J Dilla was born James Dewitt Yancey on February 7, 1974 in Detroit, Michigan, to Maureen and Beverly Yancey. From the onset, music was intrinsic to Jay's life. His mother Maureen was an accomplished singer and lover of classical music and opera. His father Beverly was a gifted vocalist and bass player fond of vocal harmonies and jazz, who played professionally for 25 years before taking a job at Ford.
A two-year-old Jay would gurgle along in perfect pitch to the sound of his father practicing on his upright bass until it lulled him to sleep. Especially aware of the dangers that faced unoccupied youths growing up in their Detroit neighborhood of Conant Gardens, the Yancey's set out to keep their children as busy as possible between cub scouts, music lessons, youth choir, and any other church activities. Nurturing their son's early passion for music, Jay was always enrolled in some kind of music class, excelling on the piano, violin and cello, before moving on to the drums. But it was the lure of the boom-bap which ultimately moved him from the church pews to the studio.
"When I heard Run-D.M.C.'s "Sucker M.C.'s (Krush-Groove 1)" and Whodini's "Big Mouth", it made me curious to how the beats were made. Those songs were the first time I heard the beats that weren't melodic - just drums. Being someone who was taking drum lessons at the time, that made me real curious. That led me into deejaying, which slowly led to me deejaying parties and that eventually led me into production." A fortuitous meeting with another talented Conant Gardens resident provided Jay with the direction necessary to pursue his dream.Make J Dilla Playlist