Spent a good deal of time dwelling on Dilla today for a quick piece on Good Hip Hop’s J. Dilla Tribute in Sebastopol next weekend. Then, drove to Petaluma with Like Water For Chocolate on the tape deck. The weird thing about Dilla is that as far as I remember (and I’m a little older than most people who seem to champion his genius between every meal), nobody—as in, not one solitary person I knew—liked Labcabincalifornia when it came out. Or The Love Movement. Or Amplified. All really, really reviled albums, they were.
Whether or not Dilla was ahead of his time is as pointless as wondering, as I did today, if there would eventually be someone else who decided to swap up the kick drum and offset the snare ever so slightly. That stumbling burble, his trademark—someone else surely would have thought it up, just like someone would have shook their hips and howled sexual innuendo on TV if Elvis hadn’t. Right?
All of this is to say that rap production is in some interesting hands right now, and those still worshipping Dilla should hopefully see that his spirit lives on in intrepid creativity if not outright aesthetic. Right around the time Dilla died, the Pack, from the Bay Area, had a left-field hyphy hit with “Vans,” which rode on a tiny snap beat, a tssst-tssst hi-hat and a synth sent from Mars. Its spirit owed slightly to the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)” before it, and birthed a YouTube craze with the New Boyz’ “You’re a Jerk” in its wake.
Young L from the Pack released this new video for “Young L-E-N” today, and I hope its production hits the ears of mainstream beatmakers like Just Blaze. Not at all into the useless verses, but that’s hip-hop in 2010—the illest beats beneath filler lyrics. Dilla was lucky to have visionary MCs in the best of both worlds.