Playlist: Essential J Dilla
Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson guides us through the legacy of hip-hop producer J Dilla, who made iconic records for A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and The Roots, among others. J Dilla (given name James Yancey) died in 2006 at just age 32 from a rare blood disease. His music inspired Atwood-Ferguson’s orchestral work Suite For Ma Dukes, which gets its New York premiere at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on August 4.
“Oblighetto (Remix)” by Jack McDuff
This dope Jay Dee remix of a Brother Jack McDuff song was made for the album, Blue Note Remixed.
“Find A Way” and “Stressed Out” by A Tribe Called Quest
These two songs are by one of my favorite groups of all time, A Tribe Called Quest. I didn't even realize at the time that these were coproduced by Dilla.
“Take Notice – Instrumental” by J Dilla
I love how raw Jay Dee can be. It is a sign of genius to be able to convey riveting profundity through simplicity. No bells and whistles, just a lot of soul and transparency. [Listen to the non-instrumental in the full Spotify list.]
“Let's Ride” by Q-Tip
One of the things that I love most about the scope of Dilla's work is how diverse it is, from the feel of each track, to the diverse spectrum of music that he sampled. There's a lot there. Here Dilla samples one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the last century: Joe Pass playing the hugely influential song “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.
“Antiquity” by Dwight Trible and the Life Force Trio
As part of the Suite For Ma Dukes inaugural concert, I revisited this J Dilla track. My friend Carlos Niño originally suggested when we worked together on our version of “Nag Champa” (originally produced by J Dilla for Common on the Like Water For Chocolate album) that we could take a unique approach to paying tribute to someone who was a master of drums by not having drums on our version. We used that same approach on the entire Suite For Ma Dukes (Studio EP, Mochilla).
“Won't Do – Instrumental” by J Dilla
One of my favorite Dilla productions. Features some beautiful samples, one of them being from the Isley Brother's “Footsteps in The Dark.”
“Hoc N Pucky” and “All The Things You Are/Jealousy” by Slum Village
These are J Dilla productions for a group he was in at the time called Slum Village. Both songs are also based off samples of Bill Evans: not on piano, but on the Fender Rhodes (an electric piano). One of the joyful challenges that I have had reinterpreting the genius of J Dilla has been to take what I thought was interesting with each track and then flip it in as many directions as I could, as soulfully as possible. In “All The Things You Are,” I transcribed note for note the original recording that Dilla sampled for Slum Village’s “Jealousy.” It is a duo that Bill Evans recorded with his longtime bassist Eddie Gomez. After a couple choruses of my orchestration of Bill's improvisation on the standard “All The Things You Are,” I then go directly into what Dilla did with his sample of that recording of “Jealousy.” So celebrating the context around what Dilla was doing has definitely been an approach that has been fun and I think further shows the scope of his genius and passion.
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About the Curator
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, music director, producer, DJ, and educator based in his hometown of Los Angeles, California. The depth and range of his work is vast, having contributed to over 500 recordings, and thousands of live concerts. Miguel’s interests are many and he performs, tours and records with ensembles ranging from electronica, avant-garde, jazz, classical, hip-hop, and pop to name a few from countries all around the world. In his own work, he bridges diverse genres and generations of musical and cultural elements.