February would have been a big month for James Dewitt Yancey, better known as die uberproducer J Dilla, this year, were he alive.
February marks both Dilla’s birthday — he’d have been 40 on Feb. 7 — and release date of his magnum opus Donuts, released shortly after his untimely death in 2006. Since 2007, hip-hop heads have marked Dilla’s memory with loving tributes held for worldwide. (The Charleston-based Dillamental live instrumental tribute, hosts shows in Charleston and Raleigh in early February.) And emcees have continued to uses Dilla’s beats and evoke his name, furthering his already significant legacy.
One of the best tributes this year, though, comes from one of Dilla’s former collaborators: Rapper Phife Dawg, erstwhile of A Tribe Called Quest. “#dearDILLA” is both touching — it opens with a soliloquy from Phife about a dream he had about sharing a hospital room with Dilla (Phife has well documented health struggles himself) — and head-nodding, Phife spitting over a jazzier rendition of Dilla’s “Hold Tight” beat from Slum Village‘s Fantastic, Vol. 2.
“Jay Dee, flip another beat for me,” Phife chants, almost like a mantra, in the chorus. Would that he could.