Travels through J Dilla’s Discography: 1995-1996, Pt. 1

6 Dec

Inspired by a discussion Travis and I were having about jazzy hip-hop and J Dilla, I noticed that I didn’t have nearly as many of Dilla’s tracks as I’d thought–a tragedy, considering he’s commonly referred to as the “greatest producer of all time” and many hip-hop heads claim that “Dilla changed my life”–and decided to correct that problem. So, I’m trying to go through his production discography, listening to as many of these songs as I could track down.

First up: 1995-1996…

Dilla produced six tracks off of The Pharcyde’s classic 1995 album, Labcabincalifornia:

1. “Bullshit”- The opening song on Labcabincalifornia, it’s particularly interesting because of its lack of Dilla’s trademark sharp, crisp snare drum beats throughout. Instead, “Bullshit” finds Dilla bumping the lowest of low bass with some synths layered on top.  4.5/5

2. “Runnin'”- Here, some of the snare comes back, combined with a spiraling piano melody and an incredible layering of rhythms. 5/5

3. “Splattitorium”- A perfect, chilled-out beat for a lax set of rhymes that starts out with an ode to “herbals for verbals.” That made me laugh this morning, good stuff. 5/5

4. “Somethin’ That Means Somethin'”- A far funkier beat, due to the electric bass line in there, and yes, there’s plenty of snare too. 4.5/5

5. “Drop”- Not much to say, other than the slight descending gesture in the bass was a nice touch, considering the title of the song. Text painting for the win! 4.5/5

6. “Y?”- More awesome from Dilla, plus xylophones! 4.7/5

From Beats, Rhymes, and Life, A Tribe Called Quest’s 1996 album, Dilla (along with The Ummah, a team of producers, highly influential in “underground” hip-hop in the 1990s) produced 5 songs:

1. “Get a Hold”- The sample from The Cyrkle’s “The Visit” was a nice, psychedelic touch. 4/5

2. “1Nce Again”- Again, not a ton to say, it’s a solid beat. 4/5

3. “Keeping It Moving”- Another solid beat. 4.3/5

4. “Word Play”- The beat provides a laid-back blanket for the Tribe to wordplay all over. Perfect, because it’s there, but not overtly so, letting the vocals take precedence. 4.5/5

5. “Stressed Out”- Dilla’s all about details, and there are plenty here, from the placement of silences (that the Tribe, of course, use and abuse wonderfully) to the insertion of a synth line before the second verse. 4.5/5

I hadn’t listened to Busta Rhymes in a looong time, so revisiting a few tracks from 1996 was pretty fun and had me remembering all of his crazy videos I watched on MTV as a kid…anyway, Dilla and the Ummah had two tracks on The Coming:

1. “Still Shining”- Hearing Busta over an Ummah track is quite the trip, but Dilla and the Ummah adjust their style to his in a really great way: putting in a persistently paranoid, high-pitched ringing noise over the entire track. 5/5

2. “Keep It Movin'”- A stand-up bass sample to start off this song, and I’m in love. How often to you hear that in a hip-hop song? 5/5

Alright, there’s more tracks than I originally thought in 1996’s Dilla discography, and I need to eat, so I’m going to take a break and will finish up the rest of the year later today. (Also, I swear I listen to more than just hip-hop, but it so happens that it’s about the only genre I’ve written about here.)

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