Words by Korby Benoit
Since my earliest experiences listening to acts like Run DMC, The Fat Boys and UTFO the sound of hip-hop always made sense to me. No one had to explain it to me or tell me that this was the “cool” music to listen to. Hip-hop has provided my musical foundation and my entry into the world of the arts.
In the spring of 1996, I was a high school student attending the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. By that time, I was a hip-hop geek who took great pride in his TDK and Maxell cassette collection of rap radio shows. I used to record Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito, The Underground Railroad with Jay Smooth, and DJ Evil Dee on Hot 97. Nevertheless, it was another Hot 97 show that introduced me to James Dewitt Yancey a.k.a. Jay Dee the artist later known as J Dilla. Future Flavors was the show and it was hosted by two of the genre’s most important and influential producers, Marley Marl and Pete Rock.
As I recall, at some point during their mix, Marley and Pete got on the mic to announce they were about to play a remix by Jay Dee. While I don’t remember if this was a remix for De La Soul, Busta Rhymes or Keith Murray, I do remember the level of excitement in the voices of the two hosts. I remember enjoying the song and like hip-hop itself, the sound just spoke to me. Yet this time in a way that was a little different; The sound was more melodic and the bass groove was simply groovier than anything I’d ever heard. At the time, it sounded like hip-hop from the future. Later I learned that Dilla was also responsible for Pharcyde’s “Runnin,” which was already one of my favorite songs in their catalog. It was evident that the producer had emerged with a new sound that rap luminaries and fans loved and longed for.
Fast-forward to last night – March 23, 2014. Manhattan’s Webster Hall hosted the first annual NY Loves Dilla, a live show celebrating the life of one of hip-hop’s greatest producers. While there are several successful Dilla tribute events around the world, it is important to note this show is part of a series of events officially assembled by the J Dilla Foundation. The J Dilla Foundation is committed to supporting inner city youth music programs across the country. Proceeds from NY Loves Dilla will be used to support The Lower East Side Girls Club, an organization offering young girls an opportunity to explore various arts, including beat making.
It was moving to see Dilla’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey as she greeted the NY crowd with the classic Detroit phrase, “Whatupdoe.” Together with A Tribe Called Quest’s Jarobi, the tone for the evening was jovial with an assortment artists who performed. The lineup was a blend of established acts and former Dilla collaborators. Acts like Talib Kweli, Tanya Morgan and 88 Keys performed while newer acts like Ayo In Motion, Nemo Achida, Soul Khan and Phony Ppl performed new material with some tweaks to some Dilla classics. During Talib Kweli’s set, Pharoahe Monch and Keith Murray also appeared as special guests, only heightening the night’s excitement.
Dilla’s popularity is at an all time high. We now have listeners in their early teens who have embraced his sound and have been doing their research. It’s not uncommon to hear a 15 year old say that Dilla is amongst his or her favorite producers. Dilla has indeed changed lives and NY surely loves Dilla as do music fans across the globe.