WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonians National Museum of African American History and Culture
announces the donation of significant artifacts from the family of award-winning hip-hop artist and producer, James J Dilla Yancey. The items will be part of the museums growing arts and entertainment collection designed to explore how popular music helped shape the nations history and culture politically and socially. The announcement was made July 17 during the annual DC Loves Dilla tribute concert at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Other musicians featured in the museums popular-music collection range from Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne to Chuck Berry, George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic and Chuck D. Items from these and similar collections will be used in the Musical Crossroads exhibition, one of 11 inaugural exhibitions on view when the museum opens in 2016.
The J Dilla collection, donated by J Dillas mother, Maureen Yancey, includes his custom-made Minamoog Voyager synthesizer, used to create his famous and distinctive beats, and his Akai MIDI Production Center 3000 Limited Edition, a rare piece of equipment, one of only 2,000 units released in 2000 and used as a drum machine. These and other related items used during the late 1990s and early 2000s helped J Dilla leave a mark on hip-hip history. He is often heralded as the first to use off-beat and purposefully imperfect beats in his music. Artists today, such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, draw on that style; some even sample Dillas original songs to re-create his sound.
J Dilla also recorded more than 15 albums, some still in circulation today: Donuts, released in 2006 three days before his death, Welcome to Detroit, released in 2001, and Give Em What They Want EP, released posthumously in May 2014. In a career that brought him several awards, including the Plug Awards Artist of the Year and Record Producer of the Year in 2007, and a Grammy nomination for his work on A Tribe Called Quests album Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), J Dilla worked with such notable artists as The Roots, Common, Janet Jackson and Busta Rhymes.
I feel its necessary to raise the level of art appreciation in the hip-hop sector and honor my son James Dewitt Yancey, one of the most influential individuals in the history of hip-hop, said Yancey, explaining her donation to the museum.
J Dillas body of work is a testament to creativity and innovation, the very elements on which hip-hop was founded, said Timothy Anne Burnside, a popular-music historian for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who worked with Yanceys mother to secure the J Dilla collection. He was fearlessly dedicated to music, following in the footsteps of many musical greats; as a child he first danced to James Brown, and like Duke Ellington, he was uncannily versatile. It is in the company of the greats that he belongs.
Everyone who pays attention to hip-hop has heard J Dillas work whether they realize it or not, Burnside said. In the very demanding world of hip-hop producers, he was one of the busiest and most sought-after. He had a way of making his signature sound and creating something unique for the people he collaborated with. He could create a beat for anyone and make it sound like theirs and theirs alone.
The DC Loves Dilla event is an annual benefit concert held since 2006 at the Howard Theater to raise money and awareness for lupus, the disease J Dilla battled until his death Feb. 10, 2006.