Dilla’s status as one of the GOATs among hip-hop producers is undisputed. That is a shadow that looms large, even on Dilla himself, because his prowess on the mic is often overlooked. Dilla was a more than capable rapper as well, as these ten tracks prove.
There was a time in the ’90s that most people only knew Dilla as that third guy in The Ummah, the production team of Q-Tip, Ali-Shaheed Muhammad and Jay Dee. It’s fitting than that the world’s first major introduction to him was as a feature on Tribe’s cut for Flex’s third star-studded 60 Minutes of Funk mix.
‘The Clapper’ contains some skilled writing in depicting the D’s dark side and its continuing cycle of violence. He didn’t make it easy for himself by laying down vocals on Kariem Riggins’ off-kilter drum pattern. Dilla has no problems whatsoever staying on top of them though.
Some thoroughly convinced brags ‘n boasts, what would an emcee be without those? Dilla’s confidence on the mic oozes all over the track and bounces at the listener.
Like Water For Chocolate, the best album in Common’s catalogue, was produced in large part by frequent collaborator Dilla. He and his SV buddies hopped on Thelonius for a session of mic-trading over dusty funk. Really, if you can hold your own next to Common there’s no further need to discuss your prowess on the mic.
T3, Baatin and Dilla going back ‘n forth, with the chemistry of buddies who’ve known each other for years and share the same background. No, these aren’t Nasir Jones-type lyrics, and they don’t have to be either. The chemistry and joy these guys have in representing their hood is immediately palpable.
‘Won’t Do’ expresses Dilla’s insatiable appetite for fine ladies, and incorporates a deceptively simple but undeniably catchy hook that’ll stay with you the rest of the day to do so: “One won’t do, two is not enough for me, no…”
On a beat by Black Milk Dilla reunites with the SV. “Shout to my n***a Killagan / And all of my peps that rep more D then 12 Eminems” proves he knew how to drop a punchline too.
‘Champion Sound’ is a song about blasting your car stereo to the max. Sometimes that’s really all you need, because the way Dilla’s percussive flow wraps itself perfectly around the nooks and crannies in Madlib’s awesome beat is some damn fine rapping.
“And you can respect it or suck it / I’m in the booth, chain swingin, soundin like extra percussion” Dilla spits on this track defying clichés and the expectations of those that categorized him as a backpacker, much to his apparent chagrin. It was far from the only time he successfully worked out frustrations through his music…
…Because Dilla’s epic bashing of the boys in blue is a timeless rap classic. Ma Dukes once told how the song came to be: “That song was totally true. He caught so much flack from the police for being a clean young man. The police department was down the street from where we lived, and every time he pulled off they’d stop him and harass him. They even tossed the car once looking for something. Because he was young and clean-cut, they thought he was selling drugs. Proof was at the house one evening when James had another run-in with them. He had only gone to the gas station which was three doors away. I told him not to get upset because he was hurt to tears. He was so angry and just tired of being harassed, so I told him, ‘Look, this is what you do: you go downstairs and make a song about it, and you laugh in their face.’ And that’s when he came up with the “F” the Police’ thing. And people are still singing it today! Every time I go somewhere, that’s one of the songs they play.”