J Dilla documentary in works from Oscar-winning 'Summer of Soul' team

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The Oscar-winning team behind the hit documentary "Summer of Soul" has turned its eyes to a new documentary subject ripe for the telling: the life and musical legacy of late Detroit hip-hop producer J Dilla.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of The Roots, the Academy Award-winning director of 2021's "Summer of Soul," has signed on for a new project about the life and legacy of James "J Dilla" Yancey, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Dilla Time," a new documentary about late Detroit hip-hop producer J Dilla, is in the works thanks to the Oscar-winning team behind "Summer of Soul."

The doc, "Dilla Time," will be based on author Dan Charnas' Dilla biography of the same name, which was released to great acclaim earlier this year.

According to a description of the doc, "Dilla Time" will document "the brief life and pervasive and largely uncredited influence of music producer, J Dilla." Dilla worked with hip-hop luminaries including A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Erykah Badu before his death in 2006 at the age of 32.

Thompson is partnering with "Summer of Soul" producer Joseph Patel, who will produce and co-direct along with Darby Wheeler. Scenario Media and Cinetic Medi are also a part of the project.

The doc has received the approval of Dilla's estate, which will cooperate in the production, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In a statement, the estate said it was "proud to give its blessing to an amazing project created by discerning and talented filmmakers who knew J Dilla. 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."

Joseph Patel, from left, Robert Fyvolent, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, and David Dinerstein accept the award for best documentary feature for "Summer Of Soul: (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

In a statement, Questlove stressed the influence Dilla had on him as an artist.

"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," he said. "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."

Charnas, author of 2011's "The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop," spent more than four years reporting "Dilla Time," and he conducted more than 200 interviews with Dilla's family members, friends and contemporaries for the project.

"Dilla Time" covers the contributions of late Detroit hip-hop producer James "J Dilla" Yancey.

"There was a way in which his musical innovations had not been understood, properly framed or given a name," Charnas told The News earlier this year. "'Dilla Time' is an argument for James Yancey to put him on the same level with people like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. It sounds crazy to hear it like that, but I really do believe his accomplishment is centenary, something on the level of a 100-year cycle."