James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 â€“ February 10, 2006), better known by the stage names J Dilla and Jay Dee, was an American record producer and rapper who emerged from the mid-1990s underground hip hop scene in Detroit, Michigan as one third of the acclaimed music group Slum Village. According to his obituary at NPR, he "was one of the music industry's most influential hip-hop artists", working with big-name acts including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, The Roots, The Pharcyde and Common. Yancey died in 2006 of the blood disease thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. Biography Early life James Yancey was the eldest of four children including a sister, Martha, and two brothers, Earl and John; John later began doing music as Illa J. The family lived at a corner house near McDougall and Nevada, on the east side of Detroit. He developed a vast musical knowledge from his parentsâ€”his mother is a former opera singer and his father was a jazz ba**ist. According to his mother, he could "match pitch perfect harmony" by "two-months old," to the amazement of musician friends and relatives. He began collecting vinyl at the age of two and would be allowed to spin records in the park, an activity he enjoyed tremendously as a child. Along with a wide range of musical genres, Yancey developed a pa**ion for hip hop music. After transferring from Davis Aerospace Technical High School to Detroit Pershing High School, he met cla**mates T3 and Baatin, and became friends with them through mutual love of rap battles. The three formed a rap group called Slum Village. He also took up beatmaking using a simple tape deck as the center of his studio. During these teenage years he "stayed in the basement alone" with his ever-growing collection of records, perfecting his craft. He later told Pete Rock when they met years later that "I was trying to be you." Early career In 1992, he met experienced Detroit musician Amp Fiddler, who was impressed by what Jay Dee was able to accomplish with such limited tools. Amp Fiddler let Jay Dee use his MPC, which he learned quickly. In 1995, Jay Dee and MC Phat Kat formed 1st Down, and would be the first Detroit hip hop group to sign with a major label (Payday Records) - a deal that was ended after one single when the label folded. That same year he recorded 'Yester Years EP' with 5 Elementz (a group consisting of Proof, Thyme and Mudd). In the year 1996, he formed the group Slum Village along with T3 and Baatin, and recorded the group's debut, Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) in his home studio, and later at RJ Rice Studios. Upon its release in 1997, the album quickly became popular with fans of Detroit hip hop, as well as gaining the attention of Q-Tip, who hailed the group as successors to A Tribe Called Quest. However, J Dilla felt uncomfortable with the comparison and often voiced it in several interviews. It was kinda f**ed up [getting that stamp] because people automatically put us in that [Tribe] category. That was actually a category that we didn’t actually wanna be in. I thought the music came off like that, but we didn’t realize that sh** then. I mean, you gotta listen to the lyrics of the sh**. n***as was talking about getting head from b**hes. It was like a n***a from Native Tongues never woulda said that sh**. I don’t know how to say it. It’s kinda f**ed up because the audience we were trying to give to were actually people we hung around. Me, myself, I hung around regular a** Detroit cats. Not the backpack sh** that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack. But like I said, I understand to a certain extent. I guess that’s how the beats came off on some smooth type of sh**. And at that time, that’s when Ruff Ryders [was out] and there was a lot of hard sh** on the radio so our thing was we’re gonna do exactly what’s not on the radio. By the mid-1990s Jay Dee was known as a major hip hop prospect, with a string of singles and remix projects, for Janet Jackson, Pharcyde, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip's solo album and others. The majority of these productions were released without his name recognition, being credited to The Ummah, a production collective composed of Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and later Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! TonÃ©!. Under this umbrella, Jay did some of his most big name R&B and hip hop work, churning out original songs and remixes for Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, Brand New Heavies, Something For the People, trip hop artists Crustation and many others. This all came off the heels of Jay handling production on seven tracks from The Pharcyde's album Labcabincalifornia, released in the holiday season of 1995 and Hello, the debut album by Poe, released earlier that year on Modern Records. Performing career 2000 marked the major label debut of Slum Village with Fantastic, Vol. 2, creating a new following for Jay Dee as a producer and an MC. He was also a founding member of the production collective known as The Soulquarians (along with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, D'Angelo and James Poyser amongst others) which earned him more recognition and buzz. He subsequently worked with Erykah Badu, Poe, Talib Kweli, and Common - contributing heavily to the latter's critically acclaimed breakthrough album, Like Water for Chocolate. His debut as a solo artist came in 2001 with the single "f** the Police" (Up Above Records), followed by the album Welcome 2 Detroit, which kicked off British independent record label BBE's "Beat Generation" series. In 2001, Jay Dee began using the name "J Dilla" (an attempt to differentiate himself from Jermaine Dupri who also goes by "J.D."), and left Slum Village to pursue a major label solo career with MCA Records. 2002 saw Dilla producing the entirety of Frank-N-Dank's 48 Hours, as well as a solo album, but neither record was ever released, although the former did eventually surface through bootlegging. When Dilla finished working with Frank-N-Dank on the 48 Hours album, MCA Records requested a record with a larger commercial appeal, and the artists re-recorded the majority of the tracks, this time using little to no samples. Despite this, neither versions of the album saw the light of day, and Dilla expressed he was disappointed that the music never got out to the fans. Dilla was signed to a solo deal with MCA Records in 2002. Although Dilla was known as a producer rather than an MC, he chose to rap on the album and have the music produced by some of his favorite producers such as Madlib, Pete Rock, Hi-Tek, Supa Dave West, Kanye West, Nottz, Waajeed and others. The album was shelved due to internal changes at the label and MCA. While the record with MCA stalled, Dilla recorded the uncompromising Ruff Draft, released exclusively to vinyl by German label Groove Attack. Although the album was little known, it signaled a change in sound and attitude, and his work from this point on was increasingly released through independent record labels. In a 2003 interview with Groove Attack, Dilla talked about this change of direction: You know, if I had a choice... Skip the major labels and just put it out yourself, man... Trust me. I tell everybody it's better to do it yourself and let the Indies come after you instead of going in their [direction] and getting a deal and you have to wait. It ain't fun. Take it from me. Right now, I'm on MCA but it feels like I'm an unsigned artist still. It's cool. It's a blessing, but damn I'm like, 'When's my sh** gonna come out? I'm ready now, what's up?' Later life and d**h LA-based producer and MC Madlib began collaborating with J Dilla, and the pair formed the group Jaylib in 2002, releasing an album called Champion Sound in 2003. J Dilla relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in 2004 and appeared on tour with Jaylib in Spring 2004. J Dilla's illness and medication caused dramatic weight loss in 2003 onwards, forcing him to publicly confirm speculation about his health in 2004. Despite a slower output of major releases and production credits in 2004 and 2005, his cult status remained strong within his core audience, as evident by unauthorized circulation of his underground "beat tapes" (instrumental, and raw working materials), mostly through internet file sharing. Articles in publications URB (March 2004) and XXL (June 2005) confirmed rumors of ill health and hospitalization during this period, but these were downplayed by Jay himself. The seriousness of his condition became public in November 2005 when J Dilla toured Europe performing from a wheelchair. It was later revealed that he suffered from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (a rare blood disease), and possibly lupus. J Dilla died on February 10, 2006, three days after his 32nd birthday and the release of his final album Donuts, at his home in Los Angeles, California. According to his mother, Maureen Yancey, the cause was cardiac arrest. A J Dilla inspired donut shop opened in Detroit on May 3, 2016 to a great reception. Created by Dilla's uncle Herman Hayes to honor his nephew's legacy, it sold out three times in its first day.