When James Dewitt Yancey, A.K.A. J Dilla, passed away in early 2006, the hip hop community was neither reserved nor insincere about paying its respects. The prolific MC and producer’s impact on the genre – achieved largely in behind-the-scenes, under-the-radar fashion – was irrefutably proven by the outpouring of tribute tracks, from the likes of Q-Tip, The Roots, and Erykah Badu, that were released in the years following his death; hip hop artists seemingly embraced the cause of commemorating Dilla’s life and work as fervently as any they’d ever dedicated themselves to.
While the big-name tributes reinforced his stature as one of the most influential producers in the game, however, Dilla’s legacy is perhaps most palpable in the output of his younger, up-and-coming devotees – after all, what twenty-something beatmaker wouldn’t be inspired by a guy who accomplished so much before the 32nd birthday he barely lived to see? It’s that youthful energy and ambition, so perfectly personified by J Dilla, that inspired Australian producer Ta-Ku to craft a very different type of tribute to his late, great idol.
The two-volume collection 50 Days for Dilla developed out of a challenge that Ta-Ku imposed on himself: to create one new track each day for 50 days straight, with Dilla’s aesthetic – if not always his precise sound – as his inspiration. 50 Days for Dilla, Vol. 2 compiles the second set of 25 tracks that Ta-Ku recorded day-by-day, its roughly two-minute-long beatscapes encompassing a variety of smooth, chilled-out soul and R&B samples and beats that most often coast and groove rather than bang. The overall mood is upbeat, yet yearning and soulful; on tracks like “Day 45” (each is labeled rather than descriptively named), energetic vocal samples bob and weave over dreamy keyboards and strings, while the warm crackle of a phonograph needle adds a nostalgic glimmer to the proceedings.
Ta-Ku’s grooves, overall, are ethereal but gritty, playfully funky yet finely emotional, and based on the strength of this collection, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine fledgling MCs coming out of the woodwork to collaborate with him. Considering the type of guy that J Dilla was, one would imagine that the project is the type of tribute he would have appreciated the most.