Though he may have only put out 6 full-length albums before his life was cut short, J Dilla has had a resounding impact throughout the world of hip-hop.
Many of his singles would eventually set the stage for whole new subgenres and influenced artists not only regionally but internationally.
We are going to look at the top ten most influential J Dilla records and what made them so special.
1. The Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia
This is by no means Dilla’s best or even most reflective work, but it is the album that first got him noticed on a major stage, and with ⅓ of tracks having credits with his name, he was able to produce enough music for anyone to see what he would one day do when given the chance.
2. Common – Like Water for Chocolate
Having worked on numerous albums and with many of the day’s biggest artists, J Dilla finally showed the world that he was ready to handle the load himself by having a huge impact on the development of 75 percent of the album including the “heavy” song as well as the radio single.
3. Vol 1 Unreleased
It may seem odd to include a track of instrumentals on a “most influential” list, but any artist can attest to the value of instrumental bangers.
This may not be the best album for the casual fan, but in terms of the effect on music, there are few albums which are as influential as this one.
4. Jaylib – Champion Sound
While appearances have been common since the inception of hip-hop, truly collaborative albums were far less common.
Working with Madlib, Dilla showed the rest of the industry that collaboration does not need to be a competition–and when it is not, everyone wins–leading to a spate of collaborations between some of the biggest artists of the day.
5. Ruff Draft
Another posthumous album, this is arguably one of J Dilla’s tightest albums with each track seeming to do its own thing and fit into the larger theme of the album.
Dilla threads the needle on this album and manages to bring the rough edge of live engineering to the studio.
6. Vol 2 Vintage
Following his release of Vol 1 Unreleased, Dilla actually underwent a fair bit of stylistic and soundscape changes in his music.
That refinement and development of his skills presents perhaps one of the best instrumental albums for that live, raw Dilla sound that begins to see the laser light.
7. The Shining
Though it was left unfinished before J Dilla’s untimely demise, The Shining was 75 percent completed and the masters had already been delivered to the album’s eventual successor, Karriem Riggins.
As such, it might feel a bit disjointed at points but has that undeniable J Dilla feel.
8. Fuck the Police
Only J Dilla could take the title of one of the most iconic hip-hop songs of all time and make a track that confronts and avoids the conflict simultaneously.
Deemed too offensive by the original label, the track was released on a separate label to acclaim from critics, audiences, and, most importantly, other artists.
9. Welcome to Detroit
As the first album that J Dilla put out, it would be difficult to ignore the impact that this album has had.
It may not have the most impactful track, but it definitely skyrocketed J Dilla beyond merely a beat maker or bit player and into the realms of a certified musical genius.
The last album made before J Dilla’s death, the artists was able to just make the album’s release.
Noted as being arguably the deepest music Dilla ever made, the sheer volume of amazing tracks speaks to a fevered genius desperate to make his mark as long as he could.