On Thursday 19th October, Under the Bridge in Fulham played tribute to the legacy of legendary producer and rapper J Dilla. Titled the Jaydee Made This Tour, the event was almost literally a family affair as his cousin Que D opened the night and little brother Illa J was special guest for the evening. The night wasn’t solely limited to blood relatives of Dilla either, and close collaborators T3 from Slum Village, and rap duo Frank n Dank joined the line-up.
There’s an oft repeated saying on many hip-hop forums that MF Doom is your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper. Using the same reasoning, Dilla is your favourite producer’s favourite producer. Kanye West once said, “we have to make music and we gotta think, if Dilla was alive, would he like this?” Madlib, 9th Wonder, and ‘Ye all cite him as a major influence on their sound. Such was Dilla’s effect that by the time of his death in early 2006, he occupied a semi-mythical spot in hip-hop as an exceptional producer. His impact spread beyond hip-hop, with him pioneering the neo-soul genre and influencing contemporary jazz musicians with his languid atmospheric sounds.
Hailing from Detroit, J Dilla was born James Dewitt Yancey and always seemed destined for great musical prowess — his mother was a former opera singer and his father was a former jazz bassist. Growing up his work ethic was fabled, with family members having to remind him to eat as he was always locked away in the studio composing soulful jazz inspired and experimental beats. Subsequently, he started garnering attention as an intelligent and gifted beat smith and eventually produced for notable artists such as De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Common, A Tribe Called Quest and D’Angelo.
Aside from the kinship, the acts owed a lot to Dilla, not just musically, but also in spirit. Que D opened the night with an eclectic DJ set shouting out the legacy of Dilla before kicking off by playing James Brown and continuing into a wonderful soul heavy set that Dilla would have approved. A few technical problems with the sub system slightly marred the audio quality, but otherwise it was a decent tribute.
T3 represented Slum Village with a precise and energetic set. Dilla was a member of Slum Village for some years, and arguably produced some of his best work with them. Opening with ‘Fall In Love’, it was a brilliant highlight of how well Dilla could craft airy romantic and smooth timeless songs and how personable T3 can sound on the mic. T3 hyped the crowd up with an animated performance of ‘I Don’t Know’. The key part of his set was the gorgeous ‘The Look of Love, Pt. 1’. It was a stunning part of the night, hearing the audience roar, “you know what love is/Ask SV it’s all bullshit”.
Next up, Dilla’s younger brother Illa J came through to represent the Yancey clan. By his own right, you can tell he grew up around other musicians (he spat his first bars when he was thirteen, over his older brother’s beats). He had a terrific stage presence and a polished rigour in his set, able to effortlessly weave between singing and rapping. Has he made his mind up as to which one he prefers more? Who knows. He seemed just as comfortable singing the jazzy ‘Timeless’, straight off the acclaimed Yancey Boys album and covering D’Angelo’s ‘Brown Sugar’ as he was spitting over the chilled ‘All Good’. Even when he changed pace and covered the more frantic ‘Fuck the Police’ (by his brother, not NWA), he seemed perfectly at home. If there’s any downside to Illa’s set, it was the fact that it was relatively short and omitted some of his most notable songs. Illa J has an impressive catalogue and it would be nice to see him exploiting some of that by playing ‘DFTF’ or other tracks from the Yancey Boys album. On the plus side, he did perform some new music, bringing on Vanessa White to sing ‘Low Key’, an old school sounding RnB song with fantastic vocals from White and verse from Illa.
Frank n Dank, closed off the night with an immensely fun set, even incorporating a hip-hop quiz involving the audience. The duo, consisting of Frank Bush and Derrick Harvey, were easily the most personable act of the night, able to veer between dropping party driven tracks like ‘Pause’ and ‘Take Your Clothes Off’, and dropping insights about Dilla’s legacy in between songs. They also played several songs off 48 Hours such as ‘Ma Dukes’, an album produced by Dilla entirely from scratch without samples. ‘Push’, a reggae influenced joint, was the highlight of their set. Staying true to the party vibe of their set, Frank n Dank ended the set by inviting audience members onto the stage for a dance off to soul, funk and disco music. Yes, one of those members invited on stage was myself.
The Jaydee Made This tour is steadily making its way through Europe right now, and for fans of Dilla, it promises to be a wonderful blast of nostalgia, but also a fantastic demonstration of the incredible music of Dilla’s family and friends.