Dilla Time will document, according to the project’s description, “the brief life and pervasive and largely uncredited influence of music producer J Dilla.” Dilla worked with some of hip-hop’s biggest names throughout the ’90s and into the early ’00s, including Questlove, as well as Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Erykah Badu. Other collaborators include Ye, Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams, and his influence can be heard in the newer generation of hip-hop like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Hiatus Kaiyote.
Thompson and Two One Five will reteam on the doc with Summer of Soul producer Joseph Patel, who will produce and co-direct with Darby Wheeler. New York Times best-selling author Dan Charnas, Cinetic Media, and Scenario Media are also partnering on the project.
Dilla Time will be produced in cooperation with the estate of James Dewitt Yancey (aka J Dilla), which benefits his two children, younger brother and mother. In a statement, the estate and its production arm, Pay Jay Productions Inc., said it was “proud to give its blessing to an amazing project created by discerning and talented filmmakers who knew J Dilla.”
Continued the statement: “We trust the judgment of Ahmir, Joseph, Dan, and Scenario to elevate Dilla’s life, music, and legacy to their rightful place in the canon of music’s great innovators; and their film is the only documentary project we have endorsed.”
The doc will be based on Charnas’ best-seller Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, which chronicles the life of the Detroit-born artist, who died at 32 of a rare blood disease. It will also dive into Dilla’s impact on modern pop music, most notably through his pioneering and original use of the drum machine. The project is described as “part biography, part musicology, and part musical meditation, featuring insight from some of the most influential and innovative voices of modern music.”
Thompson’s Two One Five partners Zarah Zolhman, Shawn Gee, and Tariq Trotter will also act as executive producers on Dilla Time. Along with Patel and Wheeler, Charnas, Rodrigo Bascuñán and Anupa Mistry (Netflix’s Hip-Hop Evolution) will produce. Also executive producing is Dana O’Keefe and Cinetic Media, which will also represent distribution rights.
“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,” said Questlove in a statement. “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 never felt before. I’m so honored to be a part of bringing his story to the world through this documentary.”
Two One Five recently acted as executive producers on doc Descendant about the discovery of the last known slave ship to arrive in America illegally transporting enslaved Africans. After a 2022 Sundance premiere, Netflix and President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground acquired the film, which is now due for release on Oct. 21.