The Classical Side of Dilla
Producer James Yancey aka J Dilla introduced many new perspectives into the beat scene. Much like Stravinsky, he studied the old esthetic, came with the new, and was ultimately recognized as a pantheonic figure. Although countless articles have beend ruff drafted about Dilla’s musical journey, I was intrigued by the fact that he started cello lessons at a young age, and wanted to explore his connection to the world of classical music.
Jay was one of the most eclectic producers in terms of sample sources and unique in his composer-like approach to crafting a beat. His use of moog and synthisized classical records (popular in the late 70s) comes as no surprise given his taste in boom blip. However, it is interesting to note that Dilla used a wide range of the composer spectrum by going from Bach to Satie. Johann Sebastian Bach is THE gawd of classical and layed the foundation for music in general. For Oh No‘s single Move, Jay paid hommage to his maker by using one of his most well known passages: the Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor, but using the synth version found on The Unusual Classical Synthesizer record. Its actually fascinating to hear the intricate backing melodies replayed on moog and when you think that Bach was an organist and lived to witness the creation of the pianoforte, one can only imagine how he would have reacted to the analog synth.
For Phat Kat’s Don’t Nobody Care About Us, Jay channeled French impressionist composer Eric Satie (link) whose lack of notoriety at the time and outsider minimalist approach makes him the exact oppostite of J.S Bach’s grandeur. This time, Dilla samples a synthed out album: The Music of Eric Satie – Velvet Gentleman, a dollar bin staple, and picks a quite unusual piece (Affolements Grantiques). If Move was a banger to reflect the power of Bach’s organ, the Phat Kat track is its minimalist counterpart and this is why I respect Dilla’s craft so much; he truly embodied the musicality behind beatmaking.
Jay Dee also had a more out there and nerdier side to his music, hidden behind his calm demeanor, and its exemplified in his Busta Rhyme fetured track Geek Down. If you thought synthed out Satie was wild, then try a full Kazoo Orchestra! This rare LP by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra is sampled for their take on the infamous Beethoven 5th Symphony opening and their dizzying rendition of Rimsky Korskakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Taking such magisterial pieces for orchestra reduced to kazoo form and then having Busta Rhymes belt out your glory is a pretty epic achievement for a beatmaker.
Like many classical composers, Jay’s fame reached massive heights only after his death. In that sense it is fitting that a sublime orchestral tribute was composed for him by Miguel Atwood Ferguson and released on wax. The Timeless Series: Suite for Ma Dukes LP is a gateway to classical music for the Hip-Hop fan if there ever was one! Along with Carlos Nino, Atwood Ferguson composed a series of takes on Dilla’s oeuvre. Incredible renditions of Fall in Love, Find a Way and other Dilla staples as well as the more obscure,yet a propos, Don’t Nobody Care About Us are lushely interepreted by a full 60 piece orchestra and the experience can be viewed as a whole on the Mochilla DVD (link) or listened to on the vinyl release. Dilla’s legacy will live on and I am sure he is having fun with Schubert’an’em up there above the clouds!