The Story of J-Dilla

Written by Phin Upham

James DeWitt Yancey was one of the most prolific producers in modern rap history, but you won’t find him on popular radio stations. Whether rapping under the moniker Jay Dee, MC Silk or J-Dilla, his style was almost unmistakable. His compositional album Donuts, used jazz roots to promote hip hop flair.

He was the mad scientist in a basement, mixing sounds together to create something new.

His passion for music developed at age 2. His father, a jazz vocalist, would often sing him lullabies to get him to sleep. The piano was his first instrument, perhaps a nod to his grandfather William James Yancey. His mother kept him off the streets by putting him in church, which only fed into his love of music. When he wasn’t home working on new music, he was at church singing in the choir.

J-Dilla was forced, for lack of a better word, into trade school where he studied aerospace. He turned the experience into a perpetual dance party by DJing at various events. He and his mother would often fight over his love of music. While she preferred him in school, learning valuable things that would make him money, he was actually hanging out at a house down the road recording music.

It took a long time for his parents to come around to the idea of his musical stylings, but they eventually gave their support. Dilla got his start working under Q-Tip, where he produced for artists like Janet Jackson and Busta Rhymes.

His music hit a stand still when he was diagnosed with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, which made him lose weight dramatically. He did a European tour where he performed from a wheelchair, but he didn’t last long. He died in his home in Los Angeles in 2006, his mother said the cause of death was a cardiac arrest. Dilla is remembered fondly by artists like Madlib, who still perform today.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham

What is Sound City?

This article was written by Phineas Upham

Sound City refers to one of two possible things. It could be a sound recording studio in LA, home to some of the greatest musical acts the world has ever seen. It could also be a reference to Dave Grohl’s sweeping documentary cataloguing those legendary recordings.

Grohl’s first experience with the studio was during the sessions recording “Nevermind” for Nirvana. He felt a deep connection to that place, and was inspired to direct a documentary about it after purchasing a sound console from the recording studio when it closed in 2011.

The studio was known for producing amazing recordings of drums, possibly thanks to the Neve console that Grohl would later purchase in 2011. He moved the console to his own private studio, and decided to film the history of the music that was made there. Bands like Slipknot, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fleetwood Mac all recorded tracks there.

The Neve console Grohl purchased was one of only four in the entire world. He even interviewed the console’s creator, Rupert Neve of England, for the film.

The documentary recalls the studio’s early days up until it shut its doors for good. It also features an original soundtrack recorded and performed by many of the bands that frequented Sound City. Dubbed the Sound City Players, the make-shift band has made a few public appearances to promote the release of the film.

The film was exhibited at Sundance, where it has since received overwhelmingly positive reviews and a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phineas on his LinedIn page.