Bilal featuring Mos Def and Common - "Reminisce" (2001)
Dilla always had a knack for seamlessly utilizing his talents behind the board to mingle with the realm of R&B and soul without ever straying far from his roots in the hip-hop world. While early-to-mid 90's rappers had a contentious relationship with more commercial-minded R&B dominating the airwaves at the time, at least until the mainstreaming of hip-hop as the decade wore on made the two uncomfortably inseperable, Dilla instead looked to the neo-soul classicism of the late 90's/00's as his inspiration, melding the staunchly nostalgic movement to his own whims and crafting a concotion that was as natural as it was commandingly funky. Neo-soul crooner Bilal proved an adept fit for Dilla's rich tapestry of slick 70's groove motifs, and if the hip-hop skeptics needed some more convincing, Mos and Common offer further incentive.
Four Tet featuring Guilty Simpson and Jay Dee - "As Serious As Your Life (Jay Dee Remix)" (2003)
Four Tet's skittering, fractured electronic works have always had an obviously heavy hip-hop influence, and it's hear on this remix of one of Kieran Hebden's singles that Dilla runs those elements through a blender, transforming the post-trip-hop workout of "Serious" into a head-cracking masterpiece of fluid bass, tasteful strings, and beautifully articulated snatches of Hebden's original sources. And it's on the lovely hook that Dilla proves he was also adept at carrying a tune. One of his strongest works by far.
Jaylib - "The Heist" (2003)
Most casual observers of hip-hop overlook the insanely varied sample sources that the genre's best producers have utilized in their work (Mountain's live version of "Long Red" and ESG's "UFO" flipped on a slower speed became staples of late 80's/early 90's beat-scapes), and Dilla proved again and again that most any record in his hands had potential for a head-nodding reconfiguration. Ingeniously welding Throbbing Gristle's sluggish, sleazy "Persuasion" into a wonder of funk-infused thump, Dilla leaves no element of the original unused, forging the clock-tick of the intro for percussion, the synth burble for bass, and even some of Genesis' vocals on the end for a delirious exit.
Steve Spacek - "Dollar" (2005)
As Dilla moved into the 00's, his production became more masterfully idiosyncratic, with the man working out meticulous, strange chops of samples with greater and greater daring. British soulster Steve Spacek's "Dollar" rides a hypnotically, seemingly unending looped vocal from Billy Paul's "Let The Dollar Circulate" that in Dilla's hands ends up recalling something along the lines of a Steve Reich or Phillip Glass piece for the dance-floor.
Common - "Be (Unreleased Original Version)" (2005)
Megalomaniacal superstar Kanye West made no secret of his love for Dilla's production, and although the two were supposedly originally slated to split beat duties on Common's quasi-comeback Be, West ended up handling the lion's share of the work. This longer, fuller title track left off the finished product finds Dilla slaying West at his own game, flipping a brash soul loop into heavy oblivion until its rich, pounding break manifests a trunk rattling anthem that lets Common come hungrier that he had in a long while. We can only guess as to why this was left off, though one would perhaps not be shocked if West's ego was taking a few hits after coming across this gem.
J. Dilla - "The Twister (Huh, What)" (2006)
Dilla's Donuts will always be a bittersweet affair, being that it was created in his hospital bed while he was suffering from the disease (lupus) that would claim his life. The week Donuts was released, Dilla passed away, and when seen as a testament to his life and his work, Donuts was a seamless, scrappy, and incredibly joyous personal statement from a brilliant musical mind taken from us too soon. While some detractors (wrongly) lambast the record as being a simple mix of soul loops and clever chops, Dilla's way with his sampler exhibits an absurd preciseness; on this track, a huge drum break towers over an eerie melange of jaw harp, stray shouts, and who knows what else. This would be a perfect soundscape for Raekwon and Ghostface to spit over.
Q-Tip - "Move" (2008)
Following Dilla's passing, those close to him often paid tribute in utilizing his vast body of unreleased/unused beats. Tip's much-delayed comeback in '08 went off with a bang with this first single, with a Dilla beat that eccentrically chops up the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" into something completely untamed. This was my favorite hip-hop single of '08, and possibly the best of that decade in my mind, acting a passionate throwback to a more soulful and creative era in hip-hop.
Mos Def featuring Talib Kweli - "History" (2009)
The frustratingly elusive Mos Def made his best record in years by 2009 with The Ecastatic, his first album since his solo debut Black On Both Sides that showed a newfound focus and passion. Here he reunites with Black Star partner Kweli for "History," with another Donuts-era Dilla banger that whistfully patches together a sweet soul burner into a work that's both melancholy and moving. This is how most hip-hop fans wish the genre had forged forth with in the past decade.
Raekwon featuring Ghostface and Cappadonna - "10 Bricks" (2009)
Dilla's vast body of beats were used with care for many a late 00's comeback, and Rae's sequel to Cuban Linx proved to be his best work since the original saw the light of day almost 15 years prior. This Dilla beat (one of three on the album) was originally used on the reissue of Jaylib's Champion Sound for "The Red," the original album version of which was frustratingly cut due to sample clearance issues. It sounds much more fitting for Rae and Wu partners-in-crime Ghostface and Cappadonna to spit over, all three firing off their surprisingly ageless (considering all the acts who ripped them off) mafioso rap effortlessly over that slinky guitar lick and dramatic orchestration. One of the most synergistic combinations of the 00's. We can only dream of what Dilla could've done had he not been taken from us so early. Huge R.I.P.