Honoring J Dilla's Music and His Legacy

February isn't just Black History Month. It's also "J Dilla Month" — declared by Stones Throw Records in honor of the Detroit hip-hop producer James "J Dilla" Yancey. He died three years ago this weekend. The L.A.-based label worked closely with Dilla before he passed. Eothen "Egon" Alapatt, Stones Throw's general manager, talks about Dilla's music and legacy.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Not only is it Black History Month; it's also Dilla Month.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Dilla as in J Dilla, the late hip-hop producer. J Dilla died three years ago this week of lupus. He was only 32 years old. He'd worked with some of the best during his career, including Prince, Common and De La Soul. J Dilla was also born in February. And so, to celebrate his life and his work, Stones Throw Records has declared this Dilla Month. And here to tell us more is Eothen Alapatt. He's the label's general manager. So, tell us, what is Dilla Month all about?

Mr. EOTHEN ALAPATT (General Manager, Stones Throw Records): It's his birth month and also the month in which he died, so we figured that it was fitting to just, you know, declare a month of musical celebration.

(Soundbite of song "The Official")

JAYLIB: (Rapping) Turn me up another notch in your system. You say you want the hot shit, then listen...

Mr. ALAPATT: He came into hip-hop when hip-hop itself was a very busy musical form, and he simplified everything, stripped it down to its bare elements, and allowed it to be created again.

BRAND: Well, tell us what's one of your favorites, because I think now's the time to hear a little Dilla music.

Mr. ALAPATT: Yeah. I think the track "Lightworks" from the "Donuts" album, which was based off of samples from the late Raymond Scott, an electronic music pioneer who created a bunch of commercials in the 1950s and '60s that Dilla excavated and turned into these hip-hop tracks.

(Soundbite of song "Lightworks")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The name of the game is Lightworks.

Mr. ALAPATT: And hearing what Dilla did with it just really transcended even the original songs themselves.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) That sparkle and gleam, light up the skies? The name of the game is Lightworks...

BRAND: And just tell us a little bit about him. You knew him. What was he like?

Mr. ALAPATT: He was a very intense guy. He was the kind of dude who didn't tolerate mistakes, and he inspired people to create some of the best music that they did.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Rapper: (Rapping) (Unintelligible) Dilla raised the beat like an acrobat (unintelligible)...

BRAND: So, it's Dilla Month, and tell us - I don't know - tell us how you personally will be celebrating Dilla Month.

Mr. ALAPATT: Every day I look out on my kitchen window and I see the hill where he's buried in Los Angeles. He was actually buried in Los Angeles at his mother's request because she felt that he was very happy there. So, every morning when I wake up, I actually, you know, see where he is, and you know, I think about him every day.

BRAND: OK, what should we go out on?

Mr. ALAPATT: One of my favorite tracks is the "Champion Sound." It's not one of his beats. He's rapping over a Madlib beat, and what surprised us most is that at this point in his career, when he was famous for making this stripped-downed, synth-heavy, really knocking hip-hop, he chose some of Madlib's dirtiest beats and rapped over them and just, you know, took it to another level.

(Soundbite of song "Champion Sound")

BRAND: Eothen Alapatt, the general manager of the L.A.-based label Stones Throw, thank you very much.

Mr. ALAPATT: Oh, thank you.

BRAND: Stones Throw has declared February Dilla Month in honor of the late hip-hop producer J Dilla. He died three years ago this week. And you can read more about Dilla's career, check out some of his songs, at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song "Champion Sound")

BRAND: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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