. 2? I chopped that up in 8th grade.The product wasn’t good (some of it maybe haha), but I fell in love with Dilla. He had me floored every time. Listened to Donuts the day it came out, his magnum opus.

    I think people mock the phrase and the person not because they aren’t a ‘legit’ fan, because I’m sure everyone is a real fan; it’s hard not to like his music.People mock the phrase because there’s a sense that most of those people don’t really appreciate Dilla, how good and talented he actually was, and all the technical aspects behind his beat-making. He was really almost nothing short of inspirational for his attitude and passion towards music. and for many people, myself included, he was one of the, if not the, best in the game, for many years before Donuts.He really changed some people’s lives, because music was such a huge aspect of their life, that it often helped dictate certain attitudes and behaviors.

    And there’s a pretty big chasm between someone who Dilla really touched like that, and someone who just really liked hearing his music. Although I am thankful that so many people love Donuts (probably still my favorite), I must question whether it would have gotten so much attention, and whether Dilla would be so lauded as he is today, if it wasn’t for his passing.

  3. tha D
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 15:00:00

    Christmas of ’95 was when I first heard Jay. Like most, I couldn’t wait for the new Pharcyde… but unlike most, I wasn’t disappointed by Labcab. First spin, one minute into it I’m jumping off my bed to grab the liner-notes — WHO THE F&*^ is this slapping perfect off-beat rhythms like this? I came up playing the drums and Jay’s sense of swing and micro-sub-divisions was revolutionary, no hyperbole, just straight musicological fact.

  4. Andrew Martin
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:12:00

    Thanks man!

  5. Andrew Martin
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 13:12:00

    I’m not retro-knocking it! I just was mad young and listening to a ridiculously nasty song and loving it hahahah.

  6. Frank Luanda
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:45:00

    I love this article because I can somewhat relate to it. I too had a little falling-out with Hip Hop, albeit for totally different reasons. Discovered Dilla right around the time of his death, and the rest is history. As I look at my library right now, 80% is all instrumentals, from artists still bubbling in the underground that dedicate all they do to Jay Dee.

  7. William Trinity
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:43:00

    Don’t retro-knock your love of “The Humpty Dance”! Digital Underground’s ‘Sex Packets’ is one of the most forward thinking hip-hop albums of the 90s. I heavily credit my eclectic music tastes on those early Digital Underground albums. They were on some next shit at the time.

  8. MadLark
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 12:03:00

    quality write up

  9. Geedorah
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:38:00

    Liked this story because i’m still in that phase where I listen to everything that I can find. I like all genres but I will always come back to hip-hop in the end.

  10. Andrew Martin
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:14:00

    Thanks man! LOL at the Weird Al thing. I couldn’t get enough of dude’s music, for whatever reason.

  11. Andrew Martin
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:13:00

    Thank you so much

  12. King VitaMN
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:09:00

    Great stuff, Andrew. It’s actually kind of eerie how similarly our tastes in music evolved (right down to the Weird Al phase). I also “discovered” Dilla just before Donuts released, yet his passing still depressed me to no end.

    Not that I ever need an excuse to listen to dip back into Dilla’s catalog, but I know how I’ll be spending the rest of my day after reading this.

  13. Brandon Goree
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 09:55:00

    Rest in peace Dilla.. Great story man

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