Hip hop producer JDilla's legacy lives on at NMAAHC

Mother's memorial to her son at new museum

You may have heard many of his songs before, but you may not have known the silent genius behind the hypnotic beats.

He is the late and great hip hop producer JDilla - James Dewitt Yancey - Maureen's son.

"I have the pride that my son was not for sale," said Maureen "MaDukes" Yancey, "it's a gift to be shared all over the world."

JDilla passed in 2006 of lupus.  He was only 32 years old, but much like the music he created for artist like Pharcyde and Common, his legacy lives on in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

JDilla's mother donated his custom made synthesizer and MPC drum machine for a unique exhibit about hip hop's influence on the black experience and JDilla's influence on its soundtrack.

"Not only did he have a special gift, but all of our children have special gifts, but we have to nurture it," Maureen said.

JDilla excelled not only in studies but music; his gift first manifested when he was just months old.

"With the gurgles that new babies have - perfect pitch," she explained, "whatever the bass line was he would do the harmony lines in perfect pitch," Maureen said.

At 2 years old, he was spinning records in the park, he mastered any instrument he touched.

Motown, blues, country and his mother's classical shaped his young life; composing his own brand of music sustained him even when his health failed.

"He was praying out loud and said I want to give my gift back," his mother recalled.
JDilla's songs live on through artists like Janet Jackson, his life story, in an upcoming children's book (available on Amazon and at Barnes and Nobles next week) but it is his spirit that soars in a museum like none other, in an exhibit that is about much more than just hip hop.

"I know who you are now," she said recalling he once asked his mother if she really knew him, "I can answer that question he asked, yes I know who you are now. He's a messenger and love is the message."

JDilla was originally from Detroit, but his mother moved to D.C. several years ago. In fact, for more than 10 years D.C. has been home to a tribute and fundraising concert called D.C. loves Dilla.


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