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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: 'The Diary' Offers More for J Dilla Fans


The story is that James Dewitt Yancey had perfect pitch at two months old, and was spinning records in the Detroit parks as a toddler. Later, as a hip hop producer and emcee, Yancey, eventually known as J Dilla, would become one of those rare influences in the genre, seemingly having something to do with any new music coming out of either coast.

Dilla died in 2006 at the age of 32 of complications from lupus, but the recent release of ‘The Diary’--a collection of songs featuring Dilla as both emcee and producer—is an opportunity to revisit the scope of his influence, and the apparent contradictions of his music. Dilla didn’t straddle the line between so-called conscious rap and the more gritty stuff, he was often the bridge between the two worlds, a unifying force turning it all into hip hop.

‘The Diary’ isn’t some kind of life-after-death revelation, or new frontier in music—nor is it even a good introduction for those squeamish about their hip hop--but for the Dilla fan it is more J Dilla. And for a phenomenal musician who left too early, more is actually pretty good.