I remember taking a girlfriend of mine to get her very first tattoo. I decided to get something small as well. I think it was my fourth tattoo by this point. I got a small finger tattoo that had one simple word: Dilla.
My mother yelled at me until she couldn’t yell anymore, asking why in the world I would get a man’s name tattooed. But in the hip-hop world, that isn’t just a name. It’s a legacy, a style of production, an impact on the culture of hip-hop.
I get asked so often, especially by men who I am dating that don’t have a very big interest in hip-hop, why he means so much to me. Obviously his style of production is irreplaceable. In high school, I had his whole discography of beats downloaded to my phone. If boys wanted to show me their music, I would have them rap over his stuff. Those beats were always significantly harder to master than a simple beat made with a drum machine because of the syncopation and sampling. His production was always beautifully imperfect and never quite exactly on the beat, but still so pleasing to listen to.
But it wasn’t just about the music.
His work ethic and his story were both so unlike so many others in the industry. He worked up until his death in 2007 creating Donuts to leave his fans with one last project. He toured in his wheelchair and had his equipment sent to his hospital bed so he could finish it, releasing it just days before his passing. And yet he was still so unknown. He created some of the most timeless beats like Pharcyde’s “Runnin'”, and people had no idea who the mastermind was behind the production. But he still continued to create. I always attempted to mimic my work ethic around that; doing what I love and putting every single bit of my heart and soul into everything that I do without seeking recognition or fame.