Zach Diaz (University of Bristol, UK)


The late James DeWitt Yancey, known by his producer name of Jay Dee or J Dilla, is considered by many hip-hop scholars and musicians to be one of the most influential producers of the genre, and whether it’s called “wonky”, “drunk”, or simply a “Dilla groove”, his innovations and approaches to un-quantized drum programming are some of the most influential and intricate in the world of hip-hop beat-making. By analyzing his production on selected tracks “Untitled” and “2U4U” in Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2, I will be exploring how Dilla implemented and expanded on his approaches to un-quantized digital rhythmic sequencing, as well as how these approaches have heavily influenced works of current hip-hop production. This analysis will focus on the problematic nature of how un-quantized rhythms are usually transcribed by scholars (usually with either sheet music or MIDI transcriptions) and instead look at how these rhythms can be interpreted through different levels of un-quantization found within a specific production, as well as looking at amounts of un-quantized grooves on a spectrum.

From a plethora of experimental beat makers from the Los Angeles beat scene to the countless producers posting “lo-fi” instrumental hip-hop beats on several online spaces, I will be also discussing J Dilla’s influence in these spaces and how his sonic aesthetics from his production discography have shaped the current sound and culture of hip-hop production and beat making, looking at specific tracks by current Los Angeles-based hip-hop producers such as Dibia$E and Flying Lotus, and focusing on how these un-quantized rhythms are interpreted and emulated by both producers and fans.