On February 10, 2006 music lost one of its most gifted composers, James Dewitt Yancey, known to most as J Dilla. The Motor City MC and producer had stamped hip-hop and R&B with lowpass filtered masterpieces, crafting hits for The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, his own group Slum Village and many, many more. His life and music were most recently commemorated on Common’s song “Rewind That” from this 2014 album, Nobody’s Smiling.
Since Dilla’s untimely passing, due to complications from the disease Lupus, his family and peers have been dedicated to keeping his legacy alive with celebrations across the world including “Donuts Are Forever” and “Dilla Day.” Until recently, Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey, affectionately referred to as “Ma Dukes,” has helped to spearhead the Dilla Day celebrations in Detroit.
“Dilla Day Detroit wasn’t just to honor his music but to make people aware that he was a Detroiter,” Ms. Yancey tells WatchLOUD.com. “The past few years have been [the result of] the ground work of people who came along in the industry with him. Those were the foot soldiers that promoted the Dilla Days in Detroit. Dilla has a star in Detroit now in the Motown Walk Of Fame, he was added with over 125 other people that had been waiting. I think a lot of people thought after he passed that he was from California. A lot of things being done were focused on the California area because that’s where he passed away. That made it a bit of work to bring the attention back to Detroit because he loved being from Detroit. A lot of famous people have come out of that Conant Gardens area.”
However, in 2015 she is expanding the Dilla Day festivities into a full weekend in Miami, FL.
“It was barely summer when people started hitting us up about Dilla Day. And really in Detroit the interest has not been what people would think,” says Ms. Yancey, who has herself relocated to the D.C. area. “Being a Detroiter all my life I just wanted it to be there. It was Dilla’s hometown, my hometown, born and raised. My mama was born and raised there and my Grandfather has been there since he was 14, so we’re talking about over 100 years. So of course Detroit was very much a part of us and Dilla’s heritage. That being said, the following and interest fan wise was not great in Detroit like people would think. His fan base has formed across the water, plus Canada and the UK. It’s not just with him, it seems that way with most U.S. artists, that they go away and come back and are appreciated. Dilla was no exception.”
With an eye to moving the festival, Japan was first considered for a new location, but promoters in Florida showed strong interest. So in conjunction with Ill Points, Nature Sounds, Addicted Affairs & DNA a full slate of events will take place over the span of four days from February 5th to 8th in Miami. February 7th would have been Dilla’s 41st birthday.
“I like the idea of it being the full weekend because you have a lot of different artists coming in, both legendary and new on the ticket. You’re bringing in different genres, time periods and followers. Not just Dilla’s music. People will get to see the elements of hip-hop in action.”
Artists who influenced Dilla and who were influenced by him will be taking part in performances, workshops and panels in different locations around the Midtown/Wynwood area in Miami.
“Talib Kweli was with Dilla the day he passed and still honors Dilla in his work. He’s a veteran in his own right,” says Ms. Yancey. “Pete Rock was Dilla’s idol. Much of his music and the way he composed and thought about music, and the love he had came because of Pete Rock. He made it known during his time when he lived that Pete was his idol. Joey Badass is new but he’s a follower of Dilla and brings the younger generation to the scene. I’m sure being in NY Joey has had a lot of seasoning from the legends still there. Anyone who comes will learn so much about the legend.”
Dilla Weekend is a testament to what is really an on-going tribute to the man’s life work (“I listen to Dilla’s old stuff daily. It keeps me energized and makes me feel good,” says Ma Dukes.) Even today artists like Nas and Jay Electronica are reusing Dilla’s compositions to pay homage to their timeless impact.
“I heard it (laughs). It’s nice,” she’s says of Nas’ “The Season” released last year, where the Queens vet rhymes over the “Gobstopper” instrumental from Dilla’s 2006 album Donuts. “I’d rather he had selected something else from him. I’m trying to move forward from the Donuts era stuff. How many times can you re-do the same thing? It’s like an over baked cake. (laughs) There’s so much more of Dilla. I do understand that the young people who came along didn’t know about Dilla until he passed so that’s where they came in at…Donuts.”
Dilla’s friend and fellow producer DJ House Shoes expressed a similar frustration on Twitter stating that Dilla made specific beats for Nas that he could have used.
“I didn’t know he said that but he spoke the truth on that,” says Ma Dukes. “That’s not the first time Dilla specifically made a song for an individual. He was very instinctual about what would take an artist over the top and sometimes they didn’t hear it right away. That happened when Common did Electric Circus. He did what Common wanted but he felt and heard different things that he could have done at that time. An artist grows with his music and that’s where he was at the time. Of course we know now he’s made it to the top and I’m very proud of him.”
Common dedicated the song “Rewind That” from his latest album Nobody Smiling to the time he spent with Dilla in L.A. before he died. “We got an apartment just so we could spark it/ MP in the front room, records in the closet.” Common recalls a TV stand that Dilla bought him that he hopes to put a Grammy Award on someday.
“We talked about ‘Rewind That’ before he did it,” she says. “He reached out to see how I felt about it and of course I gave a thumbs up. I’m very proud of him. I was very happy because that record speaks truth. Everything he said in that record about how he would come in, how he felt and things that went on was true because we were all living under the same roof for a few years. I’m hoping he does win an Oscar [for that TV stand] but that Golden Globe was just as spectacular.”
For more info Dilla Day weekend and to purchase tickets go to this link at SquadUp.com