Slum Village, Common, Madlib, Dwele, Guilty Simpson, Frank n Dank, Black Milk, Mos Def, J Rocc, Waajeed, Bilal, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Karriem Riggins, The Roots, Phat Kat, D'Angelo, Talib Kweli, The Pharcyde, Jay Electronica, Royce Da 5'9", Kanye West
James Dewitt Yancey (February 7, 1974 – February 10, 2006), better known by the stage names J Dilla and Jay Dee, was an American record producer who emerged from the mid-1990s underground hip-hop scene in Detroit, Michigan. According to his obituary at NPR.org, he "was one of the music industry's most influential hip-hop artists, working for big-name acts including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom, The Pharcyde and Common." Yancey died in 2006 of the blood disease Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.
James Yancey was the oldest of four children including a younger brother (Earl), a younger sister (Martha) and a younger brother, John, also a rapper/producer known as Illa J. The family lived in a house near McDougall and Nevada, on the east side of Detroit. He developed a vast musical knowledge from his parents (his mother is a former opera singer and his father was a jazz bassist). 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 passion for hip hop music. After transferring from Davis Aerospace Technical High School to Detroit Pershing High School, he met classmates 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 tapedeck 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."
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 the late Proof, Thyme and Mudd). In the year 1996, he formed the group Slum Village with T3 and Baatin, and recorded the group's debut, Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) in his home studio. Being released in 1997, the album quickly became popular with fans of Detroit hip hop, as well a 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.