It’s been just over 10 years since hip-hop lost the incomparable J Dilla, and what’s become almost as impressive as the music he granted us while he was alive, is how honorable his legacy has been treated since his passing.
With countless artists both inside and out of hip-hop, we’ve seen a posthumous selling out of legends before our very eyes. Musical icons like Tupac, Bob Marley, and The Notorious B.I.G. have had their likenesses slapped on anything that will sell—a slap in the face to the ideologies of at least those first two artists, as well as the respect of the music they left behind.
We’ve also been subjected to a bevy of half-finished, money hungry releases hastily thrown into the marketplace with little to no concern for what effect the product might have on the legacies of the artists they’re so flippantly pimping.
J Dilla’s legacy, on the other hand, is free of taint, and much of that is due to Yancey’s mother, “Ma Dukes,” along with a supporting family of artists and business people that have seen these previous travesties occur, and are unwilling to let that happen to Jay Dee.
Under Ma Dukes’ loving oversight, Dilla’s memory has not only lasted, but flourished through smart and thoughtful releases of his music, savvy business decisions, and a healthy appreciation of the weight the late rapper/producer’s music carries for so many.
Artists like Karriem Riggins, Busta Rhymes, Pete Rock and Dilla’s younger brother John Yancey have all played major parts in ensuring that Dilla is remembered through the quality of his music. It’s as if hip-hop has collectively learned from the mistakes that befell Pac and Biggie, and are banding together to make sure their brother, muse, and mentor is properly remembered and that his legacy is never diluted.
Musically, they’ve done a fantastic job. The Shining, Jay Stay Paid, Dillagence, The Diary and the Dillatronic releases have all provided a nostalgic glimpse into the massive workload Dilla carried at all times, without ever taking inappropriate liberties in finishing the unfinished. Great care is put into supplementing Dilla’s already completed works, and none of his posthumous releases have felt forced, greedy or half-baked.
Elsewhere, Ma Dukes and the Dilla estate have fostered multiple celebrations of the Detroit legend, most recently with Dilla’s MPC 3000 being displayed in the Musical Crossroads exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Through the J Dilla Foundation, the estate has provided a funding organization for music development in inner city schools that also provides scholarships to students “enrolled at schools with progressive music curricula.” The Dilla estate has also done extensive work with Lupus awareness and fundraising, and most recently Ma Dukes announced a children’s book detailing Dilla’s life with accompanying interactive audio.
Within and outside the realm of music, J Dilla’s legacy has been treated with a loving respect—a breath of fresh air in an era where deceased celebrities tend to be immediately commoditized. In his death, just as in his life, Dilla’s story is a reminder of quality and thoughtfulness. With a legacy like this, we’ve yet to see the beginning of the lives he’ll inevitably touch.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Geo Law