In a week filled with both celebration and remembrance, the UK hip hop fraternity came out in force to pay homage to the life and work of a man described as a true ‘hip hop genius’.
James ‘Jay Dee’ Yancey, most affectionately known as J Dilla, has been described by the likes of Busta Rhymes as not only being a producer, but the best producer. Dilla gained critical acclaim within the underground hip hop circuit in the mid nineties for his collaborations with artists such as Busta, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common and The Pharcyde.
On the eve of what would have been J Dilla’s 36th birthday, and just days away from the anniversary of his untimely death in 2006, some the most prominent UK based Hip Hop DJ’s came together for the annual J Dilla Changed My Life tribute.
The night hosted by The Doctor’s Orders, was billed as “the not to be missed event of the year” and raised £6000 for Lupus UK and The J-Dilla foundation, with more anticipated to be added from forthcoming tribute events. Over a thousand revellers rocked London’s iconic Scala, spotting the like of Kyza Smirnoff, TY and Mangaliso asi in the crowd. It would appear that the hype was more than justified – it was most definitely a gathering of true hip hop heads and Dilla fans.
The energy from the back of the main room to backstage was electric. DJ Lok who always tears it up, kicked off the evenings proceedings with Mr Thing (BBE / Extended Players) and Shortee Blitz (Kiss FM / Extended Players) wrapped it up, and all the DJs in between made it the ultimate Dilla discography and celebration of a musical icon. In the words of the man behind the night, Spin Doctor (The Doctor’s Orders), ‘they had all dug deep’.
When Sarah Love dropped the Slum Village classic The Look Of Love the crowd erupted. My personal highlight came much later on hearing Grammy nominated The Light, originally featured on Common’s ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ (2000) album. Singing along from backstage was the nearest I got to taking part in the Dillaoke or J Dilla inspired hip hop Karaoke which was hosted in the second room.
As a music lover, I think of my life in terms of moments and musical landscapes, and it was back in 2001 that I first heard The Light. It was my first ever radio show on Avenues FM’s in a makeshift studio reminiscent of a child’s tree house or secret den. That day in September changed everything for me; it was the day that I truly fell in love in more ways then one and that was the moment when, without realising J Dilla changed my life.
Dilla propelled so many artists and particularly the DJs featured on the night to discover a genuine love of all music, not just hip hop. The magic of his craftsmanship could be found in his samples and those famous “Dilla drums” which he constructed with the precision of a surgeon. For Kidkanevil, Dilla’s genius is on a par with that of artist such as Jimmy Hendrix and Miles Davis. For DJ Bruce Wayne it was discovering other music as a result of Dillas samples. Dilla’s influence permeated the Drum & Bass productions of Marc Mac (4Hero) and according to Morgan Spacek who had the privilege of working alongside the late producer; Dilla was quite simply a musical magician.
The beauty of music is that it lives on well after its creators have made their final departure from the stage and Dilla’s ‘special foot print’ is evident throughout hip hop’s modern offerings. In the words of raising hip hop star, Mangaliso asi: “When studying hip hop, in particular the hip hop breaks during the golden era, if you skipped past Dilla you would be missing out a whole section that you don’t even realise is so instrumental to the future, the past and the present of hip hop”.
J-Dilla and his music will, without doubt remain forever a part of hip hop because once you’re in the know; it’s just the beginning of a life long love affair. Those of us hardcore Dilla fans are now preparing to hit Brighton for the next instalment of J Dilla tribute events on Saturday 20th February 2010. For further information and to make sure you don’t miss out visit: http://www.thedoctorsorders.com.
By: Thuto Mali | Photos © Bruno Nguyen