Before he passed on it had gotten to the point that I had to put his music on quarantine.
I had to excise certain records from my regular gigging crates, expunge files from my iPod and place his cd’s out of immediate access.
Dilla joints can easily turn into a CRUTCH maaaan! “Think Twice”, “Players” and “Runnin’” NEVER fail, but I’m a dj who doesn’t like to be lazy. It was becoming second nature that I could look into a bag that I’d pack for a gig or to play on the radio show and notice that 50% of the records were Dillmatic. Dilla records for a cat like me are like a kid’s security blanket. As hard as it was to tear away I knew that I had to keep the produce rotated or else I’d be known as that guy who does hour long Jay Dee sets. Thankfully I realized that I was well on the path of addiction before I got predictable.
I could consciously change my DJ’ing habits but Dilla’s influence on how I conceptualized the creation of music has been much harder to shake.
“I can’t program that kick like that, it’s a Dilla bite.”
“I have to stop chopping up samples of electric piano chords.”
It had become a compulsion! For awhile I was raiding Chick Corea and Lonnie Liston Smith records like they held the answers to the universe. I grew out of that though.
Because he was always evolving, whatever Dilla’isms I’d be trying to avoid copying were always 2 or 3 generations behind his most recent material. Now I find myself questioning how I can use vintage synth patches for bass lines without mimicing “Raise It Up” or “Do You.”
WILL ANY OF US EVER BE ABLE TO USE RESONANT FILTERS AGAIN AND STILL BE ORIGINAL??!?
“Hey, it’s Dill Withers so deal widdit”. (I LOVE that line!! best producer on the mic y’all, Black Thought co-signs!)
I take joy in the task before me that is tracking down every piece of Dilla material that I don’t yet own and look forward with excitement to that which is not yet released. Which brings me to another point about his influence. I will be CONSCIOUSLY biting his vocal inflections from now on. I will make it a point to use Dilla ad-libs in daily conversation as much as possible.
“Turn me up!!”
They’ll come in handy in staff meetings.
Beyond the enormous body of work and records with the particular qualities that make dj’s happy, Dilla’s gift to me is the ability to see possibility. Look at records the way Dilla did and you realize that any possible sound your ear can perceive has the potential to be morphed into the perfect beat. The only limit is your imagination and spending 10 years digesting Dilla’s output has expanded my imagination many times over.
It’s also good to know that this genius was a person who was loved fiercely by people who knew him not just because he was brilliant with music but because he was a great human being. Creativity is a gift that often comes with a price. The dark side of that gift combined with the way the entertainment industry attacks the spirit of creative people can often bring out the ugliest traits in the most gifted artists. I am happy for all those who were able to call themselves friends of Dilla as well as fans. You are so fortunate.
I had a revelation recently about how I’ve structured my life around the pursuit of fleeting moments where the magic happens. The magic is when the party is just right and I’m floating on the turntables and people are jumping and shouting and smiling and my heart soars. I become a conduit for the energy of everyone in the room to combine into this massive jolt of excitement and happiness. The magic happens when I’m holed up at Urban Intalek with people who are not only my peers but my best friends. The hours pass, the chicken is consumed, the brews flow and as the creative process unfolds I find that I’m most at peace. All is well with my soul… until I stumble out at 4am to meet my work day in a few hours.
I was reflecting on the cost/benefit analaysis of the enormous expenditure of resources required to spark these all too brief and infrequent moments of magic. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Am I just chasing a temporary high? Dilla helped remind me that it’s not just a rush, it is my spirituality. The connection through creativity that I make with other humans and with something that I can’t explain as a tangible phenomenon (some folks might call it ‘God’, I don’t presume myself enlightened enough to define what it is… it just IS) is the fuel that nourishes my inner self. I need it to live, and so did Dilla. Even as his body failed him his spirit still thrived on his music.
Art is sacred. Thank you James Yancey for inspiring me on my journey.