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J Dilla Saved My Life - Levar F.M.


Yo, I don't know where to start, uh … check it out ...

Music is … my total existence, dawg, straight up.

Everything with my life revolves around music,

It's like ... you can't get a relationship with ...

I'm still with ... my first love, which is music


Fo'real, the reason I'm here is ... is J Dilla, just like that, peace …

Music is an expression of emotions with the ability to range
greater than the sound of the instruments themselves. It can
serve as both an aphrodisiac and an anesthetic. For me, music
has been my sword and shield whenever I need strength to
remain focused on achieving triumph over adversity; after all,
every moment in life should have its own soundtrack.

Between 2000 and 2001, I found myself stuck in a numb

state of depression, learning to live with regrets. I felt like
a motherless child with a cross to bear, one too heavy for
me to burden my loved ones with. I sought solace in my
Sony Discman and headphones, and submerged myself in
beats and rhymes. Around this time, Common released a
great LP, "
Like Water For Chocolate." Com has always been
a thoughtful, introspective MC, so I was able to fall into the
deep-thinker mode I needed to plot my escape from despair.
ut what truly carried me through the battle was the music.
This was when I really got familiar with the sounds of Jay
Dee, much better known as J Dilla.

I was already hip to Jay Dee's production without quite
knowing who he was; as part of the Ummah production
collective along with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad,
he blessed tracks on Keith Murray's "Enigma." Worked
with The Pharcyde. Credits on the majority of Busta Rhymes's
solo LP's. I will admit, his earlier work didn't strike me as
spectacular; in retrospect, I wonder if his work didn’t resonate
with me because I hadn’t developed a need for it. At any
rate, I digress; back to "Like Water ..."

I (figuratively) lost my shit when I heard "Heat." Kicked off
with the wah-wah guitar, that beat just kept churning, grinding...
bubbling. The drum pattern had that snap-crackle-pop. Dilla so
deftly chopped Tony Allen's "Asiko" that the end result bumps
a smoother groove than the original composition. The single
that gained more recognition was "The Light," heartwarming
not only because of its display of genuine love, but because of
the seamless Bobby Caldwell sample juxtaposed with a gentler
version of the drums that The RZA used for Raekwon's
"Incarcerated Scarfaces." “Funky For You” with its hop-skip
bounce and sultry breakdown at the end of the track. The piece
de resistance
was the drifting, melodic, smoky lounge vibe of
"Nag Champa." It sedated me, much like a 22-oz. and a Dutch
for self once sedated me. So when Jay Dee released "Welcome
2 Detroit" on BBE Records shortly thereafter, it was a no-brainer
for me to cop it. The CD started with a fair warning to
"get ready ..." and from there it was solidified. One album
ran the gamut from Detroit underground to Blue Note jazz,
R&B to bossa nova. As he did with “Nag Champa,” Dilla was not
only playing the instruments, but singing on his cover of Donald
Byrd’s “Think Twice.” It was, and perhaps still is, the most
well-produced album I’d ever heard.

"Like Water ..." and "Welcome ..." would continue to stay in
heavy rotation for years to come but around the close of 2005,
I was right back in one of those solitary moods, brought on by
a breakup between me and the woman who would become my
wife years later. To cope, I threw myself headfirst into my day job,
school, and my art, but I was barely maintaining. I spent my
evenings in front of a PC with a bottle of wine and a pack of Marlboro
menthols, working on graphic design and slowly becoming an alcoholic.
I always worked better while music was playing, and once again,
it was Common's teamwork with his best friend Dilla that served as
my soundtrack, this time on "Be." Let’s be clear, a song like "Love Is ..."
is NOT the easiest song to digest during heartbreak, but that beautiful
soundscape couldn't be denied. The final track of the LP, "It's Your World,"
was it, though. In a word, inspiring. And it goes without saying that
Champion Sound,” J Dilla’s collaborative LP with Madlib, was sheer
battery-in-the-back music for me every morning, and many times it was
what got me through the day.

Writing about such things have never done me or the subject
much justice; to understand the profound effect Dilla had on
me is to understand how his legacy has affected millions of fans.
Sure, there were plenty of folks who became convenient “Dilla
disciples” after his passing, but do I fault them for showing up
late to the party? No. To some degree, the late movement, to
some part, helped propel Dilla Dawg to iconic status. Meanwhile,
students such as myself were reminded that he transcended that
boundary between producer and musician long before his passing.
When I heard the news … I threw on “Welcome 2 Detroit.” And I
shed a tear of sadness for a person I never knew firsthand, yet
was constantly a part of my evolution. After all, it was his music
that consoled me when I wanted nothing more than to zone out
to “hot shit.” While it’s almost inexplicable what made his music
seems so poignant, so timeless, I believe it can be summed up
this way: J Dilla made music that touched the soul. “Donuts” will
forever remain a memorial to a legend, and a testament to his
everlasting effect on the world of music. And towards the end of
his life, his music resonated with me because what I needed to
feel was soul. Though his life was cut short through no fault of
his own, I sometimes believe that, like all saviors, he dedicated
his entire life to making the rest of ours that much better.

J Dilla saved my life.