3 Lessons Music Producers Can Learn from J Dilla

The grind to mastering a creative work-ethic inside and outside of the studio.

As producers and engineers, sometimes we might not think about our equipment like musical instruments.

Leave the music and artistry to the person in the recording booth, right?

Wrong. 100%.

We can learn a lot from J Dilla, the MPC mastermind who is arguably the greatest hip-hop producer from the early millennia. Throughout the entire evolution of hip-hop culture, J Dilla holds one of the most influential roles in the game. He was a self-starter who built the foundation that several artists continue to grow from. His creative approach inspired an outside-the-box style eliminates the chase for perfectionism in the studio.

Believe or not, we can thrive on imperfection if we let go of the reins.

How J Dilla Humanized his MPC3000 | Quantization
music production audio quantization
audio transients being quantized to a grid


Part of the beauty behind J Dilla’s technique is that he didn’t use quantization to make beats. This approach humanized his rhythms, making tracks sound less robotic.

Quantization snaps MIDI data and audio transients to the beat, ensuring a synchronous rhythm that is dead-perfect. While this may seem necessary for keeping music in time, it can feel robotic in certain situations. Part of what makes music uniquely human is the little microscopic imperfections. This is partly why many purists rave over vinyl instead of digital playback formats. As listeners, we’re attracted to down n’ dirty.


MIDI production grid quantization
Lazer Gunne Funke by J Dilla, without quantization


Rhythm and shuffle of J Dilla’s music is alive as ever. Every track is reminiscent of a smokey jazz club stacked against a vanilla encrusted back drop of caramelized break beats.

Yes, it’s that good. 

J Dilla’s rhythmic style was nothing short of revolutionary. While many producers used quantization, J Dilla completely ignored it on his MPC3000.

3 Lessons J Dilla Taught Us

Grind Like it’s Your Job

J Dilla was one of the hardest working producers in hip-hop that grew from Stones Throw Records. We all know how hard the music industry is, and we all strive to love it despite the fact. J Dilla loved his work, and he worked hard to own it at every angle. As a professional, J Dilla was very meticulous about his work from dust till dawn. 

One of the biggest challenges we face as aspiring music professionals is the infamous grind. This industry is a 7-headed best from the depths of God knows what. It’s hard. 

Nevertheless, there’s something to be said about an artist who struts the cuts and bruises outside of the studio.

Work hard for your art, and everything that you value and strive for as an artist will bleed through. Your fans will love you for it.

Gain a Master Ethic with a Student Mind

There’s no doubt that J Dilla was a master in every way, however he always stretched every muscle he had in his musical vocabulary. He became the master of the MPC but always remained in a constant state of learning. J Dilla never let himself stroll around the top of the mountain plateau.

Keep driving to reach the next platform, no matter if it’s there or not. Don’t let yourself plateau. Challenge yourself and your artistry will continuously reach greater lengths.

Be Original

I love drilling this one hard. In an industry so congested with noise from every mountaintop, there isn’t any room for a 2nd, 3rd, or other one. You have to be a standalone, self-serving machine that caters to nobody else but yourself. There’s plenty of time for crowd pleasing, even after you’re gone. You’re music has that job.

It’s important for you, as an artist, to serve yourself. Find joy in the most simplest elements of what you do and how you do it. Be mindful of your identity, embrace it, enjoy life, and do it ’till it’s done.