Saj’s Hip-Hop Corner: Dilla Tribute
Ain’t it a bitch when your iPod (…or other jankier version of mp3 player) conks-out on you!? And, it’s in that very moment of having that condescending “iPod sad face” looking back-up at you, that you realize that you’ve most likely lost a lot, if not all, of those classic tracks that you never backed-up/took from friend’s libraries/actually paid for??
Well, a version of this happened to me, only it wasn’t with any kind of mp3 player, and the machine that was lost cannot ever be actually restored or backed up.
The date of my “crash” was February 10, 2006, and it wasn’t an actual piece of hardware in my possession that was destroyed, but rather a world of musical genius that was taken from all of us, much-much too soon.
James Dewitt Yancey, better know to the masses these days as Dilla (…but also as Jay Dee/J. Dilla) truly first touched my life back in 1995 with The Pharcyde’s release Labcabincalifornia.
As a long time Tribe and Pharcyde fan…I would continue to be effected by the genius of Jay Dee, often disguised to me as The Ummah. Only with Dilla’s notoriously humble attitude and mind state; myself, like many others wouldn’t ever truly get to realize what we had “Got til it [was] gone,” to quote the sample-hook from his 1997 remix collaboration with Janet Jackson.
There was not one single Jay Dee produced track on The Pharcyde’s sophomore effort that did not completely rock my world. And to my pleasure, every singe Jay Dee remix from the maxi-12” I was to purchase later-on in 1995 (Runnin’, Y?, She Said) would be even more impressive. All the while, in my adolescent and blissful ignorance I’d assumed that it was most likely Imani, Booty Brown, Fatlip or Slim Kid Tre that was to receive credit for the amazing sounds, thumps, and kicks that you could hear coming out of my bedroom, headphones or car speakers for the next 11 years. Only, it wasn’t.
Without knowing who the specific wizard behind the magic, was…his concoctions were still obviously apparent to me. A Tribe Called Quest’s 1995 single “Glamour And Glitz” from The Show soundtrack had those precise keys, bangs, claps and kicks to it that I’d grown to recognize and love instantly…who was that?!?
I was still unaware who the actual beatsmith to all of my favorite tracks actually was. With Beats… having the most shout-outs (…in comparison, by album) to this mysterious “Ummah,” I, at least, had a starting point. But again…similar to my hunch regarding the Pharcyde, I’d naively assumed that The Ummah must have been composed of existing group members Tip, Shaheed…maybe Phife…Jarobi, possibly. But again, Jay Dee eluded me.
The wool, unfortunately, would not be pulled from over my eyes for another 3 years. Even as I blasted works that I’d already owned…Jay Dee’s beautifully crafted Janet Jackson remix, or pulled out that Keith Murray Enigma CD that I’d purchased at the old Tower Records in Lincoln Center, as soon as I’d hit that mesmerizing and blatantly obvious Ummah creation, “Dangerous Ground” at the listening station; I had no idea that it was Dilla’s genius making my headphones bump-and-kick to every beat.
Although it didn’t do much financially for the artists…believe it or not, I had Napster to thank for my introduction to Jay Dee. I had put my T3 (…strange coincidence, for all my SV fans out there…) connection to use HARD, once I had my off-campus apartment; and like any good Tribe fan, set out to obtain every bite of music available, at the time.
Now, for all my bloggers/DJs out there…there can be no bigger pet peeve than mis-labeled tracks or information. But, to this day, I wish I could personally thank the user who had mis-labeled a number of Slum Village’s yet to be released Fantastic Vol. 1 tracks as being those of ATCQ.
From my low-quality version of random Fantastic Vol. 1 cuts, outtakes and white labels, I’d make it my mission to find, purchase, own, and at the very least hear all of this musical genius’ work.
I was even fortunate enough to see Tribe and Slum Village perform together back in 1998 at Georgetown’s McDonough Arena. For an opener, and even with all of the wasted and privileged students in the audience, chatting-away and passing time until a recognizable Quest song came on; Baatin, T3 and the maestro Jay Dee still had a way of commanding the entire arenas attention. In their coordinated and colorful (yet, still cool looking…) Abercrombie Sport outfits, and gut-long iced out chains; the trio went through every banging track of their yet to be released Fantastic Vol. 2.
That would be the first and last time I ever saw Dilla.
So, back to the jump…you can imagine (…if it hasn’t already affected you…) how I felt that fateful February day in 2006, when I’d learned that the musical genius that I’d grown to respect, promote, and love was taken from all of us.
To be honest, I’ve almost felt a little bit guilty of the, at times, selfish feelings I’ve had when it comes to the loss of Jay Dee. Sometimes I feel like, some force of evil came into my life and not only “jacked my iPod’s memory,” but also went digging into the crates of records and CDs that I’d obtained over the last 15 years; located the ones that had the most wear and use, and the ones I loved most; found the source of those beautiful creations, and villainously took it away from all of us. I literally feel robbed when it comes to J. Dilla and his work.
The bittersweet upside to the legend of Jay Dee, however is the notoriety and fame his legacy continues to receive after his physical passing. Since that very week in 2006, there have been countless concerts, fundraisers and tributes to the talents and genius of James Yancey…from DC, to Detroit, Denmark and back.
Most recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a tribute held up at Brooklyn’s South Paw, and MC’ed by Phonte of Little Brother with non-stop-Dilla-tunes spun by a number of artists including Jay Dee’s old friend and fellow Detroit native DJ Houseshoes.
The night was literally electric with the crowd becoming more and more enthused with each and every track.Fans, MC’s, DJ’s and producers alike could be sighted all around partying in unison to Dilla’s music, around every corner and on both floors…From Dice Raw to Evil Dee.
I had been out of the area traveling. And to my surprise came back to the DC area in the week following Presidents Day, with news of a local Dilla Tribute. There have been more than a few good ones in the area, mostly affiliated with Pookies Gallery, and held either at Mirror’s or Liv. At these gatherings you’ll find the usual suspects, good music, good times, good people. But the event that was about to bless DC this time, was on a whole new level.
We, in the DC area (DMV, if you’re down…) are fortunate to have the XM Satellite radio studios right in our backyard. The amazing artists that come through the facility is like a literal who’s-who of the music business, regardless of what type/genre of tunes, news or information floats your boat. When I’d learned that there was going to be a live taping of a J. Dilla tribute, featuring some of my most favorite local (…and don’t take that to suggest sub-par, because DC is on FIRE, right now…) artists, Talib Kweli, the legendary Pete Rock, and Mrs. Maureen Yancey, Jay Dee’s mother??? I HAD to be there…
Of course, even though I RSVP and attend just about every single Pookie’s event, I was somehow left out of the loop on this, and had to get in via my boy who works for Red Bull/Red Bull Music Academy, a main sponsor of the event (…GOOD look, Vic!!!).
Dilla was smiling on me that evening, and even though I’d missed Vic’s text at 6:59pm, telling me to get to the studios in NE, DC in 45 minutes; and I didn’t see it until 7:26pm. I jumped into the nearest cab in Rosslyn and paid dude double to make it happen…and it did.
You could feel the energy, just walking into the waiting area. A lot of beautiful people who enjoyed the same beautiful music created by a legend. There was definitely “that feeling” in the air. And, to be in the presence of two of hip-hop’s most recognizable names, and Mrs. Yancey (…quite possibly one of the sweetest women on Earth)…it really was beyond words.
The most meaningful, and in retrospect blatantly obvious realization of the night actually and appropriately came to me via Mrs. Yancey. At an earlier Dilla tribute in DC in 2007, I was fortunate enough to hear about an occasion when Grap Luva of INI and Pete Rock went to Detroit to visit Dilla. This story is retold from Pete’s perspective again, as well as from that of Mrs. Yancey (I invite you all to check out the broadcast here…it’s AMAZING!!!).
As a hip hop fan, I too hold Pete on the same level as Dilla did, (…and for me, that’s the same level that Dilla is on…as one of Hip Hop’s greatest). To see Pete Rock, accepting the praises and admiration that Dilla was unable to convey in the present day, via Mrs. Yancey…was simply incredible.
[Ed. Note: Wow. What a post by Saj. Raw emotion for Dilla. Here’s some more great stuff. You can download the entire broadcast at ProgHipHop. Joel over at Kingpin took some ill photos and Chris Burns had some more great words on BYT here. More great photos here at Snap Photography. Photos of Brooklyn event courtesy of TONE.]