J Dilla, 32. Rapper Became an Influential Hip-Hop Producer

  • Associated Press
  • February 12, 2006

James Yancey, known as J Dilla, an influential hip-hop producer whose music formed the backdrop to songs by artists including Common and A Tribe Called Quest, has died. He was 32.

Yancey died Friday of complications from lupus, according to his manager, Timothy Maynor. He had been living with his mother in Los Angeles since he was diagnosed with the immune system disease about three years ago, Maynor said.

Born and raised in Detroit, Yancey was a member of Slum Village in the late 1990s, performing under the name Jay Dee. He left after the trio's successful first album to pursue a solo career.

In 2003, he teamed with fellow rapper and producer Madlib for the critically acclaimed "Champion Sound" album in which each rapped over the other's beats.

Ron Watts, Detroit rapper Phat Kat, said Yancey's unique style in which he blended claps, drum machines and samples helped change the sound of modern hip-hop.

"That's really where all the other cats are getting that style," Watts said. "It came from the soul, old Detroit soul music."

Yancey contributed tracks to the Pharcyde's 1995 album "Labcabincalifornia." He also produced much of A Tribe Called Quest's "The Love Movement" in 1998 and worked with Common on several albums.

His most recent compact disc, the instrumental "Donuts," was released Tuesday. He had also finished recording "Welcome To Detroit, Vol. 2," a compilation album that Watts said would be released.

Although his joints hurt, his kidneys were weak and he appeared sickly recently, Maynor said Yancey had remained in good spirits. He had been on dialysis for about two years.

His mother found him unresponsive in his room Friday morning.

"He was optimistic about working on future projects and doing future shows," Maynor told Associated Press. They had gone to Europe in December on tour. "He was sickly, but at the same time, he wanted to be there."

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