J Dilla (Jay Dee, James Yancey) defined the sound of Hip Hop as much as any of the famous names he worked with. When artists like Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, or Busta Rhymes needed beats, production or creative inspiration, they turned to J Dilla. Since his untimely death in 2006, his legacy carries on.

Born to an opera singer and a jazz bassist, music was in J Dilla’s blood. “Jazz was the music he grew up with and was raised on,” recalls his mother. “Since he was a couple of months old, he wouldn’t go to sleep unless he heard jazz, so my husband had to sing and play for him to go to sleep.”

Amp Fidler, family friend and keyboardist who toured with George Clinton, introduced J Dilla to the world of Hip Hop. Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest immediately recognized Dilla’s talent and the two began to collaborate. Along with Tribe DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, they formed a creative collective that produced songs and beats for many chart-topping artists throughout the 90s. Jay Dee’s most notable Delicious Vinyl productions from this time include The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia album (1996) and Brand New Heavies’ Trunk Funk Classics album (2000).

While other artists craved the limelight, J Dilla preferred to work humbly and privately. Even at the height of his fame as a producer, he continued to release albums with his first group, Slum Village. He eventually stepped into the role of M.C., but continued releasing instrumental records as well.

J Dilla passed away in 2006, only three days after Stones Throw released his acclaimed instrumental album Donuts. Always a prolific composer, Dilla leaves behind volumes of work for fans and collaborators to enjoy for years to come. In fact, Delicious Vinyl recently released a collection of Dilla’s early work entitled Jay Deelicious: The Delicious Vinyl Years, as well the Yancey Boys album, which features Illa J’s vocals over several of his brother’s unreleased tracks.

“What separated Jay was that he was uninhibited in his knowledge of music, and he was uninhibited when it came to making his music,” recalls DJ Jazzy Jeff. “When radio was a freer space and played music that people liked instead of what people paid for, the music that we heard was created by somebody in their basement being a mad scientist. Jay is a throwback to that time. He’s the guy in the basement.”