Whenever I'm tagging rap songs in my library, I always arrive at the question of should I include production credits? It's the same question I often find myself asking about features. As I weigh one side versus the other, I'll wonder "is their performance such a vital component of the track that if it were subtracted the song would suffer?" If I nod in agreement to the question, they get their proper credit.
There's no questioning when it comes to producer J Dilla. One of rap's all-time best, the Detroit-native came up with Pharcyde before falling into place as a vital component of the Soulquarians movement. It was there, while producing for R&B revivalists D'Angelo and Erykah Badu he perfected his sacrosanct formula of: warm but heavy drums, calculated snaps, tender soul vocals, invitingly obscure samples, and hypnotic guitar riffs.
While De La Soul's 2004 track "Much More" lacks anything in the way of "riffage", everything else is firmly in place. Yummy Bingham's chirpy vocals give the eerie keyboard figure of "Strawberry 23" a much needed makeover as a sped-up "Love Ballad" dances in the background. Dilla's trademark drums (which Kanye once admitted to "stealing") knock louder than a SWAT Team at 6 in the morning, but refrain from roughing the listener up. And in that "tough passivity" hip-hop's hippies Posdnuos and Trugoy find their place. When Pos' promises "lacerations" it's only to an obstinate microphone. Trugoy (aka Dave) meanwhile is content to kick his feet up and button mash on the X-Box. "House rules, so house takes bank" he matter-of-factly rattles off with the sort of weary knowledge only a vet could possess.
Still Dilla is the ultimate vet in the equation. When he shuffled off forever in 2006, just 3 days after releasing his masterwork Donuts, he was a relative unknown in commercial rap culture. Part of this had to do with his idiosyncratic approach (few if any sound like Dilla), but it can also be attributed to his shy attitude. Besides rocking hats to mask his face, he frequently crafted tracks as part of "The Ummah" so that his role was never clear. 8 years after his death he may be more widely recognized, but he's as enigmatic as ever. When Bingham's singing "much more is what we got in store" in the chorus she's telling the story of J Dilla.
If you have suggestions for songs you want to see featured in future editions of Track Attack, feel free to leave them in the comment section.