J Dilla, born James Yancey, died on February 10, 2006, three days after his 32nd birthday. While he was a successful rapper, songwriter and producer, J Dilla’s net worth was affected by his illness.
In January 2002, after returning from a gig in Europe, Dilla went to his parent’s home saying he had a cold or the flu. However, it was later discovered that he had a rare and life-threatening blood disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or TTP. While in the hospital in 2005, Dilla worked on his second studio album Donuts which was released on February 7, 2006. Donuts was the follow-up to his 2001 release Welcome 2 Detroit, when Dilla went by the name Jay Dee. According to the New York Times, in addition to his mother, he was survived by his father, Beverly Yancey, who died in 2012, and his two daughters Ja’Mya Yancey and Ty’Monae Whitlow. Dilla had never married.
The Detroit-raised hip-hop rapper and producer had a short but remarkable music career. He had worked with big acts like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Common, and Erykah Badu.
The New York Times reported at the time of his death that his mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey said that Dilla had lupus and had been recently hospitalized for pneumonia. She said that his cause of death was cardiac arrest. Although there are unsubstantiated estimates of what J Dilla’s net worth was —ranging from less than a million to over $11 million, it has been reported by the Detroit Free Press that his hospital bills were quite substantial.
The outlet wrote that the producer had insurance through the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists but had to pay some of the bills. His hospital stays could be around $200,000 each time, dialysis $1,800, his weekly hemoglobin shot $1,800, prescriptions that cost up to $2,000, and costly copays for specialists. The rapper intended to fulfill projects like the one he had lined up with Will Smith to make more money to pay bills and leave money for his daughters Ja’Mya and Ty’Monet.
His mother, who told the Detroit Free Press that she would work the rest of her life if she had to pay the bills, created the James Dewitt Yancey Foundation (formerly the J Dilla Foundation) with her husband, Toney Smith, to honor her son and also provide music education. The duo also runs the record label Vintage Vibez Music Group, according to Rolling Stone.
One can only surmise what J Dilla’s network was when he died. However, the Detroit rapper had projects in the works and made a lot of music before his death. His financial status may not have been that of other well-known rappers and producers. Still, his musical legacy stands on its own, and it is obvious the respect and admiration held for him by his contemporaries.
According to HipHopDx, Common, who was once roommates with Dilla, spoke of their collaboration on the Grammy-nominated second single from his 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate. “The Light.” “Sonically, I give all the respect, honor and credit to J Dilla because he produced the music. It was a sample from a beautiful Bobby Caldwell song called “Open Your Eyes. Dilla played me the beat he made for it, and I was like ‘Yo, this is incredible.’”
While a guest on Talib Kweli’s The People’s Party podcast, music producer and rapper Madlib shared his connection with the late rapper: “When I met [Dilla,] it was like we knew each other for years. Me and him could sit in a room and not even talk and still connect musically. He continued. “Same type of energy, basically.” “That’s my beat brother. He’s king of the beats to me,” the producer stated.
Oscar-winner Questlove, who is the producer of Dilla Time, a documentary based on the New York Times bestseller Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas, has also expressed his respect and admiration for Dilla in a statement according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Explaining musical genius is my mission. To be able to tell the world about the musician that had the most influence on me is a dream come true,” stated the Roots frontman. “Not just on me, but on an entire generation of musicians that everyone knows and loves. J Dilla was our teacher. And what he taught us was how to feel rhythm in a way we had ever felt before. I’m so honored to be a part of bringing his story to the world through this documentary.”
Although the monetary value of his work may not be quantifiable based on dollars and cents, his lasting impact on the music industry and those he worked with carries a far more important weight.
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