James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006), better known by the stage names J Dilla and Jay Dee, was an American Grammy Nominated record producer who emerged from the mid-1990s underground hip hop scene in Detroit, Michigan. According to his obituary at NPR.org, he "was one of the music industry's most influential hip-hop artists, working for big-name acts like De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and Common.
Yancey's career began slowly. He has now become highly regarded, most notably for the production of critically acclaimed albums by Common, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Pharcyde. He was a member of Slum Village for their acclaimed debut album Fantastic
In 1992, he met experienced Detroit musician Amp Fiddler, who was impressed by what Jay Dee was able to accomplish with such limited tools. Amp Fiddler let Jay Dee use his MPC, which he learned quickly. In 1995, Jay Dee and MC Phat Kat formed 1st Down, and would be the first Detroit hip hop group to sign with a major label (Payday Records) - a deal that was ended after one single when the label folded. That same year he recorded 'Yesteryearz' with 5 Elementz (a group consisting of the late Proof, Thyme and Mudd).
By the mid 1990s Jay Dee was known as a major hip hop prospect, with a string of singles and remix projects, for Janet Jackson, Pharcyde, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip's solo album and others. The majority of these productions were released without his name recognition, being credited to The Ummah, a production collective composed of Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and later Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Toné!. Under this umbrella, Jay did some of his most big name R&B and hip hop work, churning out original songs and remixes for Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, Brand New Heavies, Something For the People, trip hop artists Crustation and many others. This all came off the heels of Jay handling the majority of production on The Pharcyde's album Labcabincalifornia, released in the holiday season of 1995. Jay Dee's largest-scale feat came in 1997 when he produced Janet Jackson's Grammy winning single "Got 'til It's Gone" from The Velvet Rope. The song-writing credit and subsequent Grammy were both given to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
2000 marked the major label debut of Slum Village with Fantastic, Vol. 2. creating a new following for Jay Dee as a producer and an MC. He was also a founding member of the production collective known as The Soulquarians (along with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, D'Angelo and James Poyser amongst others) which earned him more recognition and buzz. He subsequently worked with Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, and Common - contributing heavily to the latter's critically acclaimed breakthrough album, Like Water for Chocolate.
His debut as a solo artist came in 2001 with the single "Fuck the Police", followed by the album Welcome 2 Detroit, which kicked off U.K. Independent record label BBE's "Beat Generation" series. In 2001, Jay Dee, began using the name "J Dilla" (an attempt to differentiate himself from Jermaine Dupri who also goes by "J.D."), and left Slum Village to pursue a major label solo career with MCA Records.
2002 saw Dilla producing the entirety of Frank-N-Dank's 48 Hours, as well as a solo album, but neither record was ever released, although the former did eventually surface through bootlegging. When Dilla finished working with Frank-N-Dank on the 48 Hours album, MCA Records requested a record with a larger commercial appeal, and the artists re-recorded the majority of the tracks, this time using little to no samples. Despite this, neither versions of the album saw the light of day, and Dilla expressed he was disappointed that the music never got out to the fans.
LA-based producer and MC Madlib began collaborating with J Dilla, and the pair formed the group Jaylib in 2002, releasing an album called Champion Sound in 2003. J Dilla relocated from Detroit to LA in 2004 and appeared on tour with Jaylib in Spring 2004.
J Dilla's illness and medication caused dramatic weight loss in 2003 onwards, forcing him to publicly confirm speculation about his health in 2004. Despite a slower output of major releases and production credits in 2004 and 2005, his cult status remained strong within his core audience, as evident by unauthorized circulation of his underground "beat tapes" (instrumental, and raw working materials), mostly through internet file sharing. Articles in publications URB (March 2004) and XXL (June 2005) confirmed rumors of ill health and hospitalization during this period, but these were downplayed by Jay himself. The seriousness of his condition became public in November 2005 when J Dilla toured Europe performing from a wheelchair. It was later revealed that he suffered from Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disease, and possibly Lupus.
J Dilla died on February 10, 2006, three days after his 32nd birthday at his home in Los Angeles, California. According to his mother, Maureen Yancey, the cause was cardiac arrest. His last album, titled Donuts, was released 3 days earlier, on February 7, 2006. - Via Wikipedia