Music has forever been changed by the presence of Detroit based producer/emcee James Dewitt Yancey, better known as Jay Dee or J Dilla.
His distinct solo and collaborative work was done with the likes of Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, his group Slum Village and many more. His music is so impressive that his instruments are now in the Smithsonian. After years of battling complications with Moschcowitz syndrome and lupus, Dilla passed away on Feb. 10, 2006 at the age of 32. In response, there has been an outpouring of support from across the globe as to how his music and work ethic transformed lives.
Through the collaboration of several organizations, the Twin Cities has celebrated the life of J Dilla with events and dialogue. This year with the approval of J Dilla’s mother, multiple events will take place in Minneapolis and St. Paul in an official capacity culminating with Saturday night’s showcase at Nomad World Pub, 501 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis.
I recently spoke with event organizer Raees “DJ Francisco” Romero of Twin Cities Save the Kids to learn more about the annual celebration.
AS: What is Twin Cities Dilla Day?
RR: Twin Cities Dilla Day is a celebration of the life and legacy and contributions of J Dilla to hip-hop, music, and the world. It’s our way to show or love, respect and gratitude to this human being.
AS: One of the main event organizers is Save the Kids. Tell the people more about what you do.
RR: Save the Kids is a fully volunteer grassroots organization dedicated to end incarceration of all youth through transformative justice and hip-hop activism.
The first International Hip-Hop Activism conference takes place the same day at Augsburg College. If people want to get involved they can go to www.savethekidsgroup.org. We also have Save the Kids Radio every Sunday 5 (p.m.) to 7 p.m. central standard time. You can also stream through the website.
AS: What are some of the activities you have planned?
RR: We have live performances by some of the top Twin Cities artists including the Lioness, DJ Kool Akiem, B-Boys J-Sun and Stepchild, photography by Sarah White, and many more. We have the dancing element, DJ element and visual arts element as well. We are trying to incorporate all four elements of hip-hop into the show. We also have Dilla pastries from Amber Ace Cleveland for the first two hours.
AS: I hear Dilla’s mother is taking part in this year’s event. What’s her role and how important is it to have her involved?
RR: There’s been three Dilla Days in Minnesota before this put on by different groups. None of them had the backing of the Dilla Foundation. This is the first one that the foundation has backed and Ma Dukes (the title given to Dilla’s mother) approved. There are a lot of people doing Dilla Days around the world that are not getting approved. This is the first one the stamp is on. That’s one of the most important elements. She’s supporting this movement and how we build bigger Dilla Days in the future.
AS: How important is Dilla Day? Why should people celebrate?
RR: Dilla is one of the most important figures to music as a whole not just hip-hop. Dilla is the epitome of hard work ethic, of the love for music, and of soul. Dilla can live in all of us. He is someone that needs remembrance to teach to our youth and the world the about his legacy so it will never be forgotten. (Dilla) Being from Detroit, Minneapolis has that Midwest connection. Minneapolis hip-hop is so connected to his sound and his legacy.
AS: How has Dilla Day grown since the first event?
RR: The first was at a club called Trocaderos with St. Paul Slim, Slug and a bunch of other prominent emcees. The second event was put on by Michael Kuykindall at Icehouse two years ago. Last year Save the Kids put together a panel discussion and showing of his documentary. This year has brought a live show with quality artists to represent live. It’s just grown because people have realized how important it is.
AS: Are the artists performing Dilla material?
RR: All the artists are going to incorporate some Dilla element into their performance.
AS: As a DJ, how has he impacted how you play music?
RR: His instrumentals are going to be played forever. He has mandatory records along with the Biggies, the Pacs, the Public Enemys and NWAs that have to be played every time a DJ plays. It’s something that’s always on our mind. Whenever a real DJ plays, Dilla has to be on their mind. The Black and Brown community need to know Dilla’s legacy and contributions. He will live forever long after everyone reading this article is dead and gone. People will still be dissecting his music.
For more information on associated events search DillaDay TwinCities on Facebook. The main event takes place Saturday, Feb. 21 at Nomad World Pub, 501 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis at 8pm. The Nomad event is 21-plus (other all ages Dilla events are also listed on the Facebook page).