Last year, after the J Dilla Changed My Life Tour, Houseshoes said that he had never seen anything as crazy as having five hundred fans who couldn't speak english rap every word to every Jay Dee song he could find. Almost three years ago, I wrote my first piece about Dilla, and about the movement that has come to span the globe. It seems like February is as much Dilla History Month as it is Black History Month...I wanted to share an abreviated version of that article I wrote in July of 2006 as a reminder of what this man has meant to... well... our world...
Most nights to be remembered start slowly, if only because you remember vividly the events that led up to the sunset. The taste fest is, as it always is, a melting pot of peoples, foods, colors, and activities. From across the barricaded street that plays host to this event yearly, kindred minds take mental snapshots of those who are there for the same reasons. “J Dilla Changed My Life” and “Big Proof” T-Shirts serve as beacons of light in this growing sea of people. The a cappella choir is singing to my left as I make my way towards the soon-to-be-rocked stage area...
Two hours spent discussing the impact of fallen legends, creating relationships based on a love of inspired music, and dancing pass quickly. The night’s master of ceremonies takes the stage to introduce a local legend, Houseshoes, who dedicates his entire set to “hip-hop’s shy giant” J Dilla (a.k.a. Jay Dee).
The purpose of the evening gains clarity. Dilla, born James Yancey, died of Lupus in February of this year, just weeks before his first true solo album, Donuts, was released. On his deathbed, he handed off what will be his second posthumous release in The Shining, a preview of which Shoes’ crowd was made privy to. Between the classic cuts from Dilla’s discography and some of the music he sampled to create his legacy, Shoes found time to mix some music for the b-boys in the crowd, who happily battled in the isle-ways at the tail end of his set.
Before leaving the stage, Shoes took a few minutes to speak to the people. He said that he, as opposed to a moment of silence, wanted to hear everyone have a moment of madness in the memory of “the greatest producer ever… The producer that makes every other producer look fucking stupid...”
And the crowd goes wild...
The real celebration of the evening is at 5th Avenue Bar in Comerica Park. Masses gathered for the preview of The Shining. Houseshoes is in attendance along with many of the artists Dilla has worked with from Detroit over the past 10 years including 5 Elaments, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, Karriem Riggins (who was given the daunting task of putting the finishing touches on The Shining – a request Dilla made to Karriem on his deathbed), and of course Dilla’s Midwest comrade Common. Each of the featured artists on the upcoming album performs their song and pays their respects. Guilty Simpson’s guest spot is opposite MED (a.k.a. Medaphor) on “Jungle Love.” Simpson’s raspy vocals provide the nearing capacity crowd with their new anthem. “J Detroit-I-to-the-L-L-A.”
The truth is that it was a night where every cup seemed to runneth over. Few songs were completed during the tribute if only because there was so much music to play. The line for 5th Ave. was winding its way around Comerica Park by 11 PM. There were more artists and people who knew Dilla than could be counted let alone interviewed.
“[Dilla] saw… He was, is, and will always be what the Motown era was. That’s what he was to hip-hop,” Detroit emcee Mizz Corona (most notable because of a cameo in the movie 8 Mile) says between must-not-miss moments of the tribute. Heads nod in agreement at that thought throughout the evening. “From doin’ what he did, every day, Dilla created a whole new style of music.”
“Through his work he set trends, and even through his death he’s changing the game.” Elzhi, one half of the group with whom Dilla first made his name known as a Producer and Emcee, Slum Village, said after a soul-filled performance of “Thelonious” alongside Common (one of the various Dilla produced tracks from Common’s Like Water For Chocolate). “Dilla did what every artist would want to do, transforming the sound, and immortalizing themselves in the music… I just thank god for ever knowing him. He gave me a chance. He gave me my first check and everything. It’s always big ups to Dilla. He’s gonna live through us.”
It was kind of fitting. The tribute fell only a few nights before July 4th – Independence Day. From everything said and done by Jay Dee, and everything echoed by those he left behind to carry on his legacy, his music was the embodiment of independence.
And despite his fame -- despite moving to the other side of the country -- he never forgot Detroit.
Rest in Beats.
Ruff Draft Muffff...
Turn It Up.
Raise It Up.
J Dilla Changed The World.