Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

Listen Up! – Brother Ali

An artist who has always delivered food for thought in his music, Brother Ali delivers some emotional words about race, life and Hip-Hop in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict.

New Joint – Agartha Audio & Taiyamo Denku / Craig G / Sadat X

Agatha Audio & Taiyamo Denku ft. Craig G & Sadat X – “Road Is Ruff” (Uncommon Records / 2012)

Taken from the forthcoming album “Quadrofiendia” which also feature L.I.F.E. Long, Shyhiem, Masai Bey and more.

Diggin’ In The Hard Drive – 2006 J Dilla Tribute Article

With today being the sixth anniversary of legendary Detroit producer J Dilla’s tragic passing, I thought I’d dust off the tribute article I did for then long-running UK-based magazine Blues & Soul that hit news-stands just a week or so after the gifted musical visionary was taken from his family, friends and fans.

When I was asked by my esteemed B&S editor Bob Killbourn to write a tribute piece just hours after Dilla’s death, I had mixed feelings taking on the assignment. Of course, I wanted the opportunity to pay my respects to a man who can easily be described as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest producers, but I also knew it was going to be a difficult task to do Dilla justice within the 700 word limit I had been set. I put off writing the piece for days, worried that I wasn’t up to the task. But with my deadline looming, I came home from work on a Friday evening, threw on the best-of Dilla compilation CD I’d burned for myself during the days following his passing, zoned out and got to work. Whether you knew the man personally or, like me, just consider yourself a fan, I hope that after reading the piece below you’ll feel that I repped for Dilla correctly.

Music’s Soulchild

James Yancey (a.k.a. Jay Dee / J Dilla) passed away on February 10th 2006 in Los Angeles after a lengthy battle with an incurable blood disease. He was a mere 32-years-old. The sense of emotional loss experienced by the talented producer’s family, friends and mother, Maureen Yancey, is incalculable, but the impact of Dilla’s death on the culture of Hip-Hop is also difficult to quantify.

Born in Detroit in 1974, Dilla called the Conant Gardens section of Motown home, attending Pershing High School in the 80s, where he met future Slum Village band-mates T3 and Baatin. A fixture of Detroit’s Hip-Hop scene, a young Jay Dee cut his musical teeth in the early-90s after being shown how to work his trusty MPC sampler by leftfield soul sensation Amp Fiddler. Shortly after, Dilla began producing tracks for local acts such as 1st Down and a pre-D12 Proof. But whilst Detroit was familiarising itself with Jay Dee’s captivating mix of soulful sounds and heavy drums, the rest of the Hip-Hop world wouldn’t fully experience the gifted beatmaker’s work until The Pharcyde dropped their 1995 sophomore album “Labcabincalifornia”. Dilla produced six standout cuts on the project, including the classic “Runnin'”, finding himself taken under the creative wing of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed to form The Ummah production collective.

This meeting of musical minds would lead to Dilla contributing tracks to 1996 projects from Mad Skillz, De La Soul and, of course, ATCQ. But it would be the year 2000 that signalled Jay Dee’s official breakthrough, with Slum Village finally dropping their heavily-delayed album “Fantastic Vol. II” and Dilla working with The Roots’ Questlove under the Soulquarians banner, producing most of Common’s “Like Water For Chocolate” and D’Angelo’s “Voodoo”. In the years leading up to his tragic death, Dilla blessed a long and varied list of artists with his talent, including Busta Rhymes, Brand New Heavies, Talib Kweli, Vivian Green and Jaylib (his collaboration with cult West Coast producer Madlib). Most recently Dilla dropped his own solo project, the instrumental mixtape-styled “Donuts”, and also crafted as-yet unreleased tracks for Ghostface, Truth Hurts and MF Doom.

The artistic achievements listed above and the many others not mentioned make for impressive reading, but it’s difficult to truly convey the beauty and creativity of Dilla’s music in words. He was an artist in the mould of a Jimi Hendrix or a Miles Davis, someone who understood his musical roots but constantly sought to push the boundaries of his craft. Yancey stayed away from the media spotlight, choosing instead to let the quality of his work speak for him, an admirable character trait in today’s celebrity-obsessed world.

In terms of his importance to the evolution of Hip-Hop production, Dilla’s name should be mentioned alongside other ground-breaking greats such as Rick Rubin, Marley Marl, Dr. Dre and DJ Premier. He helped bring soul back to Hip-Hop during a time when commercialisation threatened to rip the heart out of both the music and its culture.

Dilla didn’t reach the mainstream recognition of some of his peers (though he produced two cuts on Common’s Grammy-nominated “Be”) but the respect those at the top of the game had for the D-Town homeboy was evident. In 2004, when asked to name his favourite Hip-Hop producer, Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes baffled a BET 106 & Park audience by replying, “You may not know his name, but J Dilla, Jay Dee from Detroit.”

Progressive yet retro. Simple but complicated. Hardcore and smooth. The true genius in J Dilla’s work was his ability to maintain something of a trademark sound without becoming predictable or stale. He was able to shift from the blissful 70s vibe of Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know” to the sparse futuristic funk of Busta’s “It Ain’t Safe No More”, whilst still managing to squeeze in some good old-fashioned b-boy boom-bap like that heard on his own “F**k The Police”. Hearing a new Dilla track was an exciting experience that reminded jaded listeners there was still genuine talent to be found within the unsurprising world of modern music.

In an industry where style is often placed above substance, J Dilla proved it was possible to balance both, ensuring his legendary status was attained without the help of glitz, hype and hollow sentiments. He simply loved to make good music. And because of that, we loved J Dilla. He will be missed.

Ryan Proctor

J Dilla – “Think Twice” (BBE / 2001)

Old To The New PSA – Is Hip-Hop’s Golden Era Holding You Back?

 There’s nothing that annoys me more than Hip-Hop heads who do nothing but complain. Don’t get me wrong, in a rap world that considers Eminem and Kanye to have released the best albums of 2010, Drake to be the saviour of lyricism and Lil’ Wayne to be one of the greatest emcees of all-time, there is much to disagree with as an OG Hip-Hop junkie who grew-up during rap’s formative stages and the fabled late-80s / early-90s Golden Era. So don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying I’m a massive fan of many of today’s so-called ‘hot’ artists. But what I am saying is that, as a fan of true-school Hip-Hop, there is still plenty of good music out there to be found and, like your favourite back-in the-day classics, cherished enough to be enjoyed again and again throughout the years.

So it frustrates me when I read various internet forums and see supposed supporters of the culture bragging about the fact that they only purchased one album last year, as if there was absolutely nothing of merit released. Or stating that their iPod play-lists only consist of the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Main Source and Gang Starr, as if admitting publicly that they only listen to music from the Golden Era somehow makes them a more dedicated fan than those who still actively seek out new music from the vast amount of acts still releasing quality product today.

If, as a longstanding fan of Hip-Hop, you don’t take the time to search out new music from those artists who’re still doing their part to maintain some sort of balance within the culture, then really you’re in no position to criticise those who simply support what they’re force-fed by the mainstream. It’s basically two sides of the same coin as, either way, those underground artists who deserve support are being ignored. And whilst teenage girls singing along to Eminem / Rihanna collaborations don’t know any better, so realistically can’t be expected to be checking out the likes of Eternia, Murs or John Robinson overnight, fans who complain the music isn’t what it used to be do know better, so really have no excuse for not taking the time to find what’s out there that suits their tastes.

Last year alone there were strong albums from the likes of Vinnie Paz, The Roots, Roc Marciano, Moe Pope, Blacastan, Celph-Titled & Buckwild, El Da Sensei, DJ Muggs & Ill Bill etc – plenty of satisfying beats and rhymes to blast in your headphones. So there was no shortage of good music that was commercially available – and I defy any self-respecting “true head” to listen to those albums (and others) and not find something that appeals to them.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason why many old-school rap fans are unwilling to admit there’s still good music being released today (and are quick to dismiss artists they may actually like) is due in part to nostalgia. Early releases from the likes of Run DMC, BDP and De La Soul were not only genre-defining classics that helped shape Hip-Hop, but they’re also albums many of us grew-up with that have memories of times, places and people attached to them.

Listening to Ultramagnetic MCs’ 1988 sure-shot “Critical Beatdown” not only allows you to once again hear one of the greatest debut albums in rap history, it also enables you to walk down memory lane, revisit your youth and reconnect with a simpler time when you didn’t have to worry about being late for work, paying a mortgage and keeping on top of those credit card bills. Whereas checking out Fashawn’s “Boy Meets World” or Hell Razah’s “Heaven Razah”, however dope, will just never completely satisfy those listeners for whom revisiting old-school favourites is not only an opportunity to enjoy some timeless music, but is also a way to literally travel back in time and escape, albeit temporarily, from the here and now.

True, the years of 1988 and 1994 will never be recreated, and granted, the rap game has changed almost beyond comprehension when compared to back-in-the-day, but if your passion for the golden age of Hip-Hop is preventing you from appreciating music of today that is still attempting to uphold the artistic values of that amazing time, then you really are missing out.

So stop complaining so much and perhaps start listening a little more – you might be surprised by what you hear.

Ryan Proctor