By now I would think that most everybody has seen the t-shirt that states “Dilla Changed My Life.” Obviously Dilla’s influence was felt far and wide by all those who partook of his music or worked with him. I, however, had quite an ambivalent relationship to his music when I was first exposed to it. I suppose you could say that Dilla’s growth in music was parallel to my maturation in life.
When Dilla began his odyssey as a producer on a large scale it was on the Pharcyde’s second album, LABCABINCALIFORNIA. All of his beats were fresh: “Runnin’,” “Drop,” etc. Then he showed up as part of The Ummah production team, on A Tribe Called Quest’s fourth album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life. Let’s just say I was less than impressed. How could Tribe change their sound so much? I couldn’t understand it and the only answer I could find was the name Jay Dee; the other two individuals responsible for the production were still there. The only rationale was that this guy came in and changed their sound and musical direction. For this, my opinion was tainted.
A year later, De La Soul dropped what was to me a seminal work in the canon of hip-hop, Stakes is High. The lead single by the same name read: “produced by Jay Dee (Dilla)”. Okay, my mind was officially blown. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that this guy made such diverse compositions. Some stuff I couldn’t get with, some I absolutely couldn’t fathom living without. This was my connection to Dilla as he ran this route for the first few years of his recording career.
Through the passing of time I was able to finally grasp the significance of his catalog overall. Dilla made poignant, at times socially relevant music that challenged me as a listener. He actually did change my life. He helped me grow; pushing my conception of what hip-hop is or could possibly be. With works such as “F@#k the Police” and “The Clapper,” Dilla kept me on my toes. With the all-too-soon passing of Dilla, I’ve been put into a position of yearning for more of his music. The fact is that I, like countless others, took him for granted. This is our consequence for not recognizing his impact and influence, not only in music, but in the everyday occurrences of our lives.