It will be eight years this Monday that James Yancey, better known to hip-hop fans all over the world as producer/rapper/DJ/remixer J Dilla (or Jay Dee, to all the diehards), passed away from lupus complications, just three days after his 32nd birthday.
Since his passing, Dilla’s legacy as a hip-hop trailblazer has only gotten stronger. Artists who either have collaborated with him – or just admire him – sing his praises and pay tribute to him through their work. Fans accumulate with each passing year, as they discover the abundance of music he created during his too-brief career.
And then there are those who actually go about throwing birthday celebrations for the late, great hip-hopper – which is exactly what “Dillamental: Jay Dee Day” is all about.
Technically, “Dillamental” is two celebrations this year. The first one happened Thursday night at The Pour House in Charleston, S.C., home to event organizers Wilton Elder and Alex Rosen. The second celebration happens Saturday at Kings Barcade in Raleigh.
This all started when saxophonist/percussionist Elder and his band Super Deluxe performed with Rosen, a DJ, at a Herbie Hancock tribute show a year and a half ago.
Both men are fans of Dilla and, naturally, huge hip-hop heads. The Burlington-born Elder grew up listening to iconic rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde and The Roots.
But it wasn’t until Dilla’s passing that Elder realized that Dilla produced several of those bands’ most popular tunes. Common, D’Angelo, De La Soul and Erykah Badu have also had Dilla produce tracks for them. Says Elder, “More recently, I’ve really been a student and come back around to understanding the way in which he worked with those artists, and how revolutionary he was in terms of sampling and kind of transmutating these old soul and funk records and pop records.”
The very first “Dillamental” gathering, which happened last August in Charleston, was a success, with Elder, Rosen and the band doing deconstructive instrumental interpretations of classic Dilla works. For this year, Elder was looking to expand and bring the celebration to another city.
Being a former Tar Heel, Elder immediately thought of Raleigh.
“I spent a lot of time in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte,” he says. “I thought that Raleigh would be a good first market for us to venture out of Charleston … It’ll be kind of a homecoming for me, in a lot of ways.”
The Raleigh-based “Dillamental,” going down this Saturday at Kings, will feature Elder, Rosen and Super Deluxe, along with special, regional guests Tab-One from Kooley High (who went to high school with Elder in Chapel Hill) and DJ Gonzo. For Gonzo (nee Aharon Segal), this event will be truly special since he once saw Dilla perform with Slum Village, the Detroit hip-hop group he was part of in his early days.
“Probably around 1999 or 2000, the first time I really heard them was at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival,” recalls Gonzo. “I shook hands with him briefly.”
Elder, Gonzo and everybody else who will convene for “Dillamental” this Saturday will be there not just to salute J Dilla and the impact he left in rap music, but also to sample all the great music he created in a live setting.
“I really admire Jay Dee’s work and his life,” says Elder, “and I think doing a birthday concert, considering that he passed away prematurely, is an appropriate way to honor his music.”