J Dilla – The Diff’rence

Listen to the song here


James Dewitt Yancey otherwise known as J Dilla and/or Jay Dee was a  Detroit born record producer and rapper who pioneered sample based production and Hip Hop music as showcased in his prolific discography and production credits. Since the age of two Dilla had an interest in vinyl records. His family was musically oriented as well, his mother a former opera singer and his father a jazz bassist. Before formally becoming J Dilla, He was a member of rap group Slum village, which garnered the attention of producer and rapper Q-Tip who then started collaborating with Dilla.

Dilla was part of the super group Soulquarians, which consisted of artists J Dilla, D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Bilal and Mos Def as well as others.

Members of Soulquarians

Notably his last album “Donuts” was made the same year of his untimely death, during the final stages of his illness.

“Donuts” Album Cover



Jay Dilla has been compared to “A Tribe Called Quest” since of member Q-tip speaking on how Dilla’s “Slum Village” would be their successors. In several interviews Dilla has spoke of his disdain towards this. In a 2004 interview with XXL magazine, Dilla speaks on how the lyrical content dissatisfied him and how he preferred rap group Native Tongue. Dilla has mentioned Kool Kieth and the Jungle Brothers as influences, as well as De La Soul. De La Soul – Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey) is a good example of what influenced J Dilla.

Native Tongues member from De La Soul



Album – Donuts
Song – The Diff’rence
BPM – 96.5
Producer: J Dilla

During the summer of 2005, friend and fellow producer Karriem Riggins brought a Boss SP-303 Sampler and a small 45 record sampler to Dilla in hospital. From that point on he would finish 29 of the 31 songs on Donuts.

Samples/sampling techniques

“The Diff’rence” features samples of four tracks

1.) Kool & The Gang – Fruitman

Samples appears at 0:04, 2:50, 5:07

In “The Diff’rence” sample appears at 0:00 and throughout

2.) Mantronix – King Of The Beats

Samples appears at 0:01

In “The Diff’rence” sample appears at 1:07 and throughout

3.) Kool & The Gang- Jungle Boogie

Sample appears at 2:10

In “The Diff’rence” sample appears at 1:08 and throughout

4.) Skillz & Ras Kas – Six Figures

Sample appears at 0:13

In “The Diff’rence” sample appears at 1:10 and throughout

Boss SP-303 Sampler

J Dilla wasn’t the first person to utilise sampling in Hip Hop music, but his methods were progressive and pioneering. Most of Dilla’s contemporaries would have their sample transients hit on kicks and snares, Dilla would have his samples hit on hats and seemingly off beat spaces in his rhythms. This gave him his unique, natural/human sound. Regarding processing in The Diff’rence, you can hear him using the SP-303’s reverse and filter function at  1:00 in the song. The saxophone sampled from Kool & The Gang – Fruitman in the original fades out relatively quickly as it is in the end of the song. J Dilla must have used the SP-303’s compressor or in sample mode select gate. to get the full sample the same volume. There are also vocal samples and his signature sample of Mantronix which features use of the tremolo/pan function.


It has been said that J Dilla was very particular with his drum sounds and would meticulously EQ them, if this was done within the SP-303 he would of used the DSP effects; then used a combination of the filter+drive and the isolator. This can be heard in The Diff’rence with his very distinct and present kicks. His kicks weren’t necessarily booming like his contemporaries but were still present and audible in the mix due to a good balance between his drums and samples. Like other producers would do soon after him, he utilised the production technique of layering to get this seemingly perfect balance. If you listen to Dilla’s sampling of Kool & The Gang – Fruitman, you hear that he layers his own percussion over the existing percussion. Original Hip Hop has been known to sample funk drums, and The Diff’rence is a good example of this.

J Dilla has been noted for his signature “sloppy”, “off beat” drum programming. His sound found it’s way into most of D’Angelo’s album Voodoo despite the fact he had little to no credit given to him at the time. “The Roots” member and famous drummer Quest Love spoke of Dilla’s contribution saying “we wanted to play as perfectly as we could, but then deliberately insert the little glitch that makes it sound messed up. The idea was to sound disciplined, but with a total human feel.” continuing he said “He makes programmed stuff so real, you really can’t tell it’s programmed. He might program 128 bars, with absolutely no looping or quantizing … When Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest first played me some of his stuff, I said, ‘The drums are messed up! The time is wrong!’ And when we did a song for D’Angelo’s record that Lenny Kravitz was supposed to play on, Lenny said, ‘I can’t play with this — there’s a discrepancy in the drum pattern.’ And we’re like, ‘It’s supposed to be this way!’. Dilla put alot of work into his drums and made an effort to make them part of his signature sound.


Hip Hop at the time was noted to have a distinct style called “Boom Bap” which had booming drums and crashing snares. This was usually synonymous with aggressive vocal delivery and more explicit subject matter. In his 2004 XXL magazine interview he mentions his desired aesthetic saying “It’s kinda fucked up because the audience we were trying to give to were actually people we hung around. Me, myself, I hung around regular ass Detroit cats. Not the backpack shit that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack. But like I said, I understand to a certain extent. I guess that’s how the beats came off on some smooth type of shit. And at that time, that’s when Ruff Ryders [was out] and there was a lot of hard shit on the radio so our thing was we’re gonna do exactly what’s not on the radio.”.

This excerpt tell us that J Dilla opted for putting Neo Soul sensibilities into his music rather than the gangster rap he heard on the radio. This was evident with his frequent collaborators as well. From a mixing perspective Dilla spinning records since the age of two, gives him the inclination to use the layering production technique, accentuating soul/funk vocals and funk drums in his instrumentals, as opposed to creating a large space in the mid frequencies for vocal focused gangsta rap. Dilla’s work on The Pharcyde’s – Runnin and Drop feature soulful production from Dilla, with soulful hooks by the rap group as well.


J Dilla has been monumental and pioneering in progressing Hip Hop music. His signature style influenced and birthed styles that artists/producer’s Kanye West, Flying Lotus and his contemporaries that still make music today. Specifically Herbie Hancock collaborator Flying Lotus’s first release “1983” has been cited as J Dilla influenced with it’s”underwater basslines, stripped-down snare-tap percussion, bristling synths, textural hiss– and has been boldly mutating them into a new strain of b-boy IDM ever since” as described by pitchfork magazine. Flying Lotus then proceeded to make modern classic’s “Cosmogramma” and “You’re Dead”.




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