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Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm

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Equal parts biography, musicology, and cultural history, Dilla Time chronicles the life and legacy of J Dilla, a musical genius who transformed the sound of popular music for the twenty-first century.

He wasn’t known to mainstream audiences, even though he worked with renowned acts like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and influenced the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. He died at the age of thirty-two, and in his lifetime he never had a pop hit. Yet since his death, J Dilla has become a demigod: revered by jazz musicians and rap icons from Robert Glasper to Kendrick Lamar; memorialized in symphonies and taught at universities. And at the core of this adulation is innovation: a new kind of musical time-feel that he created on a drum machine, but one that changed the way “traditional” musicians play.

In Dilla Time, Dan Charnas chronicles the life of James DeWitt Yancey, from his gifted childhood in Detroit, to his rise as a Grammy-nominated hip-hop producer, to the rare blood disease that caused his premature death; and follows the people who kept him and his ideas alive. He also rewinds the histories of American rhythms: from the birth of soul in Dilla’s own “Motown,” to funk, techno, and disco. Here, music is a story of Black culture in America and of what happens when human and machine times are synthesized into something new. Dilla Time is a different kind of book about music, a visual experience with graphics that build those concepts step by step for fans and novices alike, teaching us to “see” and feel rhythm in a unique and enjoyable way.

Dilla’s beats, startling some people with their seeming “sloppiness,” were actually the work of a perfectionist almost spiritually devoted to his music. This is the story of the man and his machines, his family, friends, partners, and celebrity collaborators. Culled from more than 150 interviews about one of the most important and influential musical figures of the past hundred years, Dilla Time is a book as delightfully detail-oriented and unique as J Dilla’s music itself.

480 pages, Hardcover

Published February 1, 2022

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About the author

Dan Charnas

6 books76 followers
Dan Charnas is the author of the definitive history of the hip-hop business, The Big Payback (NAL/Penguin). He’s also the author of Work Clean (Rodale/Harmony), a book detailing applying chefs’ techniques to almost any life situation. He was also the co-creator and executive producer of the VH1 movie and TV series, The Breaks. He lives in Manhattan, and is an associate professor at NYU/Tisch’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 331 reviews
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews326 followers
April 22, 2022
There's this feeling you get when you read something by someone who really cares, like realllllllllly cares about what they're sharing.

You can feel the worlds that Dan Charnas had to move through to get the content for this book. You can feel the education that he's dropping on every page. The lessons in musicology and the realities about the scene, the industry, and the complicated man that is/was J Dilla.

I love that Dan Charnas didn't shy away from the realities of J Dilla's life and personality, which could sometimes be so incredibly volatile that I'm surprised he had as many connections as he did! Charnas didn't shy away from the shambles Dilla left all his communities in with his disorganization and untimely passing. His music was incredible, and he'll forever be unforgettable for what he did with sound and how he changed various genres for the better.

As a father/romantic-partner/brother/son/responsible human being, Dilla left much to be desired, and left a legion of pain in his passing. It's important to memorialize those elements of people as well because it's real. We live in the real world. It is what it is. However, the respect that Dan Charnas gave all these narratives was commendable. It never felt like a side was taken, and I respect that so much. He even eviscerated the toxic fan culture around J Dilla, the beat-loving culture vulture bros that ruin things with their "J Dilla Saved My Life" T-Shirts when "they don't know who Slum Village is". I'm not a purist, and I don't know it all. However, if I had a dollar for every time I've rolled my eyes as some dude tried to explain Dilla to me, I'd have a lot of money. I'm glad that he pointed out the toxic bro culture, BIG daps to Charnie for that! That was awesome.

All in all, this book was an education on the evolution of Hip-Hop after J Dilla got his hands on it. It was a walk through Detroit and other spaces and places. It was an exploration of the international landscapes that he touched from the UK & Australia to Hip-Hop loving markets in Japan, etc. I loved Chapter 15: Descendants and Disciples, my fave chapter - it was sooo good! There were layers and layers of information about adjacent artists and musicians and Dilla's influence on their style and what-begat-what-begat-what... each layer was delicious, so interesting, mindbending, fun, and unique. I gotta go look for the playlist someone's made on this book on Spotify, it's bound to be dope.

Lastly, the notes, selected discography, and index are enough to keep me busy from here until eternity. Dilla Time is a worthy read for anyone remotely interested in the evolution of Hip-Hop and the cultural significance of J Dilla.
Profile Image for Anthony .
89 reviews12 followers
May 23, 2022
Hey Siri, play "Dear Dilla" by Phife Dawg.

I was 15-years-old when my love affair with hip-hop first began. What was once the de facto mask I donned to hide myself under a veneer of cool quickly became an education in beats, rhymes, and life. And few teachers taught as effectively as the then recently passed James Dewitt Yancey, aka Jay Dee, bka J Dilla. Musical acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Slum Village, and The Pharcyde walled in the rabbit hole I was falling through, and the more I listened, the more I craved the lopsided, Dilla-made rhythms that united them; seemingly offbeat tracks like "The Light" or "Runnin" were the ideal fit to the soundtrack of my life.

So yeah, I might be predisposed to love this shit.

But even when trying and failing to cast aside my nostalgic biases, this is a pretty dope book. What Dan Charnas has penned here is at once a beautiful celebration of the music of J Dilla, approaching it with the scholarly vigor, technical analysis, and musical history it so sorely deserves. The book consistently stunned me with the extent of theory and musicology it delved into, thoroughly describing the methodology behind a traditionally crafted pop song compared against J Dilla's offkilter productions. There are charts inviting readers to beat their knees in time, and then again in 'Dilla time', making for a uniquely engaging reading experience. I found the alternating spotlight on traditional craft versus J Dilla's rule-breaking ways incredibly compelling, and I don't think it's any exaggeration to posit that J Dilla himself would have loved seeing his art presented in this way. Jeff Peretz's contributions deserve a great deal of recognition for imbuing the work with a structure worthy of Dilla's genius, especially because things get noticeably sloppy once that structure falls away.

Charnas conducted nearly 200 interviews in service of this work, yet his ability to string together a consistently absorbing narrative from the same as he biographs Dilla's life often reads as muddled and spasmodic. There's a great deal of sweet tales about Dilla's childhood (I loved the part about his father tapping out beats on his belly, playing the music into him) and studio sessions with trailblazing artists like D'Angelo or ?uestlove, and as great as these tidbits are, they draw their strength from being influencee accounts as opposed to influencer expressions. The need to pull in big names to demonstrate Dilla's impact on the way popular music is made struck me as akin to needless namedropping. All of this seems designed to distract from the fact that Charnas seems to struggle with getting into Dilla's head; I never once felt like I was actually getting to know him. Our entire perspective on the legendary producer is held at an arm's length, seen through the eyes of others rather than from the man. Look, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and Charnas is obviously passionate, but his writing lacks empathy. I could read his passages on an LSAT exam and not find any of it out of place.

This isn't entirely the author's fault, however. J Dilla's legacy after death is represented by a bitter disunity between the parties most interested in the same, and the stories often change drastically depending on who you ask. While Charnas does spend a significant amount of time (probably too much) exploring these issues and taking flawed parties to task for perceived selfishness, greed, and wrongfully expressed grief, he flies alarmingly close to unnecessarily throwing dirt on the names of family and friends like Ma Dukes or DJ House Shoes. While I strongly agree that J Dilla's daughters are being left with the short end of the stick from the activities of his estate, I hate that this is the note that the book ends on in substance because it concerns itself with drama that Dilla would have likely had no patience for.

I love J Dilla's music like I love the broken part of myself that strives to be better each day. At times, I felt this book holding the music in the reverence it has always needed, but in others, I think it detracted from its own messaging by focusing on things auxiliary to the man himself. Charnas was wise to not shy away from the shortcomings of Dilla and his circle, but some of the more incessantly targeted chapters, along with the overwrought exhibitions of Dilla's musical followers, pervert what makes him worth writing about in the first place: the music.

I love this man so much. Even with some issues in mind, we probably won't ever get a better book about him than this one.
Profile Image for Joe Lovinger.
48 reviews5 followers
February 23, 2022
Easiest five stars I’ve given! My mind is on the floor trying to imagine the research, dedication, and alchemy it took to put all this together. And then to make it so clearly and compellingly written? Impossible. Except it really happened and it’s this book. Proud to be an alum of the same school as Charnas.
Profile Image for Cat.
56 reviews186 followers
January 12, 2022
of course dan charnas wrote a killer book. like the Big Payback, Dilla Time will be read for years and years and years
Profile Image for Jordan.
87 reviews4 followers
March 2, 2022
A stunning work of biography, journalism, and accessible musicology. A truly Robert Caro-level undertaking that entailed 190 interviews over four years. Also acts as a sort of corollary to Charnas’ The Big Payback, which detailed the history of the business of rap - i.e., mainstream hip-hop. This is the history of the other side of the coin. Absolutely essential.

My only issue with the book is that it doesn’t give us much in the way of Dilla’s interiority. We see what he did but we don’t get much of who he was on the inside. I know that’s a difficult row to hoe, especially with a journalistic endeavor like this where getting inside someone’s head could be construed as editorializing or coloring outside the lines. Still, I hoped I’d come away with more of a concept of how Dilla felt and thought.
35 reviews
June 12, 2022
An uneven biography that could've been edited down in the biography portions and more fleshed out in the theory portions.
The books conclusion that Dilla has a lasting legacy was a bit weakened by mostly citing Robert Glasper and Hiatus Kaiyote as current bearers of Dilla time when there are other, more relevant examples. Earlier, the book also made clear that Dilla was taking ideas and turning them into their own, but at the end acted like he is the reason drummers learn polyrhythms, four-limb independence, or non-Western rhythms. Diving into how D'Angelo and other live acts copied it would've been helpful.
Profile Image for Ben Root.
88 reviews1 follower
January 15, 2023
“As with all shifts in music, heresy gradually becomes gospel.”

Holy shit, what an unbelievable biography about truly one of the most important people in music. I’m incredibly impressed by the amount of research and effort to be faithful to the reality of this man’s life. Dan Charnas commands respect for his eloquent prose, the deep investigative work he did across all of his interviews, and his masterful understanding of music theory that allows him to unlock the mind-blowing truths about Dilla’s transcendent talent.

This isn’t just a historical portrait, or a composite of an artist’s body of work. this is truly a detective case as to why and how James Yancey accomplished what he did. The man known as Jay Dee’s ability to perceive, dissect, and manipulate time (the medium that music decorates) is inhuman, and this book translates that alien skill in a way even the most naïve can understand. perhaps more importantly, this book chronicles the persistent echoing of Dilla’s alien consciousness, allowing the readers to truly digest the legacy of the man and the form he changed forever.
Profile Image for Mrs. Danvers.
917 reviews44 followers
January 2, 2023
This was a great read, educating me on the enduring importance of J Dilla and what it was that he did, exactly, that changed everything. I know almost nothing about music theory and this book taught me a lot without making me feel like I was studying for a class. I also really appreciate the candor with which this was written, that Charnas wasn't afraid to write honestly about each person in the book, and that where accounts differ, he clearly sets out each person's viewpoint. While I was aware as a distant bystander of many of the quarrels with the estate and others as they took place, I never felt like I had any real understanding of the issues. Charnas's descriptions shed enough light to let me know that I wasn't alone in this. This was both heartbreaking and, as well, a trip down memory lane in which loose ends were connected for me, as someone who was always too intimidated to frequent the Lesson boards (remaining firmly in GD).
Profile Image for jess mak.
40 reviews
September 13, 2023
I was a casual Dilla fan before reading this, but now I am Deep in the Dillasphere, Dillafied to my core. Dan Charnas is a fantastic writer- I learned so much about the Detroit scene and the sheer impact that Dilla’s use of the MPC had on rhythm!!! So many good music recs from this book, would recommend to any hip hop fan. Fan-tas-tic! ;)
Profile Image for Paul.
16 reviews
July 26, 2022
I generally really enjoyed this work, it's a rich and vibrant piece of biography and a near-scholarly look at musicology, though positioned for a more general audience. I particularly enjoyed the structure - probably 75% biographical chapters, and then 25% musicology or musical analysis. The building upon of the concepts around musical timing, complete with illustrations of the various timefeel concepts, was easy to follow and very interesting. The biography itself was vibrant and thorough, and generally stayed on the right side of hagiography, as Charnas said he would do. I was less a fan of the final hundred pages, though this is less a reflection on the book itself than it is my own perception of the strife and discord surrounding Dilla's estate after his passing, especially what I found to be the occasionally whiplash-inducing swings between criticism and deification of Dilla's mother. This wouldn't be a universal recommendation, but for anyone interested in music and culture, especially hip-hop, it's a great read.
82 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2022
Загалом дуже детальна і крута робота. Класно структуровано - біографія самого J Dilla і відповідно до хронології цілі музикознавчі розділи в яких пояснено власне геній Ділли (починаючи від музичної історії Детройту і створення Akai MPX-3000 до впливу творчості Ділли на виконавців типу Hiatus Kayote, Robert Glasper чи Kendrick Lamar. Власне ця частина книги була мені цікавішою і хотілось би баланс книги трошки більше в цю сторону.
Частина по біографії енциклопедично детальна - для тру фанатів це напевно було трошки цікавіше, бо в деяких розділах вся сімейна драма здавалась трошки затягнутою. Можливо, якби я був більше в темі і був краще знайомий з творчістю всіх з ким працював Ділла то було б цікавіше.
Тим не менш, точно обов'язкова для прочитання для тих хто любить творчість Ділли або когось з виконавців з ким він тісно співпрацював, або і взагалі тих хто сильно любить хіп-хоп. Я знав і раніше "що Ділла впливовий", але не уявляв наскільки він змінив хіп-хоп і сучасну музику в принципі.

Також круто є https://dillati.me/listening-guide/ на якому є плейлисти зі всіма треками про які згадується в книзі, шкода що сказано про це було лише в епілозі (слухав в книгу в аудіо).
Profile Image for Joel.
149 reviews24 followers
August 15, 2023
Excellent book, highly recommended to anyone who's a fan of contemporary music of any kind. The coverage of topics such as hip-hop music production, the history of Detroit, scene politics and personal relationships are equally interesting and accessible. Charnas is accutely aware of the scope, limitations and sensitivities of his project and handles them with grace and finesse.
Profile Image for Nicole Barbaro.
66 reviews93 followers
May 6, 2023
An excellent read on the life and influence of Detroit producer J Dilla. The book is ~⅔ biography of his life and ~⅓ music history, making for a unique read. Learned a lot about music generally and how hip-hop changed in the 90s/2000s as a result of J Dilla’s work
32 reviews6 followers
January 6, 2023
Mildly repetitive but still great. Cool to see how so many artists I like today all have the same influences , grew up together , collabed from the beginning
Profile Image for Carlos Martinez.
351 reviews249 followers
March 7, 2022
Ultimate modern cliché to be a Dilla-nerd, but that's a cross I bear. This is a really lovely and detailed study of his life and impact. Made me cry more than once!
50 reviews
September 12, 2022
The writing was good, but perhaps not suited for a reader like me, much more interested in the interpersonal relationships and social dynamics that led to the mythos of J Dilla than the musical theory itself. I would have believed the influence of Dilla time without understanding its strict definition; the various diagrams were clear and easy to read, and I even participated in the vaguely pedantic exercises, tapping thirds and fourths on my legs, but by the end of this four-hundred-page novels, I found myself skipping over musical theory sections entirely. I think this is no fault at all of Charnas; I'm sure my counterparts exist, who wish there was more musical theory.

Personally, I approached this from a much. more anthropological perspective. I enjoyed the extent to which Charnas incorporated outside knowledge and detail not immediately relevant, like the history of Detroit's geography. However, I want to reemphasize that this is not perhaps an accessible or efficient biography, especially for a figure like J Dilla, for which this book will be an introduction for most (although his fans are fanatics, I understand). If you're interested in the man himself, you won't get it until probably after the first hundred and fifty pages. If you're interested in his music, you won't have more than snippets for the first two hundred. Plenty of details were afforded significant page space and then later abandoned, like the details of Dilla's family history, generations and generations back. Again, I found this interesting in a historical context, but not in a Dilla one.

I've read so many classics lately that I think I'm just particularly sensitive to what I perceive as a waste of words on a page, unused Chekhov guns, etc. Things that are brought up, tangentially relevant, to not appear again. I'm too used to clean and pared prose that has been shaven to the thinnest layer, or, when extravagant, like Anna Karenina and David Foster Wallace, beautifully so. Nobody could accuse Charnas of skipping research or a lack of due diligence. This was an incredibly researched book. If you had told me that he was Dilla's guardian angel, I would have believed you. It's evident that he has a thorough and historical passion for the subject. It's awesome. He's just not James Joyce, nor is he required to be.

I will say that this book made me think of music as an aspect of community, really think about it, not just passively acknowledge it, for one of the first times ever. How canonizing people and places and cultures in highbrow classic literature comes later, after the music, after the concerts, after the dances and gatherings and the culture that revolves around something as undeniably and ubiquitously accessible as a good song. I thought often about Asian-American culture (if there can be said to be one) while I read this book. Where are our Detroits? I don't mean to glorify or pedestalize Detroit in any way; Charnas charts its growing Black population as a direct result of industrialization, white flight, redlining, and other anti-Black phenomenons. I do think, however, that Asian-Americans, for a variety of reasons (upward mobility, proximity to whiteness, wealthy immigrants post-Hart-Celler, the choice to immigrate in the first place, sheer lack of numbers, etc), do not have these sorts of communal understandings or intricate networks of protection and support. At least, not yet. Who are the aspiring Asian artists carving out a musical niche of their own? Do I not know them because I'm not in the right communities to know them, or do those communities just not exist? Do the communities need to exist for Asian-Americans to be legitimate on a political level? I would like to talk to somebody about all of this.

I also came away with a real admiration for Q-Tip and the idea of the Ummah, which struck me perhaps more than anything else in the book. I understand that Q-Tip was not a central figure, but rather a Dilla accessory, and as such probably all of his personal flaws were not explored. But the way he's portrayed in this book - fatherly, gracious, self-sacrificing, idealistic - is everything I see as the pinnacle of maturity and goodness, and everything I want for myself.

It also made me really understand artists as products of communities and history, rather than independent machines that may or may not make stuff that I think "sounds good." I've always been interested in the evolution of music, through Baroque to Classical to Romantic to Modern, et cetera, and yet I never grasped its immediate and ongoing evolution, a probable product of my classical piano upbringing and deeply-ingrained musical elitism. It's really fascinating! Like I said earlier, I find it hard to care about the musical theory itself, but the history and interpersonal threads and individual inspirations are incredible and inspiring. It almost feels like the sounds-good aspect of music isn't the point . Or, perhaps more accurately, it makes me understand that great music must sound good, but Kendrick Lamar and Robert Glasper and yes, J Dilla, do more than just sound good. They set themselves as the latest in a series of points to continue whatever thread of greatness exists in the art form. Always innovating, always pushing forward; there will never be another Mozart, in the way that Mozart was Mozart; instead, we have Kanye West. I'm being pretty serious. Who knows which of these artists really will stand the test of time. But it's making me see that music is no different from visual art or literature, a fact which, again, I should have known much earlier, but always subconsciously discounted. It's the same way that I subconsciously find great playwrights less credible for their artistic skill than great authors. Which is to say: It's super wrong.

Total tangent which may actually end this review, which has sort of spiraled: I think Charnas does an incredible job at leaving the facts stand as they are themselves in this biography. There is a thrumming undercurrent of admiration, which weakens it slightly, but overall, the tilt is bounded to his musical talent, and other facts are presented with no moral tilt. Strip club habits, tendencies to prayer, infidelity, temper, brotherly love, misogynism; all are presented in an even light for the reader to make of as they wish. We come away recognizing that Dilla was one of the greatest electronic music producers of all time, but was also just, on all levels, just a guy. Super cool.

Overall, would recommend, perhaps on an inverse proportion to the amount you already know about Dilla. Which is to say: If you know nothing and care naught about the musical industry, read this book! Perhaps it can do for you what it did for me. I started this book listening to Miley Cyrus and finished it with a comprehensive (well, comprehensive for me, not at all in a general sense) playlist on Spotify titled Dilla time. And of course I still listen to Miley, though. Etc.
Profile Image for Daniel Polansky.
Author 30 books1,158 followers
May 16, 2022
One afternoon some years ago I found myself at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border. I was driving south from Victoria Falls and wearing a J Dilla Changed My Life shirt. From what I can recall from that byzantine immigration procedure you needed a stamp certifying that your car was up to snuff, and a stamp agreeing that you personally should be allowed to exit the country. The line for the first was three people; the line for the second stretched out the door and looped the large building. I had settled in for a long wait when a security guard called me over. A lot of my time in Zimbabwe had been spent being touched for bribes so I was expecting the worst, but instead the guy asked me 'How Did J Dilla Change My Life?' Thinking he wanted me to to explain the shirt, I went on a quick shpiel about Dilla – your favorite producer's favorite producer, birth of Neo Soul, yadda yadda. Nodding approvingly, the security guard told me to give him my passport, then walked me to the front of the line and had the official stamp it.

I also strongly suspect I am the only person to ever work Dilla into a major work of published fantasy—perhaps a dubious tribute, perhaps, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, Charnas does a good job of explaining how Dilla earned such veneration during his brief career while also exposing many of the myths which sprung up around him before and after his premature demise. What emerges is a complex, contradictory figure, brilliant and mercurial. I found the book immense fun, and suspect even less vigorous devotees will enjoy it.
Profile Image for Rollie Pemberton.
Author 2 books13 followers
January 23, 2023
One of the best music books ever made and an instant hip-hop classic. Dan Charnas demystifies the iconic producer (and underrated emcee) J Dilla who has sometimes been posthumously deified as a virtuous underground beatmaker when his reality was much more complicated and unstable.

I basically devoured this book and thoroughly enjoyed the stories about Dilla’s work with Common, Slum Village and others. It was fascinating to learn about some of the deeper meaning around the sample choices on Donuts and I came away with greater context around why and how Dilla made the beats that he made.

Could’ve done without the stuff about his estate but I understand why it’s in there and won’t fault the author for including it. This book is an impressively complete picture of an elusive artist who defied categorization during his life but has gone on to become one of the most influential artists in recent history. A must read for any music lover.
Profile Image for Andrew Horton.
150 reviews15 followers
May 12, 2022
This book is a masterpiece. It might be the first music biography I've ever read that doesn't mess up the technology and production concepts - very few writers understand them enough to not only write credibly about them but communicate them to a layperson audience of non-musicians/non-producers , and Charnas does both in style. James Yancey legitimately changed the sound of hip hop, but to communicate this without resorting to "drunk monkey style" comparisons is a feat. He also busts a lot of persistent myths and mythology that surround Dilla - he didn't make "Donuts" on his deathbed (or even an MPC or SP-404!), he didn't just turn off quantize and play in his beats by feel, and he didn't just die of lupus, plus some more. I appreciate that this isn't a hagiography - James was no saint, and neither is Ma Dukes, especially in her financial dealings with his estate - but the warts-and-all approach makes this a complex and complete portrait of a complicated dude and some complicated situations.
Profile Image for Alexis.
41 reviews
February 4, 2023
I listened to the audio book, narrated by author Dan Chanas in a way that flowed well with the book's content. When I learned that the written book includes diagrams I got a copy of that also, but I found that Chanas has done such a good job talking about "time" in music that the diagrams were unnecessary for my understanding! This is one of the book's biggest strengths - explaining in a clear and persuasive way what was unique about J Dilla's beat - and how it relates to musical styles that came before, how it influenced hip hop and a lot of popular music, how Dilla created it, how it evolved, etc. Musical TIME is a main character of this book just as much as Dilla is (as the title, Dilla Time, suggests). This is a huge strength of the book, and it's why it works as a fairly long biography of someone with a short life.

I do wish that I'd realized sooner that there is a website linking to all the music Chanas mentions ... it's organized in order of mention and it's the easiest way to hear the many examples cited. These popular music examples are fun and can be helpful - Chanas says so many times, "listen to" and "notice", and his explanations about why he's using the examples are clear and help bring his points to life conceptually.

The book begins and ends with a lot of discussion about musical theory / time, and the middle of the book is more about Dilla's life, family, music career, and death. At times I thought some of this biographical detail could have been presented more simply. In the end I think it's worth it to have this full exploration and documentation of J Dilla's life, and it's worth it to stick with the book even when feeling mired in sad family infighting after Dilla's death. Chanas brings it around in the final chapters to an eclectic exploration of contemporary experiments with time in music. This book was published in 2022 so it feels very current.

I wasn't very familiar with J Dilla before reading this book; afterwards, I feel glad to know his work and I feel the book has changed me in some way, as many people feel they were changed by Dilla's beats. It was a recommendation from my library, and a good one!
Profile Image for j.
163 reviews
May 26, 2023
I like when Charnas is ambitious enough to step beyond the bounds of simple biography -- both in those historical excursions (mostly clustered in the early sections) and the passages on musical technique. The book becomes an unpleasant thing when such a turn is all-too-unfortunately appropriate. And the milieu of the posthumous legal snafus is hardly a fun portion to putter through.

Charnas begins examining Glasper and Lamar and (sort of an odd choice) Hiatus Kaiyote but stops before he really gets going. One can't blame him -- this is hardly the real subject of the book -- but it makes the whole last section feel lopsided and unfitting as a coda.

House Shoes really comes across as the most interesting character of the whole book, even moreso than James. A sort of mix between doting acolyte and ousted Salieri, I found him as portrayed here hugely sympathetic.

Profile Image for Jake Kasten.
119 reviews
June 21, 2022
Must read for anyone who loves music. The sections breaking down the rhythmic nuances that make “dilla time” are able to convey some fairly complicated ideas in easily digestible ways. Dilla’s life is a fascinating journey of someone who knew what they wanted to do and wasn’t going to back down from that plan.

Before this book I knew and loved Jay Dee, but I didn’t realize quite how deep his influence reached in the music I love. Dilla Time has existed across genres since I first began getting serious about music in high school, so while I’ve always thought of him as one of the best - I didn’t realize he was also the original.

Loved getting to see Vijay Iyer pop up in one of the music theory sections.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
66 reviews1 follower
May 23, 2022
An incredible amount of history is covered in this book - of J Dilla, of hip hop, of Detroit’s music and just music itself. It was such an interesting lesson in the technical aspects of making music too and it built my ability to understand the singularity of his gift and of Dilla time. It’s a great one for audiobook, and the playlist and all the accompanying exercises give you so much to explore.
Profile Image for Carlos Apodaca.
16 reviews
April 17, 2023
A masterpiece of a composition that is part biography, music history, hip hop history, narrative, and love letter to the life and work of James DeWitt Yancey aka Dilla. Charnas' rhetorical approach humanizes Dilla in all his imperfections and greatness, as well as all his family, colleagues, and contemporaries that were a part of Dilla's story.
Profile Image for Matthew.
93 reviews4 followers
June 20, 2023
really good if not perfect biography of someone whose life is very difficult to write well about. also functions as a musicology book and a cultural history of alternative hip-hop, which i found impressive. remarkably detailed without being boring. very fun to listen to the songs as they’re mentioned.
Profile Image for Are Kjeldsberg Skauby.
33 reviews2 followers
March 26, 2023
Kvil i fred til en av dem største som noensinne gjor det!! Jævli dritbra bok syns æ. Cirka halvt om halvt biografi via friends&family og teknisk gjennomgang av koffor han va så geita med sausen! Kjem til å les den minst en gang til det neste året:)
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