Detroit hip hop duo Frank n Dank opened their set at the Jazz Café fondly reminiscing on one of their last performances with J Dilla, recalling how his lupus and rare blood condition reached such a critical stage that he had to be carried onto the stage in a wheelchair for a show. Despite being on the brink of death he completely rocked the stage and even jumped in for a freestyle cypher.
Ancedotes like this remind the crowd here at Jazz Café why we all came out on a cold Sunday night, 14 years after Jay Dee’s untimely passing. His immeasurable love for music, pioneering production techniques and firmly wearing the crown for being your favourite producers, favourite producer. Everyone from Madlib, Kanye West, 9th Wonder to more contemporary producers such as Knxwledge, Mndsgn and Tom Misch have openly recognised J Dilla’s influence on revolutionising hip hop beats. J Dilla’s signature off kilter beats are a result of his pioneering act to turn off quantisation on drum machines, thus giving his beats a more natural sound. Questlove famously likened J Dilla’s drums at first as “sound[ing] like a drunk 3 year old.” However, soon admitted playing without quantisation is a liberating experience. That is a key word in describing J Dilla’s music- liberating.
J Dilla Changed My Life at The Jazz Café is an annual event celebrating the life and work of J Dilla. The UK’s only official Jay Dee tribute sanctioned by the James Yancey Foundation & Dilla’s Family, hosted & curated by The Doctor’s Orders. All proceeds from the tickets will go to the James Yancey Foundation which aims to uplift youth in inner city areas through music and the arts.
DJ’s Mr Thing, Kidkanevil, Spin Doctor, DJ Matman, DJ LoK and Russ Ryan all took turns to bump J Dilla’s beats taking us on a sonic voyage through his discography. Neo-soul classics such as Got Til It’s Gone (Janet Jackson). Club bangers such as Find a Way (A Tribe Called Quest), Get Dis Money (Slum Village) and Woo Ha (Busta Rhymes). DJ LoK took us through a lesser known Dilla era- Jay Dee as a rapper, although a little less lively than other sections of the night, an amazing insight for J Dillaphiles. DJ Mataman showed off his crate digging skills and gave us J Dilla breaks, edits and remixes. Frank n Dank gave us an energetic set interspersed with a breakdance cypher, and ancedotes about legends gone too soon like Jay Dee and Phife Dawg.
The fact that all the DJ’s effortlessly managed to play hit after hit- without repeating any songs throughout the night, is a testament to the breadth and richness of J Dilla’s discography. Doctor’s Orders could have continued for another hour easily. I remember leaving Jazz Café and thinking there were so many more tracks they could have played- especially J Dilla’s productions as part of Slum Village.
J Dilla continues to have such a profound influence on hip hop and music fans till this day. The thing that struck me the most was the demographic of the crowd. Usually, at these types of events front and centre of the stage is a slightly more mature crowd. Heads who would have been young adults at the peak of J Dilla’s prime. However, this time there was a group in their early to mid twenties occupying this prime spot, and letting the funky baselines vibrate through their body, spitting along to every bar and never missing a beat.
They do say energy never dies, and J Dilla’s music and influence lives on in each one of us.
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