The Smithsonian Acquires J Dilla’s Rare Synthesizer

July 21, 2014 | Marina Galperina

The late rapper J Dilla’s custom-made Minamoog Voyager synthesizer has been recently donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The synth — along with 11 other objects used by the contributors to American music history, from Chuck Berry to Chuck D — will be shown at the “Musical Crossroads” exhibition, to inaugurate the opening of museum in 2016 on the National Mall.

The J Dilla collection, donated by J Dilla’s mother, Maureen Yancey, includes his custom-made Minamoog Voyager synthesizer, used to create his famous and distinctive beats, and his Akai MIDI Production Center 3000 Limited Edition, a rare piece of equipment, one of only 2,000 units released in 2000 and used as a drum machine. These and other related items used during the late 1990s and early 2000s helped J Dilla leave a mark on hip-hip history. He is often heralded as the first to use off-beat and purposefully imperfect beats in his music. Artists today, such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, draw on that style; some even “sample” Dilla’s original songs to re-create his sound.

J Dilla released his final album Donuts, in 2006, three days before his death. J Dilla won the 1996 Grammy nomination for producing A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes and Life. (Photo: @NMAAHC)