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The Dilla Feel, Part I: The History (J Dilla and The Soulquarians)

This post is part of a 4-part series on the rhythmic style of J Dilla.
Part I: (History) · Part II (Theory) · Part III (Grooves) · Part IV (Application)


The Dilla feel has its origins in the late 90s with the legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla and the neo-soul/RnB/hip-hop collective The Soulquarians.

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Interval Reharmonization Chart

“Every single melody note works with every single bass note”

This is a line from a WIRED video featuring Jacob Collier and Herbie Hancock, but I’ve seen similar ideas espoused in various places. The concept is that for any given pair of bass and melody note, there exists a way to harmonize them. Put another way, there are 12 possible intervals that can exist between a bass and melody note, and each of those intervals fits with at least one chord.

This is a chart of the 12 intervals and all their possible harmonizations that composers can reference when looking to change up their harmony.

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Steve Gadd Drum Solo on “Samba Song”

A transcription of Steve Gadd’s drum solo on Samba Song from the 1978 Chick Corea record Friends:

This is a prime example of how note density and orchestration can be used to provide shape in a drum solo. It can be roughly divided into four- and eight-bar sections, the first of which contains very sparse rhythms orchestrated between the snare and cowbell. New pieces of the kit are introduced and explored one by one, starting with the hi-hat, followed by the bass drum, toms, and eventually cymbals.
Each section layers on more rhythmic density and complexity. Mm. 1-17 move from separated notes and figures to long streams on 16th note paradiddle patterns. Mm. 20-24 features a highly syncopated pattern of off-beat 16th note accents. 32nd notes are introduced at m.29 in the form of a hemiola pattern of alternating 16ths and 32nds. This is followed by an unrelenting stream of sextuplets at m.33 (mathematically slower than the 32nd notes, but they are played continuously rather than broken up). Finally, at m.37, there is a rhythmic simplification back to 16th notes to close out the solo.

Note: I notated mm.29-32 with flams instead of 32nd notes to emphasize the swiss army triplet nature of the figure. It sounds like straight 32nd notes when played by Gadd.

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Fleet Foxes – Montezuma

Key: C

Intro

  I
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

The first two bars only have the root and fifth. Then the third is introduced in the third bar. There is also a little 4-5 hammer-on bit that happens at the end of every second measure.

Verse

  I         V9  I     Imaj7(6)  ii(6)
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  iii       ii        V   IV    V   Vadd6 V7
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

The voicings and parallel movement of chords are important to the feel of this song. These are the guitar chords:

 

Montezuma Guitar Chords

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Father John Misty – Strange Encounter

Key: D
Note: This song could also be analyzed in B minor.

Intro/Verse

  vi        vimM9     I         V9/V
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

Bass does a 6-b6-5-#4 chromatic descent under these chords.

Pre-Chorus

  IVmaj9    I         V9 
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | x2

  V9                  IVmaj7
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

Chorus

  I         Iadd6     Imaj7     Imaj9add6
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  IVmaj7              V7b9/vi   I
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - |

  IVmaj7              V7b9/vi  
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

Father John Misty – Nancy From Now On

Key: F

Note: The guitar mostly plays triads and sometimes 7ths. The upper extensions occur primarily in the backing voices.

Intro

  I
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

Verse

  I         Iadd6     Imaj7     Imaj7add6
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  V9/V                V9
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  vi7                 V9/V
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  V9
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - |

  I
| - - - - | - - - - |

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