Detroit hip-hop producer and rapper Jay Dee, a.k.a. J Dilla, died on Friday at the age of thirty-two. He had battled lupus for three years, recently touring Europe in a wheelchair, but he concealed the downturn in his health from his manager and close friends.
Born James Yancey, Dee made his name in the Nineties working with De La Soul, Pharcyde and Busta Rhymes, and as a member of A Tribe Called Quest’s production trio, the Ummah. Some of Dee’s most significant production came in 2000, with Common’s breakthrough, Like Water for Chocolate, and D’Angelo’s last effort, the instant R&B classic Voodoo. As he became increasingly known beyond the Detroit underground, Dee also produced tracks for Janet Jackson, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu.
After opening for Tribe on their 1998 farewell tour, Dee’s hip-hop trio Slum Village — with high-school friends Baatin and T3 — released their 2000 debut, Fantastic, Vol. 2, with guests D’Angelo and former Tribe MC Q-Tip. Dee’s first solo album, Welcome 2 Detroit, followed in 2001.
Most recently, Dee worked on Common’s Grammy-nominated sixth album, Be, and released his own instrumental solo effort Donuts — which he wrote and recorded while in and out of the hospital — last week.
A public viewing for Dee will be held on Monday at Los Angeles’ Forest Lawn Mortuary, with a private funeral service to follow on Tuesday. A memorial concert is also reportedly being organized.
Dee had been at work on his next solo release, The Shining, which was slated for independent release this spring.