I hope you’ve all had a chance to hear the last work of late hip hop producer J. Dilla, who died on February 10, 2006 at age 32.
J. Dilla (born James Yancey) was one of the most respected producrs in hip hop, a leader of Detroit’s hip hop scene who worked with Common, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Kanye West, among others. He completed his final album, “Donuts”, from his hospital bed as he was dying from lupus nephritis. Yancey died three days after its release.
The story of Yancey’s determination to finish his last work is incredibly sad, but beautiful.
It was near the end of summer 2005, and James Yancey was sitting in a hospital bed at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.From “The Last Days of Jay Dee”, Detroit Free Press.
He couldn't walk. He could barely talk. And after spending most of the winter and spring in the hospital, receiving treatment for a rare, life-threatening blood disease and other complications, he had been re-admitted.
His body was killing him, and little could be done about it.
It was a grim prognosis, but it wasn't deterring him from tinkering with his electronic drum machine.
In the sterile white hospital room, the tools of his trade surrounded him: turntables, headphones, crates of records, a sampler, his drum machine and a computer, stuff his mother and friends from L.A.-based record label Stones Throw had lugged to his hospital room. Sometimes his doctor would listen to the beats through Yancey's headphones, getting a hip-hop education from one of the best in the business.
Yancey tampered with his equipment until his hands swelled so much he could barely move them. When the pain was too intense, he'd take a break. His mother massaged his fingertips until the bones stopped aching.
Then he'd go back to work. Sometimes he'd wake her up in the middle of the night, asking to be moved from his bed to a nearby reclining chair so he could layer more hard-hitting beats atop spacey synths or other sampled sounds, his creations stored on computer. Yancey told his doctor he was proud of the work, and that all he wanted to do was finish the album.
Before September ended, he'd completed all but two songs for "Donuts," a disc that hit stores on Feb. 7, his 32nd birthday.
Three days after its release, he died.
The songs on the J. Dilla’s final album are fantastic, layered, visionary. All of the tracks, though, are incomplete: each ends with a rough, abrupt cut. Yancey knew he was dying, and he put together these final tracks ("Bye", "One for Ghost", "Last Donut of the Night", "Don't Cry") are his farewell to the world. Rest in peace, J. Dilla.