OrchestRAP: A Tribute to J. Dilla Blends Qualities of Hip-Hop and Orchestra to Create a Genreless Sound

The world of music moves so fast that just to keep up with new artists albums, producers and their various projects is a full time job in itself. As a music columnist, I am moved to jump on the bandwagon and give my expert opinion on the buzziest most anticipated album release since August, when Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor 2 hit ears and minds. On October 23, Kendrick Lamar of Compton finally released the first full-length album the world has been awaiting: good kid, m.A.A.d City. In the haste to answer the question of whether or not the album will take a spot as a classic in months and years to come, music critics and loyal fans have already scored it and appropriated his most witty, thought-provoking lyrics. “Money trees is the perfect place for shade and, that’s just how I feel”. The coming weeks will observe a new question: Did he retain the richness of his originality and at the same time come with material appealing enough to attract the masses, bring in dollars, numbers and fulfill chart forecasts? You know how it goes. Yes! Thankfully for Lamar, all of buzz has been positive, folks seem please, and it is well-deserved. But enough of y’all out there will come across reviews and talk about his best songs right? I wanna kill the trend of how certain current music is the only music, this frenzy sometimes trampling over equally timeless projects and quieting them. I call this, Review Of A Worthy Sound Guaranteed: Now That’s A Five Star Hit.

I share the overwhelming sentiment of gratitude most Swatties expressed. Fall break is the lovely reunification of self and free time! Hours to devote to drowning in good tunes and finally embarking on the too long neglected project of importing CDs. In an interview (below) with Flying Lotus NPR program On PointTom Ashbrook Flying Lotus led me stumble, again, upon the documented musical genius of Mr. James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J. Dilla. Here’s a lil context: J. Dilla, Jay Dee is respected as one of hip-hop’s most renownedly talented music producers. He has his talents to the projects of various artists including De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Common, The Roots and Erykah Badu. But his influences are unmeasurably vast. Artists from Immortal Technique and Ladybug Mecca of Digable Planets, to those in the G.O.O.D. Music camp have made notable musical tributes to the record producer, his work and even his family. He is praised by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West (often compared to Dilla). An April 2011 interview with Grind Music Radio, rapper, DJ and producer Pete Rock even ranked Dilla as one of the top five producers of all time, alongside DJ Premiere.

After the interview, the only move to make was cop Donuts. The EP was released in 2009 on his 32nd birthday and three days after compilation of 31 tracks that he created while in the hospital shortly before his death from Lupus. It is J. Dilla purely. The shortness of each track, only a few making it over two minutes, evoke the feeling of being in motion when the screen goes fuzzy. The permanency of the feeling evokes images of Dilla in the hospital bed with turntables and records creating music until his last moments. The minute and change tracks are an indication Dilla’s dedication to his craft.

The album is characterized by his use of samples from the 60s to the 90s. In “Two Can Win”, Dilla uses the vocals of a young MJ, returning us to the soulful and angelically pure voice that led the Jackson 5. Two can win “Only one can win only one can wiiin o-o-o-O-Only” He lets your ears marinate on the best sounds in tracks like ‘One for Ghost’. “Take me across her lap, she used to used to whip me with strap when I was baaaad..baa..aaadd.” Again and again he teases your ears with the unusual, yet insatiable sound of a woman’s voice reminiscent of a sheep. The third song you must put on repeat is “Walkinonit” (video below). Dilla uses a broken beat of the song, ‘Walk On By’ recorded in 1973 by The Undisputed Truth of Motown Records. The original cut, recorded in 1963 by Dionne Warwick, lacks the slow melancholy feel achieved through what sounds like violin vibrato in The Undisputed Truth version.

Track 11, “Gobstopper” is one of the memorable tracks as well, as it is featured on the orchestral interpretation released in November of 2010. It brings me back to how I first fell in love with Dilla’s sound. It was time to browse for a new joint able to wear out my speakers, but good enough for a mind attracted to biscuits with infinite stratas of salted buttered. Moods Music, one of the most modernly chic, yet down-to-earthly flavorful indie record stores in Atlanta. As I reached for a CD, Mochilla Presents Timeless: Suite For Ma Dukes stood out, and proved to disprove a particular cliche. The white case, built like a hardback book signaled the immaculate goodness inside.

Suite for Ma Dukes is a project by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Using some of Dilla’s finest work, the two gathered musicians from all over the country to come to CalState to create orchestral interpretations of the tracks. There was an audience and the CD is a live recording of that night. I loved being able to listen to the sounds of the orchestra and instruments commonly used to bellow out Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. It wasn’t classical and it wasn’t hip-hop, but somewhere caught in between the two.

The ability to blend everyday sounds, oldies samples, live instruments and vocals grows numerous stems of genre-less music. I am never cease to be amazed. And with that I say, “thanks for the donuts Dilla!” Now go indulge in yours.

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