James Dewitt Yancey, better known to the world as J Dilla, died on February 10, 2006. That day, the hip hop industry lost one of its most influential figures: a lyricist and producer, a man whose albums were lauded by many, whose collaborations produced new and compelling sounds, and whose friends remember him as a humble, intelligent human being. Though he’s been dead 10 years, he is far from forgotten. His vocals have been featured on several releases since then, several posthumous albums have come out, he’s been cited as an influence for many of the most prominent hip hop artists recording today.
To recognize this legacy, his family and friends are touring Canada over the next few weeks, giving J Dilla’s fans a chance to revel in the world that the musician created. Dilla 10 takes place at Kinki this Friday the 26th and will feature much more than any J Dilla fan could have hoped for. There will be a performance from his brother Illa J, a set from his friends Frank-n-Dank, and so much more, including a donut eating contest, live art from Dan Metcalfe and Dom Laporte, a menu inspired by J Dilla’s favourite foods, and a silent auction. The night will also feature support from local hip hop artist Hyf the GypsySun and DJs Mace, Jon Deck and Cool Cal. Plus, J Dilla’s mother, Ma Dukes, will be there.
Ticket buyers will be given the choice between coming to the entire event or dipping in at 9pm for the hip hop, though they will clearly be missing quite a bit.
However, if they must miss the food, the meet and greet, the art, and the donuts, they will still arrive in time for a rousing tribute from Illa J. The artist has worked hard to continue the legacy that his brother left, taking his stage name as a tribute to Dilla. He’s trying to fill the hole left by his brother. But while many miss the music and the stage persona Dilla left behind, Illa J (whose real name is John Derek Yancey) misses the man.
“It’s so simple, but I just miss my brother, you know?” he said “I’ve come into the industry with everyone talking to me about ‘J Dilla’ and ‘Jay Dee.’ And that’s cool, but that’s my brother. I miss James.”
Illa J plans to bring that love and that legacy to Kinki’s with a set that will feature several of his brother’s tunes, as well as many that J Dilla produced. Illa J sees the music he produces as very much in the tradition of J Dilla. He considers his musical career up to this point to be a kind of tribute to Dilla, a continuation of his musical style and ideas. He’s trying to cultivate that attitude that made Dilla what he was.
“Always trying to get better,” is how he explains it. “That’s one thing I learned from my brother. He would make a crazy beat and then put it aside.”
I just miss my brother, you know?
– Illa J, J Dilla’s brother
And Illa J isn’t the only one behind Dilla 10 who cares deeply about J Dilla. The amount of passion that has gone into this event is evident. The stops have been pulled, and the people behind Dilla 10 have been allowed to show their love for the artist. Everyone involved has a strong connection to J Dilla, both familial and emotional, from the DJs to the artists to the promoter, Mike Mikklesen. Mikklesen’s enthusiasm for Dilla 10 comes largely from his own love of the J Dilla.
“His music helped raise me in this culture and shape my musical palette,” he said. “I was always a sucker for drums and breaks and Dilla was king!”
Every element of Dilla 10 speaks to the enormous influence that James Dewitt Yancey has had on a generation of artists. Throughout the evening, DJs Mace, Jon Deck and Cool Cal will be spinning tunes either by or inspired by Dilla, while artists paint his likeness, or create works inspired by his music.
For dinner, event-goers will pick from a J Dilla inspired menu of such offerings as mac n’ cheese, donuts (a nod to his 2006 album, released only days before he died), fried chicken, wings, and gravy, all featuring names inspired by his lyrics or song titles. Kinki’s head chef consulted directly with J Dilla’s family and friends to pick out a menu of his personal favourite foods.
Then, at 9pm, the hip hop will begin with a set from local man Hyf the GypsySun, whose blend of poetry and rap has made him a force within Ottawa’s hip hop scene. Then it’s on to Frank-n-Dank (Frank Bush and Derrick Harvey), a Detroit group who have been featured on nearly every Dilla album.
Finally, Illa J will close the show. Overall, while there may be a temptation to eulogize or get nostalgic, the tone of the night will be one of celebration, not sorrow. This is an opportunity for Ottawa to get out and raise a glass to one of the hip hop greats.
“It’s not a sad thing,” said Illa J. “I know my brother only left physically, that his spirit is still here through the music.”
Dilla 10 takes place at Kinki Lounge Kitchen (41 York Street) on Friday, February 26 at 7pm. Tickets are $22 (dinner, meet and greet and show) or $10 (show only) and are available on the event’s Eventbrite.