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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Maya Elese

Maya Elese

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Mul­ti­lin­gual Lon­don born, bred & based print & broad­cast journ­al­ist, presenter, DJ & cul­tur­al pro­du­cer with a par­tic­u­lar love for glob­al afro-dia­spor­ic cul­tures. @mayaelese on everyth­ang.

About Maya Elese

Maya Elese
Multilingual London born, bred & based print & broadcast journalist, presenter, DJ & cultural producer with a particular love for global afro-diasporic cultures. @mayaelese on everythang.